RESISTOL

BossOfthePlains

Stetson is the classic brand for cowboy hats.  Founded in 1865, the company specialized in high-end headgear for the frontier, including the wildly popular Boss Of the Plains model.  The original Boss Of the Plains design (above) with its narrow brim looks a little dorky these days, like a hat that would be worn by an Amish farmer.  With a wider brim it looks very cool, like a dashing version of the traditional gaucho hat

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In the movie Tombstone Kurt Russell’s Wyatt Earp (above) wears a modified Boss Of the Plains with a wider brim.

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Stetson hats are particularly associated with Texas because of the Open Road model, favored by Lyndon Johnson (above) and Texas law enforcement agencies.  One of the Dallas policeman escorting Lee Harvey Oswald when he was assassinated was wearing a Stetson Open Road.

The legendary Dallas police detective, James Leavelle, who was handcuffed to JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald when he was shot by Jack Ruby, has been honored by the Dallas Police Department.

The narrow-brimmed Open Road became popular in the 1940s, probably because it seemed more modern than traditional cowboy hats, a bit closer to the conventional fedora.

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Resistol hats, however, are the real Texas cowboy hats — because they’ve always been made in Texas, beginning with the founding of the company in 1927.  When I first spent some extended time in Texas in the 1980s, the straw Resistol was ubiquitous — if not worn at least parked in the back of almost every Cadillac and pick-up.

The standard model, the Cattleman Oval (above), is iconic.  Stetson makes a version, The Alamo, which is indistinguishable from it, but for my money, only the Resistol is mainstream Texas headgear.

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Resistol calls the Cattleman Oval “a simple classic that easily transitions from farm work to a night on the town”.  That’s the definition of a real Texas hat.

HOW THE WEST WAS WRITTEN

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We tend to think that the modern genre of Western fiction began with Owen Wister’s The Virginian, from 1902 — and there’s some truth in the idea.  The book was tremendously popular, a publishing phenomenon, and almost single-handedly created a market for novels cast in the same mold.  It was a market that, within ten years, the prolific Zane Grey would exploit and expand dramatically.

The Virginian distinguished itself from the dime-novel and lurid stage-play Westerns that had preceded it by its literary qualities — it was a Western that respectable grown-ups could read without embarrassment.  Hemingway was a fan of Wister’s work, Wister a fan of Hemingway’s — and they eventually became friends.

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The story of The Virginian was skillfully told — the book is still a pretty good read today — and it introduced themes, incidents and character-types that have echoed down through Western fiction ever since, right up to Lonesome Dove.  It placed the cowboy or lone gunman at the heart of the Western genre and established his conflict with or taming by civilized society as enduring subjects.

But The Virginian didn’t come out of nowhere, and its lone-hand protagonist wasn’t the only defining element of Western frontier fiction.  Clarence King had previously published a popular series of novels about life on frontier Army posts, which would establish its own tradition within Western fiction, and in the Western films of John Ford and other Hollywood directors.

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Romances like the popular Ramona, appealing strongly to female readers, had used Western settings before The Virginian — but such novels never established a distinct genre.  They were romances first and Westerns only secondarily.  There were many other kinds of novels set in the West, dealing with a variety of subjects, which didn’t lead directly into the Western genre.

In How the West Was Written, Vol. 1, which covers the years from 1880 to 1906, Ron Scheer offers a lucid and useful survey of American frontier fiction of all types, giving a panoramic view of how the West was treated in novels of the time, in romances, adventures and ultimately in the archetypal, mythic narratives that came to constitute the Western genre as we think of it today.

Scheer’s book is extremely well written, perceptive, illuminating and important.  A second volume covering the years 1907 to 1915, has just been published, and I’m really looking forward to it.  You can find both books here.

A PICTURE FROM THE ROAD

Flying Dolphin Baja

. . . by Jae Song.

We saw this object in the sky from some distance away on the road to Marfa.  At first I thought it was a small airplane until I realized it wasn’t moving.  Then I thought it might be a hot-air balloon, except that those are usually brightly colored.

As we got closer we realized it was some sort of tethered dirigible, which seemed to be in the shape of a dolphin.  As we passed it, it no longer looked like a marine mammal — just a miniature airship with a small enclosed gondola beneath it.

Since we were near Mexico, we concluded that it contained equipment for monitoring illegal border crossings — but who knows?

Click on the image to enlarge.

[See the comments for the solution to the mystery . . .]

SAIGON AGAIN

Lloyd Miss Saigon Baja

[Photo by Jae Song]

After Fort Davis Jae and I decided to head back towards Las Vegas.  Trying to figure out what city to shoot for that day we suddenly realized that we were within striking distance of Tucson and our mission became clear — revisit Miss Saigon.

We hauled ass and got there in plenty of time to check into the Motel Six and head over for another meal at our new favorite Arizona restaurant.  It was Friday night and much busier than on our previous visit, with a crowd of walk-ins waiting to be seated, but we had thought to make a reservation from the road and were shown straight to a table.

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This night there was a sublime lounge group playing in the joint — a wacky lady singer, a saxophone player and a guy on a drum machine.  After the long drive, the big frosty Singha beer tasted especially good, and the food didn’t disappoint, either.

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The next morning we had breakfast at a nearby Waffle House.

Lloyd Waffle House

[Photo by Jae Song]

Suitably fortified, we made it back that day to Silly Town.  We’d put a bit over two thousand miles on the odometer, a long haul for a Christmas in Marfa, where most doors were shut to the hungry traveler.  But that’s part of Christmas, too.

Click on the images to enlarge.

CHRISTMAS DAY ON THE ROAD

Lloyd and Ghost BW Baja

[Photo by Jae Song]

Jae and I decided to spend Christmas Day exploring the country around Marfa.  We drove down to Big Bend National Park and through its many splendors, often following the course of the Rio Grande.

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Jae stopped often to take photographs.  He got obsessed with the windmills used to haul up water from deep wells.

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We passed through Terlingua, a ghost town at the site of what used to be a cinnabar mine — cinnabar is the mineral from which mercury is extracted.  There were ruins of old adobe structures and rusted machinery, dating as far back as the 1880s, spread out over the landscape.  Wim Wenders used the location in Paris, Texas.  The place had a mournful air.

In general, though, the countryside we saw was exhilarating.

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When we got back to Marfa we discovered that even Padre’s was not serving food, which meant we had to race to the local gas station convenience store before it closed (at 7pm) to find something to eat.  It was literally the only choice.

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We picked up some spicy chicken nuggets and some burritos which we heated in the motel microwave.  It was not the extravagant Christmas dinner we had envisioned, but it was just fine.  When there’s no food at the inn, you make do as you can.

Click on the images to enlarge.