[Ads-l] Ten Gallon Hat - and other volumes (two, four, five gallons)

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 10 04:04:45 UTC 2023

I am looking into the early uses of “Ten Gallon Hat” and variants.  I am looking for help in finding the text to an article in American Speech, probably in 1939, in which someone named A. L. Campa first floated the idea that “Ten Gallon Hat” is a corruption of a Spanish word for a decorative braid on a hat.  The theory goes that a nice hat had ten decorative braids – “Galons” or “Galloons,” which was corrupted to “ten gallon hat.”  An alternate theory says it might be derived from Spanish “tan galan” – “so gallant.”

Public Opinion (Chambersburg, Pennsylvania), November 11, 1939, page 10.

This clipping is a reprint, it says, of an article by A. L. Campa in American Speech.

“In the nomenclature of the Southwestern cowboy, sombrero is used interchangeably for hat, but the qualifying phrase of “ten gallon” has been arrived at by a mistaken translation of a Spanish word.  The word “gallon” had no reference to size at one time; it simply served to describe the braid with which a vaquero’s hat was trimmed, and instead of being “gallon” it should have been “galloon.””

The article goes on to assert that “gallon” is frequently used in Mexican ballads in reference to hats, but does not claim that “ten gallon” (or the Spanish equivalent) ever appears.

Does anyone have easy access to that magazine who might be interested in finding the article and sending me a copy or somehow giving me access to it?  My limited search capability in HathiTrust shows me that A. L. Campa does appear in American Speech volume 14, 1939 at pages 217 and 342 as paginated by HathiTrust database.

I doubt both of these theories.

“Two gallon hat” appears in print from as early as the 1880s as an irreverent name for a silk top-hat, plug hat or stovepipe hat.  Sometimes the volume of such hats is even given as four, five or ten.  Even into the 1920s, after “four gallon” and “ten gallon” have been associated with western style hats, there are examples where a formal silk top-hat is clearly being referred to in context.

The exaggerated volume of the hat playfully refers to the exaggerated shape or height of the hat, not a literal claim on the volume of the hat body.  Big cowboy hats are bigger than plug hats, and just got bigger volumes, generally, although plug hats were sometimes given larger volumes, and cowboy hats were sometimes referred to by as little as “two gallon hats” or even “gallon hat” in one instance I could find.

The earliest examples of “ten gallon hat” referring to western style or cowboy hats appear as early as 1918 in Texas.  A widely reprinted article about military recruiting in Texas in 1918 refers to “ten gallon hats” worn by Texans from small towns and ranch country.

But a Stetson ad from 1926 refers to “four gallon hat,” and a request for locals in Fort Worth to wear their big cowboy hats in 1924 refers to them as “four-gallon hats.”

Hollywood movie magazines in the 1920s routinely refer to cowboy hats a merely “two gallon hats.”

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