Sunday, May 22, 2005


If he had no hat would he still be a cowboy?

By Larry Gabriel

Maybe we can't judge a book by its cover, but we can tell quite bit about a cowboy by his hat.
Knowing proper manners in the use of a hat is still important in this part of the country.

It might be that "hat etiquette" is becoming lost where people view a hat as just another piece of attire like a necktie or a coat. But, a hat on the head or in the hand of a person who knows how to use it is far more than that.

The hat is as much a part of the cowboy as his hand or his foot. It’s a part of who he is, and how he wears it is an expression of his values and character.

Generally, a cowboy does not wear his hat indoors. There are some exceptions, but the general rule is when you get inside the hat comes off (unless you were "born in a barn" as our mothers used to say).

We can say a lot of things with a hat. If you see a cowboy sitting in a meeting wearing his hat, you know he's ready for a fight. If you grab his hat, you might get more than you bargained for.

Hat etiquette is largely a matter of local custom. For example, in some parts of the world one does not enter a holy place without a hat. Out here we remove our hats in such places.

A cowboy with proper upbringing never fails to remove his hat when: he hears the national anthem, views the flag, enters a room full of people, is being introduced, is waiting for a funeral to pass, enters your home, or is meeting a person worthy of his respect.

A cowboy's removal of his hat is a sign of respect or admiration, whether he is greeting a person worthy of respect or entering a place that deserves respect.

Removing the hat from the head is a custom dating back to the days of chivalry when knights raised their helmet shields as a sign of respect. By the way, "cowboy" has no gender in this story.

A tip of the hat is a sign of respect for strangers but the hat comes off the head for elders, friends and dignitaries or in admiration of almost anything.

I see people walking around in our capitol building wearing their hats. I see people sitting at public meetings doing the same thing. Some view that as bad manners.

Some people think wearing a cowboy hat makes the wearer a cowboy. That's not how it works. Only real cowboys know how to properly wear a cowboy hat.

Some of our Asian friends have been told that standing with "hat in hand" is a form of begging and is something that no proud or independent person would do if he had a choice.

That's not true around here. We are proud of being respectful.

If you are properly wearing a cowboy hat, my hat is off to you.

Larry Gabriel is the South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture, and he damn sure knows how to wear a hat.

The first liar doesn’t stand a chance

By Julie Carter

All cowboys are familiar with the “first liar” precept. It is a solid truth that the first liar doesn’t stand a chance.

While holding a horse for the horseshoer, a cowgirl was conversationally filling in a gap in the ongoing visiting with a story about her bay horse who was a wheat pasture mount by trade.

Her husband had used the horse one day to doctor some yearlings. Somewhere in the pursuit of roping a sick one, the bay decided to buck the husband off. By the time the cowboy got up and dusted his britches off, the bay had run the steer down and was standing next too him waiting.

Then it was Jimmy the horseshoers’ turn. With a look of pity at the cowgirl, Jimmy told his story.

As a kid, he had owned a horse that could, he claimed, sort cattle by brand with no help from a rider. His family had been on a ranch that joined a pasture where bucking bulls were kept with the regular ranch bulls. The owner would regularly put all the bulls up in a corner, sort off the rodeo stock and take the bucking bulls to the rodeo.

Jimmy said when he turned his horse in with those bulls; he would sort them all by himself. That was the end of the lesson. The cowgirl never again told the first story.

Cowboys have a knack for taking any story and making it their own. If this one sounds familiar it likely is but it was told to me with all the sincerity of true story.

Jerry, Wayne and Tommy were all headed to the big roping on a Saturday morning. Since Wayne’s truck was the one that was running that particular week, they all loaded up with him.

Jerry and Wayne are big cowboys by most standards. Both were broad shouldered and stout enough to work hard and not take any guff from anyone. But Tommy, on the same scale was a giant compared to his buddies.

Tommy was also the wisest. When they loaded up in the pickup, Tommy got in the middle just in case there was a gate to be opened on I-40. It’s the old “the real cowboy sits in the middle to avoid opening gates” trick.

So with Wayne driving, Tommy in the middle and Jerry riding shotgun, they headed down the road. They had made room in the floorboard for the cooler and Jerry was drinking a screw-off lid Coors and tossing the cap around to entertain himself.

With the truck seating arrangement causing an uncomfortable coziness, Tommy in the middle would put his arm on the back of the seat behind Wayne to make a little extra room.

Miles passed as they gave each other pointers about roping, women, and life in general.

After a while Jerry began intermittently dropping the beer bottle lid and then bend down to pick it up off the floor of the pickup.

Wayne noticed the big rig truckers were honking and pointing at him as they passed and he finally put it together.

Every time a big rig would come up on them on the interstate, Jerry would duck down after the beer cap, leaving Wayne and Tommy all cuddled up.

All those truckers could see was Wayne behind the wheel with Tommy next to him with his around on the back of the seat behind him.

He calmly told Jerry that if he dropped that cap one more time he would stop the truck and a genuine whuppin’ would commence.

Cowboy stories are as much part of the culture as the horses they ride and spurs they wear. But the lesson to be learned is simple. The first liar doesn’t stand a chance.

Julie can be reached for comment at

© Julie Carter 2005

I welcome submissions for this feature


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