The M1883 to M1904 Campaign Hats

Kelton Oliver
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Pat, you're spot on about the advantages and disadvantages of different hat materials. In fact, I grew up on a working cattle ranch and I do know the difference between a higher quality hat and a lower quality one. In fact, I own a lovely silverbelly gray 10x beaver cowboy hat, but I really only wear it for "dress." If I were a working cowboy, I might wear it frequently, but nothing I do today really "needs" a high-quality hat, and I don't want to ruin a $400 hat tramping about in the woods. For my purposes, a hat which can be rolled up is by far the most practical, as I wear it mostly when hiking or shooting and I often stick it into a coat pocket or behind the seat of the truck. For military use, it is possible that wool felt was considered "good enough" for general issue. The fact that troops were authorized one hat a year probably reflects the reality that they were damaged or stained beyond service long before they would have been "worn out" in the normal sense of the word. Certainly, the First Sergeant would have retired your fur felt cowboy hat many years before you did. If a hat is only expected to last a year, it is reasonable to keep the cost down. I still think the crushable wool felt hat would be a lot more practical than ...oh, I dunno...a beret, for example. :lol:

The issue of cost brings up some interesting points. As I pointed out above, I only wear my "good" hat when I'm "dressing up" but a hat isn't a critical piece of equipment for anything I do. On the other hand, I cut no corners on my boots, as I ride a lot and my horsemanship needs all the help it can get. I have a pair of "no-name" dress boots that I wear to "dress up" affairs, but when I actually ride, it's in my Dehner 3-strap boots that were made to order. Some people have commented that they would be afraid of damaging or wearing out the expensive boots, and I understand the point -- but I "feel" the horse through the boots and sometimes that feel is what keeps me above rather than below the horse. From my perspective, it makes no sense to spend $400 for a hat that I may run over with a truck because I don't need the hat anyway. Conversely, it makes no sense to ride in "second-best" boots because failure to maintain the correct orientation relative to the ground can result in injury. Believe me...I know!

All of which is sort of a long way of saying that "back in the day," the Army may have paid more attention to the quality of hats because it was a working item. Today, the Army spends a lot of money and effort on the helmet but everything else is designed to be pretty much disposable. Nobody really "needs" a beret and the quality control of the item reflects it.


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Pat Holscher
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Kelton Oliver wrote:
The issue of cost brings up some interesting points. As I pointed out above, I only wear my "good" hat when I'm "dressing up" but a hat isn't a critical piece of equipment for anything I do. On the other hand, I cut no corners on my boots, as I ride a lot and my horsemanship needs all the help it can get. I have a pair of "no-name" dress boots that I wear to "dress up" affairs, but when I actually ride, it's in my Dehner 3-strap boots that were made to order. Some people have commented that they would be afraid of damaging or wearing out the expensive boots, and I understand the point -- but I "feel" the horse through the boots and sometimes that feel is what keeps me above rather than below the horse. From my perspective, it makes no sense to spend $400 for a hat that I may run over with a truck because I don't need the hat anyway. Conversely, it makes no sense to ride in "second-best" boots because failure to maintain the correct orientation relative to the ground can result in injury. Believe me...I know!
Good boots really do make a difference riding, but that's another area where people have to be experienced to be convinced. If you tell somebody who doesn't ride that, or if you tell a novice rider that, they'll often look at you like you have two heads. Indeed, more than once I've been asked about boots for riding, and knew right away that my explanations were never going to be listened to, as what the questioner really wanted to know was where to get the cheapest boots possible. Or, sometimes, people will just vaguely tell you what sort of boot they bought, without any real understanding as to what it was or why its designed the way it is.
Kelton Oliver wrote: All of which is sort of a long way of saying that "back in the day," the Army may have paid more attention to the quality of hats because it was a working item. Today, the Army spends a lot of money and effort on the helmet but everything else is designed to be pretty much disposable. Nobody really "needs" a beret and the quality control of the item reflects it.
Berets must have had some original practical purpose, but I don't know what it is. They seem to have had their origins in European peasant caps, and they may have simply been the cheapest option available for some degree of warmth. Other than that, they really don't do much, although they've certainly spread to near universal use. I'd guess, but don't know, that for wooded or semi wooded country, they might have made sense. It's amazing how universal their use has become. Recent photos from the Congo show Congolese rebels wearing a uniform resembling the US woodlands BDU (with their leader sporting the new U.S ACU uniform) and wearing green berets. Whatever their merits (and I really don't know what they are), I wish they hadn't spread into US use, as they're not an item that is a traditional US one, and they have a lot of demerits.

As an aside, I recently saw a photo of Canadian troops very early in WWI, equipped with Ross rifles, and wearing super sized berets. I thought that at that time only the French mountain troops wore them, but apparently at least some other use occurred to some degree.
Pat

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What do you consider a reasionable price for the 1883 hats. I see them at shows running from 600 - 1300 depending on condition and if its an enlisted or officers.

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John, The price range you quoted 600-1300 depending on condition is about right. The earlier issued 1883 screen vent models would be at the high end. Those early hats issued in black could run higher than the 1300.
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The photo that shows up in a recent thread depicting a well worn campaign hat reminded me of the discussions on felt in this thread. As noted, coney was a popular felt for campaign hats, although wool seems to have shown up for the M1911.

Anyhow, to my surprise, nutria was a really common felt for early 20th Century, and perhaps late 19th Century, cowboy hats.

(Nothing like picking up a conversation eleven years later).
Pat

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Pat since you brought nutria up 11 years later...
https://www.rollcall.com/2019/09/25/rep ... tside-d-c/

What is a most entertaining read is the "Debate" on the House floor which can be found here
https://www.congress.gov/congressional- ... le/H1208-1

A true bi-partisan bill! :clap:

One of the best quotes
"Madam Speaker, people see swamp rats all
the time roaming the halls of D.C., but I believe this is actually the
first time in American history that we have a taxidermied swamp
creature on the actual floor of the House of Representatives."

Cheers
Steve
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Pat Holscher
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Steve,

My apologies for the long delay in replying. . . but then on the other hand perhaps it was given the longevity of this thread. At any rate, I'll try to be less time delayed in the future.

One of the ironies about the politician from California is that California, last year, enacted a fur ban which, when read, seems to outlaw the sale of new fur felt hats in California. A state outlawing the natural and productive use of a product deserves to be overrun by the natural and productive creature bearing the product, in my Neanderthal view.

Anyhow, on this general topic, being a wearer of broad brimmed hats myself, for a long time I'd been wearing a shaped M1911 campaign hat when hunting or fishing as it was a good beaver felt hat and was part of an experiment undertaken here to see if we could have some of those made for our collective group. The process turned out to be a bit too much so only the initial few experimental hats were made and I ended up with the one that was the most complete. It was just about my size (a bit tight), but worked well for the use I put it to. Over time, rain, snow, etc. etc., really took a toll on it (which is saying a lot, given as they're really tough), and I was pondering sending it on to its reward when it featured as part of a really bad day, that being that on that day it blew out of my Jeep (I had the top down) and I had to rush into town, on a Sunday afternoon, to the vets, as my dog had been bitten by a rattlesnake. I later went out to look for it but couldn't find it. Probably somebody stopped and picked it up, and hopefully, in spite of its dilapidated state, it went on to productive use.

Anyhow, when that occurred, I just pressed an old Stetson "Gun Club" broad brimmed hat into the same use, and while I like that hat for sporting use, it didn't quite suffice as a replacement. In part this was the case as M1911s have grommets in the brim for a band that can also serve for holes for a stampede string , and the early ones that had such a grommet under the hat band were particularly so suited, which this pattern was (the crown was a bit taller too). I don't normally wear a stampede string but if you are using the hat in the role I was it actually was handy as you could push the hat off your head for one reason or another and not put it on the ground.

Anyhow, I thought about having a hatmaker shape a cowboy hat into the appropriate shape and putting in the grommets, but good cowboy hats are expensive and I already have two surviving such hats for stock work that are good ones which will likely outlast me. So I ended up ordering a Forest Service campaign hat from Strattons, which seems to make good hats if the reviews are correct, and which have a taller crown that the current DI M1911. They also have really thick brims. Their felt is apparently composite nutria and rabbit, with some beaver, so it should work well. Indeed, looking into it, some hat aficionados claim that nutria might be superior to beaver.

All of which is a good reason to turn a blind eye to nutrias in California until they're in sufficient numbers to be fighting feral hogs for space on Rodeo Drive, at which point maybe some will reconsider some things.

My apologies to all Californians who stop in here, who surely must right thinking, of course.
Pat

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