NWMP Headgear

A place for discussion of mounted services uniforms, headgear, footwear and related personal equipment of the horse soldier.
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NWMP Headgear

Post by John Lindly » Wed Jan 01, 2003 1:16 pm

Happy New Year,

I hope someone can enlighten me about a hat worn by the NWMP. I have seen quite a few photos of the pillbox hat and pith helmet, and of course the "mountie hat" that everyone is familiar with. However, I'm interested in the hat that looks very similar to the hat worn by Australians in both world wars with one side of the brim bent up and attached to the body. I've seen two photos of these and I'm curious as to how popular they were with the NWMP and when they were worn. Also, are they similar to the Australian version. Thank you for your time.

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Post by G.KUSH.UE » Wed Jan 01, 2003 3:05 pm

Hello John,

The hat that you're referring to never existed.

The Stetson hat associated with the Mounted Police was not part of the official uniform until 22 June 1904. Prior to that date it had been used only in a semi-official capacity and the hats were private purchase items. Prior to 1895, the men could wear them in almost any manner they saw fit, and some individuals wore them with the brim pinned up. It was, however, far from a common practice.

Keep in mind that the hats were private purchase items, came from many sources and were of varying dgrees of quality. In the field, on patrol, which was the only place where the men were allowed to wear them, they saw hard service and tended to get battered out of shape. It was far more common for men to pin the front of the brim up than the side, and some men pinned three sides up, Revoltionary soldier fashion. It wasn't until about 1895 that some rules were formulated regarding the hat and how it should be worn - a dose uniformity. The brims had to be worn flat but the crowns could be formed (creased) as desired.

In the field, prior to 1895, it was common practice to wear a piece of scarlet cloth, often a silk bandana, around the crown of the hat so that they could be identified at a distance as policemen. That was because the Mounties did not wear scarlet tunics in the field. They tended to wear fringed buckskin jackets and brown canvas stable jackets.

The hat most favored by the Mounted Police for field service was the "deerstalker." Issued as part of the regulation stable uniform, this Sherlock Holmes-style cap, without the side flaps, and made of brown canvas duck, was the most common type of hat worn on patrol. It was so well-liked, so popular, not one has survived. They were worn out, simply worn to death. Even men leaving the Force kept the hats and wore them on civie street.

In 1888, cowboy artist Charles M. Russell, did a major oil-painted titled "Mounted Police & Indian Prisoners." He painted it from life while living in Canada and it shows 2 Mounties escorting their native captives, and the police are dressed in brown canvas jackets & deerstalker caps.

This hat pinned up, "Aussie-style" business has more to do with the popularity of an old television series titled Bordertown than reality. It was a series about an American lawman and a Mountie enforcing law & order along the International Boundary in the 1880's. The actor who played the Mountie initially refused to wear a pill-box cap and he didn't like the flat brimmed Stetson, so he was allowed to wear a cowboy hat with the brim pinned up. He was more concerned with his image than historical accuracy. During the seceond season he relented a little and wore a pill-box for some scenes.

Image
The NWMP "A" Division, Maple Creek, Assiniboia (Sask.) 1893.
This photograph shows members of the Mounted Police wearing three types
of headgear common to the period. Five men are wearing Stetson hats,
five are wearing "deerstalker" caps and three are wearing pillbox caps.
None of the five Stetson hats are the same, and only the farrier staff
sergeant seated on the far right, the corporal seated in the centre, and
the bugler seated at the far left are wearing scarlet undress tunic. All
of the other men IN UNIFORM are wearing brown canvas duck stable tunics.

Original photo from the collection of G. Kush



George

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Post by Pat Holscher » Wed Jan 01, 2003 5:51 pm

Really neat photograph, thanks George.

Pat

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Post by John Lindly » Wed Jan 01, 2003 7:21 pm

George,

As usual, brilliant information with the added bonus of a terrific photo! Thank you.

John

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Post by G.KUSH.UE » Wed Jan 01, 2003 7:38 pm

Thanks Pat.

I have a large collection of original photos here but I tried to find one that would show a variety of hats.

You will notice that all of the Stetson-style hats differ slightly. What you can't see here is that the hat on the man, third from the left, has a gross-grain binding around the brim.

All of the hats were called Stetsons but most were not made by the Stetson Hat Company. The Hudson's Bay Company furnished hats manufactured in Montreal, Eatons of Toronto sold hats, Christie's of London, England, supplied some of the best, and of course Montgomery Ward and Sears in the U.S. sold them by mail-order. Even the Canadian Pacific Railroad sold Stetson-style hats to Mounties, but I'm not sure where they were made.

As for the pill-box hats in the photo, all three are NCO pattern, with gold-lace band, soutache & embroidered button. Other ranks caps were trimmed with mustard yellow. Corporals & OR's wore caps with a stiff form, while NCO's caps had a soft crown, which you can see if you look closely. The officers pill-box caps were trimmeed with gold lace but they were soft and lacked a stiff liner. They were more like a skull cap in appearance. The chin-straps were worn both under the chin or under the lower lip, at was a matter of individul preference. The pill-box cap was ALWAYS canted to the right and the lower rim had to be two finger widths above the right ear - not square on the head.

Those interested in spurs will note that the staff sergeant seated on the right is wearing a pair of crane-necked jack spurs with instep chains. They were only worn by officers & senior NCO's.

The rifle in the front row is a Winchester Model 1876 carbine, calibre .45/75 manufactured for the NWMP with a full-length forestock.

The two dogs once belonged to the famous Sergeant Wilde, who was killed near Pincher Creek, Alberta by the Blood Indian Charcoal, who was later hanged at Fort Macleod. They stood watch over Wilde's body after it was laid out for the funeral and one big mastif had to be shot before they would allow the body to be moved to the Church for the funeral service.

And that's about all,

George

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Post by Pat Holscher » Wed Jan 01, 2003 9:47 pm

It is interesting to note the brown cotton duck uniform and the semi-official nature of the Stetsons. In some ways this isn't too dissimiliar from what could occur in the U.S. Army of the same period. The cotton stable uniform of the U.S. Army was also worn in the field, and soldiers of the U.S. Army often wore unofficial headgear in the field as well.

As this photo demonstrates, the appearance of the frontier Mountie in the performance of his duties varied considerably from the popular image we now have.

Pat

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Post by monahan » Wed Jan 01, 2003 10:05 pm

Is that pillbox hat still used in the Canadian Armed Forces? I went on a few exchanges in the past to the College Militaire Royal in St. Jean, Quebec and it was in use by the cadets. This was the Canada's French-speaking military academy that I believe has been closed due to the post-Cold War draw down.

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Post by Pat Holscher » Wed Jan 01, 2003 11:02 pm

A couple of additional photographs courtesy of George Kush, thanks George:

Image

Image

Caption: These two photographs show Sub-Constable William H. Metzler,
Reg. #432 OS, in full dress NWMP uniform and in "Prairie Dress." It is
extremely rare to have two such images of the same person, taken on the
same day and wearing two different outfits. Metzler posed for these two
tintypes, taken by G.W. Parker at Fort Macleod in 1877,and sent them
back East to his family in order to show them how their son looked out
on the wild frontier. In the first image he is wearing his "Review
Order," white helmet and white gauntlets on the table. In the second
image he is wearing a beaded buckskin shirt with fringe, a fancy bandana
and is holding a private purchase Sharps carbine, on the table is an
unloaded NWMP issue Adams revolver. He's wearing a Stetson hat, and the
trouser stripes on his breeches are at least 3" wide and are red in
colour (yellow stripes were not worn until the early 1880's), and on his
boots he wears regulation straight-shank cavalry spurs (the same ones in
my collection). You will notice that both prints are reversed, and
you're seeing them exactly as the tintypes appear, rather than
corrected. There is a canvas sheet hung for a backdrop and a buffalo
robe for a carpet. So there you have it, two very early views that have
never been shown to the public before today. You folks out there in
"Forum Land" are the first.

George
Last edited by Pat Holscher on Wed May 07, 2008 12:02 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by G.KUSH.UE » Thu Jan 02, 2003 12:05 am

The pill-box cap is still used by the cadets of the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario. RCM is the Canadian equivalent of U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Canada's two other military colleges, Royal Roads Military College in Victoria, British Columbia & the College Militaire at St. Jean, Quebec, were closed due to budget cuts almost a decade ago, but neither one had a long history. Both RRMC & CMR were established as departments of RMC after the Second World War and provided only 2 year programs of study. RMC is a four year program.

The white universal pattern helmet is also still used at RMC.

At one time several Cdn. militia units still used pill-box caps, but I'm not sure if that's still the case. A number of regimets use the white helmet, and so do some police forces, including the City of Calgary.

George

Paul Scholtz

Post by Paul Scholtz » Thu Jan 02, 2003 9:30 am

Wow, Men,

Fascinating information, absolutely terrific!

What about horse procurement? Did the RCMP have a remount program that predated the Army's procurment policies or did they rely on private purchases from ranchers and breeders?

I really had no idea that Sergeant Preston and Dudly Doright missed the historical mark with uniforms so badly. It would seem that the uniform policy was much the same as the American Army of the west befor the beginning of the 1900s, and field expedients were as useful to the Mounties as to our men on the frontier.

At your(mounted)service,

Paul Scholtz

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Post by G.KUSH.UE » Thu Jan 02, 2003 1:02 pm

The first horses acquired by the NW Mounted Police were purchased during the winter of 1873-74 in the vicinity of Winnipeg. For the most part, they were locally raised animals of no particular breed, but considered large enough and suitable enough for military service. The balance of the horses that were required came from Ontario & Quebec, and were purchased during the spring of 1874. Most were of the Canadian horse breed, but certainly not all. These were the animal that came west with the 2nd Contingent in June 1874, and suffered so much on the famous "March West."

Prior to the completion of the trans-continental railway in 1885, the Force had to rely on stock raised in western Canada, which were for the most part, rather small cayuse ponies. Because these local animals were too small for the kind of hard service experienced on the frontier, the Force established a breeding farm near Pincher Creek, Alberta, (50 mi. east of here) in the early 1880's and started raising their own stock from imported stock. That, in a nutshell, is about all there is to it.

Of course, they bought good horses whenever they could and from various sources all over the west. The ranching industry did not start in western Canada until the early mid-1880's. As soon as this industry became well-established it also served as a source for remounts.

Acquiring good horses was an on going problem and was never really solved to everyone's complete satisfaction.

ALWAYS keep in mind, that prior to 1885 the Force seldom numbered more than 300 men ALL RANKS. At any one time there were seldom more than 250 men on active duty during the early days. The size of the Force was doubled after the 1885 Rebellion & then tripled, but so did the area that had to be policed - about 1/4 the land mass of N. America. I don't have the exact figures close at hand, but that works out to about one Mountie per 10,000 square miles. My figures may be off a little, but I'm sure you get the overall picture.

George

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Post by Pat Holscher » Thu Jan 02, 2003 10:03 pm

Sgt. Preston et. al reminded me of the NWMP movie in which the hero, a Mountie, is portrayed by Alan Ladd (who probably wouldn't have made the height requirements, I suspect, to actually be in the NWMP). I can't recall the name of that film, and I've never been able to sit through the whole thing, but what I recall about it is that the film had the NWMP really wearing an odd cap. It's hard to explain, but was sort of an odd fur thing. Of course, in the same film, the Mounties wear red serge all the time.

Anyhow, is this odd cap wholly a Hollywood creation?

Interesting footgear, by the way. The classic 19th Century square toe just like in the U.S. How high was that heel? It looks to be a little higher than those on contemporary riding boots (excepting western, and some other, boots).

Finally, how closely did the original NWMP uniform approximate that of an English hussar at that time? It looks to be pretty close, but I'm admittedly pretty uniformed on that topic.

Here's a link to the Royal Military College showing present cadets wearing uniforms very similiar to what we see depicted here:

Royal Military College
http://www.rmc.ca/




Pat

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Post by Mich » Fri Jan 03, 2003 11:31 am

John

With respect to the original query, I have seen photos at the Alberta Provincial Archives showing the 19th Alberta Mounted Rifles wearing slouch hats. The photos has approx 30 mounted troops formed up during training.

While difficult to date the photo, it is most likely circa 1910 and from later pictures, the slouch hats appears to have been done away with in favour of the "Stetsons." Photos from just prior to WW1 show a mixed lot of hats ranging from Stetsons to civilian looking cowboy hats.

Long and short, perhaps the photos you saw were actually Canadian militia parading pre-ww1. They did wear this type of hat.


Cheers

Mich

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Post by Grant » Fri Jan 03, 2003 3:43 pm

To further add to G.Kush.UE's tremendous postings on "NWMP Headgear" & the fascinating old photographs, THE book to get, is:- "Uniforms of the Canadian Mounted Police" by James J. Boulton - Turner-Warwick Publications, North Battleford, Sakatchewan - 1990. ISBN 0919899234. 542 pages, copiously illustrated in both black & white & color photographs, with paintings by a brilliant Canadian artist Ron Volstad. (who also does the box art for the Hong Kong model company, Dragon, that produces the official 12" RCMP action figure "Constable Steele".(actually made in China!) He also illustrates a number of the Osprey Military uniform series of history handbooks from the UK.) The book is huge, 542 pages & probably in the region of $80 plus & officially out of print I believe. But it may still be had from the RCMP's "Scarlet & Gold Gift Shop", in their lengthy book listings on the Internet site for the RCMP Museum at "Depot", Regina, Saskatchewan. <www.rcmpmuseum.com> While Dr. Boulton's main interst is headgear, he has produced in this work the ultimate reference guide. There is also a new contemporary book from two serving RCMP brothers, Brunelle, found in the same listings that carries uniforms & added gear right up to date. A new edition is in the works too. The current Liberal government in Ottawa decided the RCMP should earn money by selling their image, so checking the Internet sites for them will bring a lot of merchandise as well as vital information. They now have both a VHS video & a new DVD on the famed Musical Ride. The "RCMP Quarterly" magazine now run by their Veteran's Association may be subscribed to as well, & carries both historical & more contemporary articles & inside information on this Force. Sincerely, Grant.

John L. Matthew

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Post by John Lindly » Sat Jan 04, 2003 12:20 am

Mitch and Grant,

Thank you for replying to this topic - more excellent information! I get the feeling the the uniform of the NWMP pre-1898 was anything but uniform. I've searched for the Boulton book on uniforms of the Mounted Police without success. Unfortunately, it isn't available anywhere online right now, including the RCMP Museum. His Headress book is still available but I'd rather have the one on uniforms. Ultimately, I'd like to create or put together a 1895 period uniform of a North West Mounted Policeman for SASS events. You have all been a great deal of help toward this end! I even have found an original Winchester 1876 NWMP Carbine, so now all I need is an Enfield Mk1 revolver in .476 to complete the weapons part of the outfit.

John

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Post by Pat Holscher » Sat Jan 04, 2003 8:06 am

Originally posted by John Lindly
all I need is an Enfield Mk1 revolver in .476 to complete the weapons part of the outfit.
Is that correct? At least later the RCMP used Colt revolvers. What did the NWMP use during the 19th Century?

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Post by G.KUSH.UE » Sat Jan 04, 2003 3:49 pm

The NW Mounted Police used the Adams Mk I & Mk II revolvers in .450 calibre. These were in service from 1874 to 1882. The Adams was replaced by the Enfield Mk II, calibre .476 in 1883, which was in service until 1905.

Also, 1877, at least 50 Smith & Wesson "Old Model Russian" revolvers were purchased. These weapons were issued to just TWO Divisions and remained in use until at least 1885. These revolvers fired the .44 calibre Russian cartridge.

That said, there were plenty of private purchase handguns on hand. Most of the officers and quite a few other ranks carried revolvers they purchased either back East or from such prominent trading firms as I.G. Baker & Co. and T.C. Power & Bro. Colts, Remingtons, Smith & Wessons, they were all in use. Supt. J.M. Walsh favored a Colt SA, and quite of few of the same were acquired from the refugee Sioux who took them from Custer's dead. I know of a least one officer that carried a Colt New Frontier.

George

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Post by John Lindly » Sun Jan 05, 2003 11:02 am

George,

Did you mean New Service rather than New Frontier? The Colt New Frontier was produced from 1961 to 1974 I believe.

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Post by G.KUSH.UE » Sun Jan 05, 2003 11:59 am

No, I meant the Colt Model 1878, New Frontier, double-action revolver in .45 & .44 calibres. It was a very popular private purchase revolver with members of the NWMP. So popular, it was the weapon chosen as the principal sidearm for the Canadian cavalry forces during the South African war. Sam Steele championed the Frontier, as did many former Mounties.

Due to it's profile, if don't get a good clear look at it in a photo, if you only see the front end, from the cylinder forward, it can be mistaken for the Colt SA. I've seen 5 Frontiers, all once owned by Mounties and they're great guns. As you can tell, I've become a real fan of the Frontier. It's definately on "want list."

I can't understand the SASS. What have they got against the double-action, aside from the fact that they don't fit the Hollywood image.

George

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Post by John Lindly » Sun Jan 05, 2003 1:22 pm

George,

The New Frontier monicker is rarely used in these parts for the 1878 DA. Matter of fact, I had to look it up. So, again, I have learned something from this forum.

As far as SASS rules go, there is constant debate within the membership over the guns that should be allowed. On the one hand, they say pre-1898 firearms, then they limit those to SA only, rifles with exposed hammers and tubular magazines, and double barrel shotguns and exposed hammer pumps. This of course leaves out guns that were very popular in the west, like the 1877 Lightning and Thunderer, the 1878 Frontier, the S&W 44 DA, etc. from regular matches and rifles like the 1895 Winchester, the 1895 Savage, etc., from the long range matches. Don't even get me started on the use of 38 special in SAs and rifles as this cartridge wasn't even invented before 1898.

Personally, being a Smith & Wesson collector, I'd like to get my hands on one the the Russians the NWMP used. Are the serial numbers known for these revolvers and are they marked with a NWMP stamp?

Thanks!

John

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