The Fascinating Origins Of How The 10-Gallon Hat Gained Its Name

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Image: Alexandria Baldridge

Thanks largely to Hollywood iconography, we are all familiar with the traditional image of a cowboy – jeans, boots, vest, low-slung gunboat and, of course, a ten-gallon hat. Ironically, considering their appalling relationship with Native Americans, the headgear worn by the cattlemen of the Old Wild West has become totemic. However, for those with a head for history, the origins of the much-fancied piece of millinery may boil down to a party trick and a misunderstanding…

Image: Mathew Brady

But before we get into the frankly odd name that the practical and purposeful hat has acquired, let us look back at the times which called for the birth of this popular piece of rancher kit. But, in order to do that, we have to go back to the 19th century, and the New Frontier of the U.S. in the 1860s.

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Image: Alexander Gardner

By the end of this decade, Honest Abe Lincoln had been made President – twice – the American Civil War had been fought and won, and – thanks to the Homestead Act passed in 1862 – regular Americans were pushing west, to territories beyond the Mississippi River. The laws encompassed by the act had shared out almost half a million square miles of U.S. land to ordinary folk. Amazingly, about a tenth of the country was made available free to homesteaders who wanted to work their own farms, on their own land.

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