Wednesday, June 20, 2012


By Gini Rifkin

Gini Rifkin, Author

          I was delighted when Caroline invited me to quest blog on Sweethearts of the West. Although I have published two Medievals and two Victorians, my first western novella, SPECIAL DELIVERY, was released in May, and I’m thrilled to be heading into cowboy country.

       Brushing up on history of the American West, I felt it was essential to study the Stetson phenomenon. I needed to know if geographically my hero would have access to purchasing one of these hats, and if they were common or even in existence in the time period I chose for my story. I’m a stickler for detail regardless of the era, spend hours researching, and hope the end result is a story that feels real and offers a painless subliminal learning experience.

Here’s what I discovered about……..

                                   THE HAT THAT WON THE WEST

A cowboy without his hat is
simply a man on a horse.

       The concept of a broad-brimmed hat with a high crown worn by a rider on horseback can be seen as far back as the Mongolian horsemen of the 13th century. A tall crown provided insulation, the wide brim, shade. In hot, sunny climates, hats evolved to have extremely wide brims, such as the sombrero of Mexico.

        Before John Batterson Stetson created the “The Boss of the Plains”, men who drove cattle and worked the range sported any number of hat styles. They generally wore whatever headgear was required at their previous profession so it wasn’t unusual to see them in a sailor hat, a beret, derbies, Civil War paraphernalia, and even top hats. None of these were very useful out on the prairie. And luckily this was soon to change and a legend was about to be born.  

A cowboy and his horse are partners

         John Batterson Stetson started his life in East Orange, New Jersey in 1830. His father, Stephen Stetson, was a successful hatter and taught his children the hatting trade. But having developed tuberculosis as a young man, a doctor advised John B. to move west and in 1859 he struck out for St. Joseph, Missouri.

      While there, he tried to join the Union Army in the early 1860’s but was rejected do to his poor health. Undefeated he worked as a bricklayer which went fairly well until the river flooded and washed his business away. At loose ends, he joined a group heading west to the gold fields of Colorado.

      This didn’t “pan out” but during his stay in the mountains, he fashioned a head covering from beaver hides. After a mule driver paid him a $5 gold piece for the hat right off his head, Mr. Stetson, being no fool, decided to refine, manufacture and sell this type of product.

       By 1865 he was back in Philadelphia working in the hat manufacturing trade. A year later the “Boss of the Plains” came into being, and after that, came the front creased Carlsbad, destined to become “the” cowboy style. The Stetson® hat has captured the essence of the west, has become an American icon, and is now an indelible part of western history.
 The Stetson®

           The rugged individualism of the West was perfectly represented by a hat that could be shaped differently by each wearer—a punched-in crown, a bended brim, a braided leather band—all were different ways to make a Stetson® one’s own.

         By 1886, Stetson owned the world’s biggest hat factory. Situated in Philadelphia it employed nearly 4,000 workers. And by 1906, the factory was putting out about 2 million hats a year. John B. transformed hat making from a manual to a mechanized industry by introducing iron cutting and shaping machines, and by improving quality control. He was also among the first U.S. tycoons to offer benefits to reward workers for hard work. He dispensed free health care to employees and gave shares in his company to valued workers. As a philanthropist, he founded Stetson University in Deland, Florida, and built a Philadelphia hospital.

Stetson's Hat Factory

             Inside the cowboy hat is a memorial bow to past hatters, who developed brain damage from treating felt with toxic mercury (which gave rise to the expression "Mad as a Hatter"). The bow on the inside hatband at the rear of the hat resembles a Skull and crossbones. Early hatters used mercury in the making of their felt. Their bodies absorbed mercury, and after several years of making hats, the hatters developed violent and uncontrollable muscle twitching. The ignorance of the times caused people to attribute these strange gyrations to madness, not mercury.

Other Hat Types offered by Stetson


         In the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, a hat was an indispensable item in every man’s wardrobe. Stetson focused on expensive, high-quality hats that represented both a real investment for the working cowboy and a statement of success for the city dweller.

       Early on, Stetson® hats became associated with legends of the West, including “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Calamity Jane, Will Rogers, and Annie Oakley. It is said that George Custer rode into the Battle of Little Big Horn wearing a Stetson®. Later on, Western movie cowboys were quick to adopt the Stetson®. Many were drawn to the largest most flamboyant styles available. Tom Mix, an early-20th century movie star, wore a ten gallon hat (my Mom rode in his car).

Tom Mix in a Ten Gallon Stetson

      Texans were known for their preference for the "Ten Gallon," model, possibly so named for its enormous crown which at least appeared to be able to hold ten gallons were it to be dipped into a stream and used as a pail. An early Stetson® advertising image, a cowboy dipping his hat into a stream to provide water for his horse, symbolized the Cowboy hat as an essential part of a stockman’s gear.

         According to Win Blevins' DICTIONARY OF THE AMERICAN WEST (p388), the term "ten-gallon" has nothing to do with the hat’s liquid capacity, but derives from the Spanish word galón (braid), ten indicating the number of braids used as a hat band.
A cowboy was seldom without his hat

         The first American law-enforcement agency to adopt Stetson’s western hat as part of their uniform was the Texas Rangers. In the Second Boer War, the flat brimmed Stetson® became the standard issue of the second Canadian Contingent, becoming recognized throughout the British Empire as a symbol of Canada. Canadian police, The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Red Serge dress uniform includes a Stetson® with a flat brim.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police
adopted flat brimmed Stetsons®

     John B. created not only a hat but an image, a daydream inducing piece of clothing that has survived into the 21st century. A cowboy today might carry a GPS gizmo on his belt rather than an 1851 Colt Navy, but the hat is still the same. Tonight I'll be dreaming of Stetsons® and the men who wear them!

Don't know if this is a Stetson®,
don't care!

            My late husband Gary and I spent many years re-enacting the Mountain Man Era, attending rendezvous and making our own clothes accouterments, and foofaraws. It was a brilliant learning experience for my writer’s treasure trove of sights, sounds, smells, and just plain old tales of adventures.

Gary and Gini Rifkin

       For me, the road to publication has been long and arduous, yet well worth the tears and effort. My best advice, if I dare presume to give any, would be to rise out of the ashes of your rejection letters, and like the heroines in your books, don’t give up. And write not only what you know, but what you love. Never let age determine your dreams. My first romance was released one month before my 60th birthday.            
    Please visit and                


 and The Wild Rose Press

and other online stores.

Clover City, Colorado—1888

      A mysterious letter and the drop-dead handsome town marshal, are the last things Mariah expects to find making rounds as a midwife.

      Mariah McAllister plans to be married before her next birthday. Too bad Marshal Virgil Kincaid barely knows she’s alive. Not one to give up easily, she’s determined to show him she has an abiding passion for more than her work.

     Virgil Kincaid loved a woman once—after she broke his heart, he spent three years in prison. Women can’t be trusted, no matter how good they look. He’s sworn off relationships in favor of Saturday night poker games. Life is simple—the way he wants it…until a stranger turns up dead in the road.

     Forced to work side by side with Mariah, Virgil begins to wonder if she might be his second chance at love. As they trade kisses and oh so much more, he’s willing to take the gamble. But when a killer threatens their once peaceful town, all bets are off.

        Virgil Kincaid was a prime cut of man. Over six feet tall, he made Mariah’s five-foot seven height seem less gawky and awkward. And he was built for action, long and lean with broad shoulders—shoulders she hankered to hold onto—and with narrow hips—hips she could easily envision pressed up against her own.

      And then there were his eyes. Gray as the sky in winter, full of secrets, revealing nothing. Virgil had been the town Marshal for nearly three years, yet no one knew where he’d come from or how long he intended to stay. What would it take to light a fire in those eyes and put settling down in his thoughts?

       Her gaze drifted lower and latched onto the front of his Levi’s. A picture of what he might look like naked skittered across her mind and her cheeks grew hot at the imagining.

       “You done lookin?” he asked.

        Her gaze snapped up to meet his and the heat of humiliation replaced the lustful warmth.

        “Yes,” she babbled, “there doesn’t seem to be anything of interest here.”

        “Really?” he challenged, with a cocky grin and a raised brow.

         He stepped closer and stood so near she could smell the man scent of him as she tried to ratchet her breathing down to a more normal rate.

        “You’re a very unusual woman, Miss McAllister.”

        “Is that good or bad?” she dared to ask.

        “I’m not sure yet.”

Gini Rifkin lives and plays in Colorado where the moon rises over the prairie and the sun sets over the Rocky Mountains. When she's not reading or writing, she's caring for her Noah’s Ark of rescued animals. At present she has a chaotic but happy family of ducks, geese, goats, donkeys and cats. If you see her in a crowd she’ll probably be the one wearing a hat. It’s not quite a fetish but she's working on it.


  1. Gini, thanks for sharing with the Sweethearts today.

  2. HI Gini, oh me oh my, those bare-chested cowboys. And I so agree: give me a Stetson any time.

    I love the excerpt and learning more about this all American Western icon.

    Oh, and in addition to Westerns, I too also love medievals set in England!

    Best of luck with the new release.

  3. Fun post. Sounds like a good book.

  4. Welcome, Gini, to Sweethearts of the West. You know we only have this group blog so others can entertain us! And for me, I expecially love photos--any kind, but old ones are the best.
    My daddy wore Stetsons and boots most of his adult life. He wasn't a rancher, but that was a common uniform for many Texas men, especially those who lived in the west.
    I congratulate you on wandering into cowboy country--see? You met all of us--and we're so pleased to meet you.

  5. Thank you Caroline for allowing me to be part of your wonderful Blog.

    And thank you to Celia, Paty, and Tanya for your kind comments and for making me feel so welcome.

    I can hardly wait to explore all the stories waiting for me in the American West.

    Gini Rifkin

  6. Gini,
    Thanks so much for your great post on the Stetson. And I agree with Celia in that you have certainly entertained me today! Loved all the photos and a copy of the first one you have there rests on the windowsill above my desk on a metal badge I bought from Stacey Kayne at a writers' conference. :-) I recently rescued my dad's old Stetson, which he wore to work, from being given to the good will. It's still in great shape! I have another Stetson I'll always keep which I bought for horseback riding in junior high. You can always tell a Stetson.

    Enjoyed your excerpt! Good luck with your writing and your rescued animals. I just took on another rescued puppy dog, as if I needed more to do.

    I look forward to reading more. Hope to see you again on Sweethearts! Thanks again!


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