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Texas Trails-April 28, 2023

published: April 28th 2023
by: Clay Coppedge
source: Southern Livestock Standard

I see by your outfit…

The old folk song “Streets of Laredo” has the line “I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy.” There is no mention of discerning from a stranger’s outfit that the subject is something other than a cowboy, which would have made for a whole different kind of song.

The cowboys who performed much of the manual labor required to settle the west established a certain dress code for that time and place and they didn’t appreciate it when somebody from Back East showed up improperly attired. Texas frontier journalist Don Hampton Biggers wrote about the cowboys’ dress code in his book “History That Will Never Be Repeated.”

“Every now and then some goggle-eyed offspring of imbecility would venture into this country as the correspondent of some newspaper or periodical,” Biggers wrote. “Upon his arrival he would be togged out in great shape, wearing a plug hat, a standing collar, polka dot tie, patent leather shoes and a tailor-made suit. Now, nothing so offended the cowpuncher as this disregard of the costumes he had established as to the proper style of dress in this community and with the first opportunity he generally expressed this disapproval upon the goggle-eyed imbecile in a manner never to be forgotten.”

Biggers added that the episode was generally followed with a big story in one of the eastern papers “of how an inoffensive young man from that town had been robbed and maltreated by a bunch of border bandits and desperadoes.”

Gamblers also had a dress code, which compelled them to dress in fancy long-sleeved shirts capable of hiding an ace or two. Lawman, gambler and eventual New York sportswriter Bat Masterson notoriously wore a derby and was said to have earned his name by carrying around a cane with which he would “bat” around miscreants. That it’s not true doesn’t change the fact that Masterson cared a great deal about his wardrobe and so did a lot of his friends. We’re sure no one ever called Bat Masterson a goggle-eyed imbecile.

Luke Short—gambler, gunfighter extraordinaire, proprietor of the White Elephant Saloon in Fort Worth and one of Masterson’s running buddies— was well known for his Prince Albert coat, derby or stovepipe hat, high-collared, ruffled shirts and fancy vests. He liked to accent the ensemble with a diamond pin attached to his tie or lapel. Even the murderous Doc Holliday changed shirts several times a day and was partial to pastel blues and pinks.

Texas outlaw King Fisher preferred gold-braided sombreros, embroidered vests, silk shirts and a crimson sash and chaps made from the hide of a Bengal tiger. He wore silver-mounted holsters to house two ivory-handled, silver-plated pistols. His silver spurs jingled and jangled. Nobody ever suggested he change into something more modest.

Temple Houston, son of Sam, was a frontier attorney with a gift for fancy language and a fondness for fancy clothes. He preferred ties made of rattlesnake skins to match the bands on his wide-brimmed Mexican-style hats. He wore his hair to his shoulders and dressed in Prince Albert coats, starched shirts, pinstripe trousers and boots of exotic leather. He knew how to handle a gun and could prove it when words failed.

Even the Comanches occasionally liked to play dress up. Spanish explorer Francisco Amangual stumbled across a band of Comanches in Yellow House Canyon near present-day Lubbock in 1802. They were strutting around in three-cornered hats, long red coats with blue collars, cuffs, white buttons and red neckties. Ambitious traders sometimes loaded up with the finest fashions of the day and hauled them into the wilderness only to find the natives already had such clothes, having picked them up from an enterprising Comanchero.

These exceptions to the frontier dress code help prove the rule. A man could dress like a peacock and strut like a rooster if he so chose, but he better be more rooster than chicken if push came to shove or shoot.








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