AND MOVING TO
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
by Gene Hickman
The most popular and most dominant hat style is the low round crowned, wool felt hat with a wide brim. If you are wearing this style you’ll probably not have a “correctness” issue.
anymore discussion of hats I would refer you to the information in the article
on Clothing & Accoutrements In and Moving to the Rocky Mountains. Again it
will depend upon the time frame, where the individuals came from such as Canada,
Spanish Southwest, the States, or their ethnic origins, etc. Sometimes it would
be easier to say what they did not have or wear by observing some of the hats
worn at modern rendezvous. Here is a list of what we can not document: leather
hippie style hats, full drape animal skin “road-kill” hats, floppy shapeless
“hill-billy” hats, hats with creased or shaped crowns, “Davey Crockett”
style coonskin caps, and the little “pill-box” beaver skin hat with the
leather bill, and head scarves worn in the “pirate-style”.
There are thousands of pages of journals and fur trade records that have
been reviewed and still probably thousands of more that have not been reviewed.
Consequently some of these hats may turn up. If anyone can find documentation or
period sketches of these items we would be very interested in them, and we will
add them to this hat article. So far we have been unable to find any
documentation for these items.
some good references for hats in our time and place: Allen Chronister’s
article on Clothing of the Rocky Mountain Trapper 1820-1840 in The Book of Buckskinning VII, James A. Hanson’s sketchbooks - The
Voyager’s Sketchbook and The
Mountain Man’s Sketch Book Vol. 1, Rex Allen Norman’s The
1837 Sketchbook of the Western Fur Trade, and Shawn Webster’s In the Image of A. J. Miller. Some of these references will have
examples that go beyond our 1840 time period, so look closely at what they say.
Most have good sketches of appropriate hats. There are a number of artists that
have also left us some visual information, but some of these artists painted or
sketched after the 1840 time frame. Consequently, all of their
sketches/paintings may or may not be accurate, for our time and place. Then
there is always the question of artistic “license.” Here are some of the
artists: Rindisbacher, Hind, Miller, Kurz, Ranney, Krieghoff, Hopkins, Point,
Bodmer and Meyer. Additionally hat makers such as Clearwater Hats (http://www.clearwaterhats.com/furtradepageone.htm)
have excellently researched reproduction of hats and you can see many examples
on their website.
Karl Bodmer’s painting
of Prince Maximilian (1833-34) visiting the Minetarees at Fort Clark, shows the
low crowned wide brimmed hat. Karl
Bodmer, Paulus Lesser, courtesy Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library,
Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations
the most common hat and what seems to be the hat style of choice is wool felt,
round crown and broad-brimmed hat, often referred to in the historic record as
just wool hats. They have predominately round crowns, although a few have flat
crowns and the flat crown seems to gain some popularity at the end of the 1830s.
Crowns average from 3 ½” to 5” high and most brims seem to be around 3”-
5”. Rufus Sage, Rocky Mountain Life,
says that the mountaineer wore …a low
crowned wool-hat, or a rude substitute of his own manufacture.
March 1834: Capt Wyeth …accompanied us to a store in the town, and selected a number of articles for us, among which were ….white wool hats, with round crowns, fitting tightly to the head, brims five inches wide, and almost hard enough to resist a rifle ball (J.K. Townsend, 1839. Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River)
hats may be napped or smooth and are often referred to in the historic
inventories as napped. Napped hats seem to be mostly in the early 1800s and
gradually become less common by the 1830s:
2 Doz. Napped Hats [for] $192…Memorandum of goods for Mess. Gardner & Williams pr their order (Inventory of Goods available at the 1825 Rendezvous on Henry's Fork of the Green River (cached goods listed in Ashley's diary).
Hanson goes on to tell us that colors are mostly off-white, grey or tan, but today we more often see black hats.
Here are a few references from historic documents, many of these invoices were goods going to the Indian trade as much as they were for trapper replacement items:
· 3 dz black & white hats (First order sent to St. Louis from Fort Pierre by William Laidlaw,
Dec. 20, 1832).
· 4 dz white wool hats (Invoice of merchandise shipped on board S.B. Diana C.M. Halstead
Master bound for the upper Missouri River and consigned for account and risk of upper Missouri
outfit 1835 under mark in the margin).
· 7 ½ dz Round White wool Hats (Invoice of Sundry Merchandise from the Rocky Mountain
Outfit 1836 under charge of Fontenelle, Fitzpatrick, & Co.).
· 1 ¼ dz White wool hats @ $9.00/dz (Invoice of Sundry Merchandise furnished Rocky
Mountain Outfit 1837 under charge of Fontenelle, Fitzpatrick & Co.)
· Here is only the second reference to black hats I found: 2 dz Black wool hats @ $7.50/dz
(Invoice of Sundry Merchandise furnished Rocky Mountain Outfit 1837 under charge of Fontenelle,
Fitzpatrick & Co.)
the period sketches and journal references we see feathers, tails and
tufts of fur on the hats, and occasionally a clay pipe tucked in the band.
Pierre Rocky Mountain Trapper by A.J. Miller, 1837
|We do not see beaded, quilled or horse hair hat bands, brims pinned up, various safety pins, vent picks, gun worms, blanket pins, pendicular pins, etc. pinned on the hats. The French voyaguers or boatman were particularly noted for adorning their hats as we see in historic sketches or paintings from Hopkins, Krieghoff, and Rindisbacher. Frenchmen and Indians were found of adorning their hats or headgear with ostrich plumes and colored feathers, which were being imported for the Indian Trade:|
|Now and then a chance party of "Northwesters" appeared at Mackinaw from the rendezvous at Fort William. These held themselves up as the chivalry of the fur trade. They were men of iron; proof against cold weather, hard fare, and perils of all kinds. Some would wear the Northwest button, and a formidable dirk, and assume something of a military air. They generally wore feathers in their hats, and affected the "brave." "Je suis un homme du nord!"-"I am a man of the north,"- (Irving, Washington. Astoria, or Anecdotes of an Enterprise Beyond the Rocky Mountains).|
|…our Canadian boatmen, having their hats decorated with parti-colored ribands and feathers, (Franchere’s Narrative of A Voyage to the West Coast, 1811-1814).|
Trying to recruit more voyaguers for their westward journey, Mr. Hunt…tried another temptation… Among the recruits who had enlisted he distributed feathers and ostrich plumes. These they put in their hats, and thus figured about Mackinaw, assuming airs of vast importance, as "voyageurs" in a new company, that was to eclipse the Northwest. The effect was complete. A French Canadian is too vain and mercurial a being to withstand the finery and ostentation of the feather. Numbers immediately pressed into the service. One must have an ostrich plume; another, a white feather with a red end; a third, a bunch of cock's tails. Thus all paraded about, in vainglorious style, more delighted with the feathers in their hats than with the money in their pockets; and considering themselves fully equal to the boastful "men of the north."(Irving, Washington. Astoria, or Anecdotes of an Enterprise Beyond the Rocky Mountains).
reference to a variety of other hats too, such as top hats, carriage hats,
Scotch caps, balmorals, clerk’s caps, knit caps, straw hats, military style
forage caps, etc. We can find these both in the period sketches and in the fur
trade records for our time period.
2 Straw hats $2 (Invoice of Sundry Merchandise sold and delivered
to the Missouri Company by Frs Regnier at St. Louis, 1809)
Scotch Hats or Caps
Many of these caps were wool and may be brimmed or un-brimmed. Many show the ball on top, others do not. Previous documentation indicates that the ball on top may have been a military hat, may have
|been more common on military hats or at least had a military origin. Some of these hats or caps may actually have been military surplus or military hats. Again some of these hats and adornments may be more reflective of your geographic and ethnic origins and may not be universally worn by everyone. For example there are probably more Scotch caps and balmorals worn today than there were during the fur trade.|
|These Scotch type hats/caps seem to have been more common and more readily available in Canada through the NWC & HBC. They are very comfortable and practical hats/caps, which probably led further to improve their popularity. Here are a couple of period sketches of Indians wearing the Scotch type hats:|
|This first sketch by Gustav Sohon, is of the Iroquois Guide Aeneas wearing a typical Scotch cap. There were quite a few disaffected Eastern Indians in the western fur trade and the Iroquois were common among them, both in the American and Canadian fur trade. So if your persona is for an Iroquois working in the fur trade this may be your hat.|
second sketch is of Adolphe a Flathead Chief also drawn by G. Sohon. Here
he is wearing an almost identical Scotch cap as Aeneas wears above, but it
is decorated with fur around the band. These Scotch caps or this Canadian
influence is common in the northwest (Washington & Montana) as the HBC
had numerous posts in the area. The last HBC trading establishment in the
U.S. was Fort Connah, on the Flathead Reservation and it didn’t close
down until 1871. Both Aeneas and Adolphe were living in this area.
|Top hats are seen in the variety of hats depicted in James A. Hanson’s Voyager’s Sketchbook. Top hats seem to again be a French ethnic preference, at least for the common man, as they are more dominant in their depictions, especially among Voyagers and Indians. Other top hat wears seem to be the more wealthy and affluent, company officers or government representatives at treaties and other formal occasions.|
Frenchmen - Rindisbacher 1823 & 1824.
|Rindisbachers’s period sketch & paintings depict a number of folks wearing top hats, and would again indicate that top hats were very popular with French Boatmen.|
|Additionally, The Mi’kmaq Portrait Collection, http://museum.gov.ns.ca/mikmaq/1801intb.htm, from the 1830s show that these Indians, both men and women also liked the top hat. These Mi’kmaq sketches also reflect the documentation in the written record for this preference o f hoods among some western Indians too.|
|Here is Bodmer’s painting (1833-34) of he and Prince Maxmillian at Fort Clark. The interpreter on the left pointing at the Prince is supposedly Toussaint Charbonneau formerly of the Lewis & Clark expedition. This is unknown headgear here on old Toussaint. Those “Frenchies” are always trying to make a fashion statement. However, the Prince is wearing the typical low crowned wide brimmed wool felt hat and Bodmer is wearing a top hat. Between the Prince and Bodmer can be seen a man wearing a Clerk’s cap.|
|Finally here’s one of my favorite top hat pictures. This is an engraving in George Cartwright’s Journal of 1770-1786. This is a portion of the engraving titled, Captain Cartwright visiting his fox-trap. Cartwright, always the fashion statement, still wears his top hat in freezing temperatures. He is also wearing, what appears to be, a cloth & fur wig and chin cloth (G. Cartwright, A Journal of Transactions and Events during a Residence of Nearly Sixteen Years on the coast of Labrador. Vol. 1,||1792.
Collection of the Bibliotheque municipale de Montreal, in F. Back, 2004.
Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly. Winter 2004.
Rindisbacher, Red River Settlers 1820.
|There are a number of other Rindisbacher sketches & painting showing the clerk’s cap: Colonists on the Red River in North America, Two of the Companies Officers Travelling in a Canoe, and Two Young Men Hunting and Winter Voyaging in a Light Sledge. If you want to make a Clerk’s Cap see J. Gottfed’s article Reproduction Clothing – A Clerk’s Cap, on the Northwest Journal website, http://www.northwestjournal.ca/XII3.htm.|
Cowie, The Company of Adventurers,
wrote that the common outfit for clerks when traveling was…[a] navy blue cap
with leather peak (C. Hanson, Jr. 1990. The
Traders’ Dress. Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly. Vol. 25, No. 1, Spring
by Robert Petley (1837) of Three
Mi'kmaq women's heads, National
Archives of Canada, Ottawa. Although commonly worn by women
this seems to be a universal style among the Mi’maq and other Indians of
the Great Lakes region. With many disaffected “eastern’ Indians moving
west with the fur brigades, it has been assumed that the “hoods”
depicted by Miller in 1837 may have had their origins with these eastern
|Here’s another Indian woman with a decorated cloth hood. This is a watercolor painted at Moose Factory on James Bay around 1804-1811. The color reproduction is on the front cover of the Winter 2004 Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly and came courtesy Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. The woman appears to be wearing an additional cloth or fur “wig” under the hood and a fur chin cloth. The wearing of fur||
and chin cloths are seen commonly in the cold Canadian north.
from Rex Norman’s The 1837 Sketchbook of
the Western Fur Trade. All Pictures are redrawn from A.J. Miller, The left
picture is from Approaching the Buffalo,
the middle picture is from The Trapper’s
Bride, and the right picture is from A
Trapper in his solitary Camp. This is an excellent reference and resource.
hunters form for themselves a peculiar kind of cap;-it has two ears with a flap
reaching to the shoulders...peculiar caps…are made by themselves [trappers],
to replace felt hats, long since worn out or lost…(A.J.
Miller, 1837. The West of Alfred Jacob
Hanson & Wilson describe these blanketing hooded caps being made in two styles, the Liberty Cap Style and the Wolf Ears Style, both of which are shown in Miller’s 1837 sketches. More information on making these hoods may be found in The Mountain Man’s Sketchbook, Volume One (J.A. Hanson & K.J. Wilson, 1982. The Mountain Man’s Sketch book Volume One. The Fur Press. Chadron, NE).
|Here is a
portion of Miller’s painting, from sketch, of Louis, Rocky Mountain
Trapper. This is an elaborately decorated hood and it is difficult to see
if it is the “wolf-eared” or liberty style.
among the French, especially the boatmen or engages was either the wool toque or
a kerchief. The kerchief was worn to hold another hat down in high wind or was
worn tied around the head like a bandanna or headband. Being tied either in
front or back. In cold weather it was tied like a woman’s headscarf or over
the ears. Research of the various sketches and drawings of the French engage,
trappers, traders, settlers, etc. does not show the kerchief being worn
“pirate style”. There are references to knotted kerchiefs being worn, but
the only sketches, other pictures or detailed descriptions from the period do
not show the pirate style. It may be the Hollywood pirate or Zorro movies that
have popularized this type of wear. Contrary to popular practice at modern
rendezvous, and the many modern drawings and paintings of the Fur Trade, at this
time there is no Documentation
in the time period before or well after our time period to show that the
headscarves were being worn pirate style.
|The closest documentation we have is of a Navajo Chief, Marianos Martinez, who was sketched and then painted by E.M & R.H. Kern in1849. Some have used this painting as justification for wearing a “pirate” scarf under a hat. However, this seems to be more a head bandanna tied on the side, in the Navajo style, rather than a pirate scarf. I guess if you were doing a Navajo in the fur trade this look could be for you. Notice that he is wearing the typical low crowned, wide brimmed, wool hat.|
“Finally, many men simply tied a handkerchief around their heads. If the cloth was big enough, this would be done as a turban, open at the top” (Rickman, Unknown; Ruxton, G. 1950. Ruxton of the Rockies. University of Oklahoma Press. Norman, OK; Parkman, F. 1969. The Oregon Trail. Edited, E.N. Feltskog. University of Wisconsin. Madison, WI; and Ewers, J.C. 1982. Artists of the Old West. Promontory Press. New York, NY).
Sometimes summer caps were improvised from handkerchiefs. They were folded so as to cover the top of the head and tied together on the forehead ('cleaning lady' style), or made into a headband tied with a large bow in front. From: Peter Rindisbacher, 'Two of the Companies Officers Travelling in a Canoe Made of Birchbark Manned by Canadians' (Northwest Journal ISSN 1206-42).
the most common style of head band/kerchief wear is what we see typified
in this Kurz drawing of the “Horseguard at Fort Berthold”.
|Here are a couple more kerchief styles from 1800s western paintings.|
Mountain Man Sketch Book Vol. 1
|considered to be so low down on your luck, that you had no hat and were forced to wear a kerchief instead of a hat. However, as hats wore out, the wearing of kerchiefs may be come more common, especially during the summer. A silk scarf or a piece of linen would be a start for a cheap kerchief or neck cloth. The neck scarves were usually the same as the kerchief (36”x36”), and usually solid colors with blue being the most popular for the French and black the predominant silk scarf color. These kerchiefs would be appropriate summer head coverings worn headband or bandana style. For more on some styles of kerchief wear see J.A. Hanon’s Vohager’s Sketchbook from the Fur Press in Chadron, NE.|
make excellent cool or cold weather caps. There are many styles and methods of
wearing these hats, and we refer you to the Voyager’s
Sketchbook by James A. Hanson for more references on ways to wear the toque
and on other types of hats worn by the French. Two styles of toques are noted in
journal accounts: the single and the double cap. A single toque resembles a
simple modern stocking cap, while the double toque resembles a deflated football
with one end stuffed into the other to form a double layer. Depending
upon how deep you stuff one end into the other, it is possible to adjust the
“drop” or “bag” of the double toque… The distinct fashion statement of
the toque was the “bag” of the cap, which is the leftover portion that hangs
from the head (K.A. Koster K.A. 2002. Les Pays Den Haut, When is a Tuque,
Not a Tuque? On The Trail Magazine).
|Some styles of wearing the toque, often shown in period sketches and paintings|
A pattern for knitting this correct style of toque is available in Mark Tully’s “The Packet II” (M. Tully 2000 The Packet II – Being Another Collection of Patterns, Articles and Essays of Particular Interest to the 18th-Century Re-Enactor. Ballindalloch Press. Baraboo, WI).
|Toques or tuques were worn by most everyone and not just the French. Toques are knitted wool hats, but they are not usually like most of those that are sold and worn at modern rendezvous with the knitted “ribbed” look. The most common colors among French voyagers were blue or scarlet. But other colors are used too, with natural colors & green also being documented. Most toques did not have brow-folds or turned up edges, nor did they commonly have tassels on the end, two things so commonly seen today. This same style of hat was not always knit, especially in the earlier days, but were often made of wool fabric, blanketing or blankets too.|
|The wearing of trade silver or other adornments such as feathers, ribbons, and beads upon the toque severely lacks support historically in journals and artwork (K.A. Koster K.A. 2002. Les Pays Den Haut, When is a Tuque, Not a Tuque? On The Trail Magazine).|
Here are a few toques in historic sketches & paintings. Rindisbacher over and over shows the plain bag style toque, most commonly in Red. You’ll notice no ribs, no tassel, no pins or other junk stuck on the hats:
Canadians wearing toques by Cornelius Krieghoff.
Traveler by Rindisbacher.
Moore, We Proceeded On, 2001.
|Wool Canadian Caps with their fur bands have been around since at least the middle 1700s. These are nice looking warm hats and they are easily constructed. The cap is made from four or more wedge shaped pieces of wool or blanket material sewn into a beanie. These pieces can be doubled and/or lined with linen, fustian or cotton. You can take your measurements from the segments of a favorite baseball cap. Either a separate band, about 3” wide, can be sewn around the bottom, or your “football” sections can be lengthened and then turned up on the sides about 3”. Fur is sewed on this band and it forms a large fur band around the cap.|
The Canada Cap is well documented for use in the 18th and into the 19th century.
artist F. VonGermann depicts the cap being worn circa 1766 by a British
soldier at Michilimackinac. Two decades earlier, celebrated English artist
William Hogarth, wearing a Canada cap, captures himself in a
self-portrait. From before the French and Indian War through the
Revolutionary War the Canada cap is evident. It is said Benjamin Franklin
himself donned one and wore it when he lived in Paris.
Another example can be seen in the Eastman Johnson painting Washington
Crossing the Delaware (1851). Later,
in the 1860s another celebrated artist, cartoonist Thomas Nast,
established the look of “Santa Claus”.
Santa may be the most popular wearer of the Canada cap (Koster,
Grand Portage National Monument).
bottom fur band is pulled down the band forms earflaps with the fur next to the
skin. Fox and raccoon were common, but coyote also makes a good fur band. Many
times the cap had a fur “pom,” tassel, wool pompom, feather(s) or tail on
top in the center. These are easy simple caps to make and The Book of Buckskinning II, the Manuel for Interpreting Lewis & Clark, and Beth Gilgun’s Tidings
From The 18th Century all give details on how to make a Canadian
Style Fur Caps
good information on winter clothing I would recommend the article Winter
Traders’ Dress in Eighteenth-Century Hudson Bay, by Frances Back in the
Winter 2004 Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly. Even though this is 18th
Century Hudson Bay, some of the example sited here are early 19th
century. Additionally, The Northwest and Hudson’s Bay companies were in both
the Canadian and American Rockies and many Canadians were also employed in the
American Fur Trade.
HBC employees wore caps, “the crown of which is of cloth, the flaps of which reach down on the shoulders, and button close under the chin, are of beaver skin; and those who do not use caps, have martin or cat-skin wigs.” From Voyages of Hyudson’s Bay in Search of a Northwest Passage, 1741-1747, The voyage of William Moor and Francis Smith, 1746-1747 in F. Back, 2004. Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly. Winter 2004)…In mild weather, an otter skin wig or cap is worn, having a broad piece of the above skin ‘round it,’ the crown of cloth lined with linen; but when the cold is great or snow drifting much, another kind of cap is used, the crown also of cloth but lined with flannel; and has a large flap or cape which comes down over the shoulders, and ties under the chin. The face is defended by a chin cloth made of bveaver, duffle, flannel or blanketing; it comes under the chin, over the cheeks and ties with strings on the crown of the head under the cap; so that little more than the eyes, nose and mouth is exposed to the air (From Andrew Graham, Observations on Hudson Bay, [written from 1767-1791], Hudson’s Bay Company Archives in F. Back, 2004. Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly. Winter 2004).
three hats drawn by Francis Back in the article Winter Traders’ Dress in
Eighteenth-Century Hudson Bay, found in the Winter 2004 edition of Museum
of the Fur Trade Quarterly, Vol. 40, No. 4. The objects shown in these
figure were taken from artifacts in the Canadian Museum of civilization. The
caps in the first and second pictures are worn over “fur wigs” and on the
second also has a “chin cloth.” Both these pictures show skull caps made
from sections like those of a Canadian cap. The third hat is a cloth [wool]
skullcap with fur earflaps that could be worn up or down.
|Here’s another fur hat from Canada. This smaller piece is taken from a watercolor painted at Moose Factory on James Bay around 1804-1811. The color reproduction is on the front cover of the Winter 2004 Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly and came courtesy Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. This water color shows a fur cap with earflaps. At first glance it would seem to be skunk, but that is highly unlikely since this region is beyond the skunks historic range. Upon closer examination it is darker fur flaps tied up over a lighter colored hat body, which may be either wool or a lighter fur. I many ways it resembles the hat on the far right of the previous three pictures, but this one appears to have the ear/neck flaps rounded on the ends rather than pointed.|
|Various types of winter hats or fur or wool were also worn. Here is a 1837 pencil sketch by James Wandesford Butler. And a second by Butler entitled “Hunter” from 1838. The first hat looks like what we would call a “Trapper’s Hat” today. The hat in the second sketch almost looks like the hat that Mark Baker wears. Both of these sketches are from Canadian subjects.||
absent in all of the descriptions, period sketches and paintings of winter hats
are the round beaver hats with the leather bills, which have become very popular
at modern rendezvous and in modern mountain man or fur trade paintings. Another
popular hat today is the fur drape or full animal pelt “road-kill” hats that have suddenly appeared and
proliferated in the last 30 years. They too have no historic precedence. When
you see a lot of guys wearing something at a modern rendezvous or in a Hollywood
production, that looks “cool,” it should send up a “red” flag, as it
usually turns out to be historically incorrect.
We think it would be entirely appropriate, especially if your persona is a recently discharged “G.I.” or militiaman, to be wearing a military hat appropriate for the time you are depicting. There are a variety of hats that fall into this category and many mirror civilian styles or types of the time.
|Here’s Rindisbacher’s 1823 painting of “Two Company Men Traveling in Canoe”. Notice that there are four top hats, one clerk’s cap and one kerchief shown.|
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