By Ryn Gargulinski: local columnist
The other day I was throttled back to the New Mexico plains when I glimpsed a tan man in a cowboy hat.
Granted, this guy’s hat was straw and had a surfer dude sticker on it, and he was peering out of an SUV with a pile of wetsuits in the back, but the aura of the Wild West still prevailed — mere steps from the Pacific Ocean.
Not only is the cowboy hat perhaps the best known icon of the West, it also makes for a great planter, paper clip receptacle or cheese dip holder for nacho chips, especially when they are artistically yet tastefully positioned around the brim.
While the only cowboy hat I ever bought was moth-eaten and purchased as a joke at a rummage sale for my friend just because he didn’t want it, it does not make these fine toppers any less magnificent.
In fact, the history of the hat is alluring in its own right, dating back to Mongolian times with Genghis Kahn. Text translations from 1206 actually show the ancient horsemen would blurt out exclamations that were drastically similar to the modern-day “yeehaw.”
So strange that those back in Mongolia at that time had ever heard of New Mexico or Texas, let alone the popular cowboy hat.
But stranger things happened still.
The cowboy hat’s transcendence made it a boom into popular culture in the late 1970s, according to the people at Texas-based Resistol hats, who say they still churn out at least a million cowboy hats a year.
In about 1979 they were working 24-hour shifts meeting the high demand of every New Yorker who suddenly wanted a lavender cowboy hat adorned with a pink ostrich feather. Who knew there were so many pimps.
They said that boom died out by 1982, which happens to coincide with Manhattan arrest records, but that didn’t make the cowboy hat less well-known.
In fact, the hat J.R. Ewing wore in the wildly popular TV drama Dallas actually sits in the Smithsonian.
That hat may even have a place of honor between the Hope Diamond and the zoological exhibit of Lemur Island. Or maybe it’s near the dinosaurs.
The Smithsonian’s decision to include J.R.’s cowboy hat in its 124 million objects proves one thing — dinosaurs were born too early.
If the brontosaurus or his fellow pterodactyl could have just held out for a few million years until the 1200s, they, too, could have been hunted down by folks wearing cowboy hats.
The long and weathered history of the hat only adds to its charm, of course. There is only one thing that could have made the hat a smidgen better. As the 10-gallon hat is so called because it could hold 10 gallons of water for the thirsty crew, one could have made a mint with a little innovation.
Keeping the body system’s functioning in mind, a genius should have marketed a 10-gallon boot.
Just make sure neither is moth-eaten nor made of straw.
Ryn Gargulinski writes for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: