We received a question from Mark F. on our website:
“…When did stampede straps begin to be used?…”
Stampede straps, or bonnet strings, are decorated strips of leather that going around the back of the hat, through holes behind the ears, and around the neck. The purpose is to keep a cowboy’s hat on as he rides trail.
I began researching this question thinking it would require a simple answer.
Little did I know that I was stumbling onto a rather large debate.
It turns out that there is no official record of stampede strings (as we know them) ever being used before the 20th century. The debate is whether it was common to use straps, and if so, if they looked like they do now (decorative, e.g. braided). We’ll present the evidence, and you can decide for yourself:
The Unconventional History of Civilization on the Old-Time Cattle Range, by Philip Ashton Rollins, Published 1936
“Around the crown, just above the brim and for the purpose of regulating the fit of the hat , ran a belt which was adjustable as to length. The belt was made usually of leather, but, particularly in the Southwest, occasionally of woven silver or gold wire. The belt, if of leather, commonly was studded with ornamental nails, or, did the owner’s purse permit, with “conchas,” which were flat metal plates, usually circular, generally of silver, in rare instances of gold, in much rarer instances set with jewels. Rattlesnake’s rattles, gold nuggets, or other showy curiosities not infrequently adorned the leather. For leather, some men substituted the skin of a rattlesnake. From either side of the brim at its inner edge, depended a buckskin thong; these two thongs, sometimes known as “bonnet strings,” being tied together and so form a guard, which, during rapid riding or in windy weather, was pushed under the base of the skull, but which at other times was thrust inside the hat.”
I See by Your Outfit, by Lindmier and Mount:
“Some cowboys used a leather thong which passed around the base of the crown and under the chin to keep the wind from blowing away their hats.”
A memoir titled “My First Five-Dollar Bill”, contributed by J.L. McCaleb, from The Trail Drivers of Texas, by George W. Saunders McCaleb
“I wore a black plush hat which had a row of small stars around the rim, with buckskin strings to tie and hold on my head.”
In old photos (such as the famous Outlaw King Fisher), you can see that cowboys had stampede straps on their hats.
Key piece of evidence: King Fisher died before the 20th century, thus proving that, while not common, some sort of stampede strap was used before the 20th century.