5 Ridiculous Myths Everyone Believes About the Wild West

#2. Cowboys Wore Cowboy Hats


The Myth:

The ultimate item of the cowboy outfit is of course the Stetson hat, which most of us just call a cowboy hat. There's always the boots, too, but they kind of go together as a pair.

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We're not entirely sure why the Texas license plate is there.

The hats were practical, lightweight, and made with utility in mind. They had curved edges that could defend you from both sun and rain, and they made you look incredibly stylish while doing what amounted to staring at cows for weeks at a time. The curved brim, those dips in the crown, the band -- the Stetson is about as iconic as clothing gets. So if you get in your time machine and set it for 1870, you'd damn well better be packing one of these:

Worn by John Wayne, and also people you don't want to talk to at bars.

The Reality:

Lots of people wore hats back then, that part's true. But they seemed to wear everything but what we think of as "cowboy" hats. Here's Billy the Kid wearing some kind of fucked-up top hat:

Here, enjoy this theme music.

Here's Wild Bill Hickok wearing a woman's flat pancake hat:

"Women's panties, too. They make me feel dainty."

But what you would have seen mostly back then were bowler hats:

"My, my, chap, shall we go forth for some train robberies?"

They were more popular because they were a little more versatile in various social situations, especially in a time when all men wore hats all the damn time. In fact, famed Western historian Lucius "Clearly a Fake Name" Beebe went so far as to call it "the hat that won the West." Looking back on most portraits from the time, you can find that almost every single major name in the West owned a bowler hat, at least if they had class.

This dude could be gut-stabbing toddlers and we'd still shake his hand.

Even the cowboy hats that Stetson was making in the late 1800s didn't look like the Stetson hats we call "cowboy hats" today. Originally known as "the Boss of the Plains," it looked more like modern Amish hats, and may have been just a modified sombrero.


All of the curling and ornamentation came later, but this hat is the granddaddy of every cowboy hat in the world today. And that's not exactly what your mind jumps to when you think of cowboy hats, is it?

#1. Guns Were Rampant in the Old West


The Myth:

Well, even if cowboys didn't have cowboy hats, we sure as hell know they had six-shooters on their hip. Back then, every man, woman, and child came pre-equipped with an old-timey revolver, which was used for everything from personal defense and hunting to celebrating.

Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
If you're extremely careful, they even work as vibrators.

The Reality:

Regardless of the public's perception, gun control laws may have actually been stricter back in the 19th and early 20th century than they are now, especially in the West. In the beginning, there was definitely gun violence, as there was neither standardized law nor a good way to enforce it, but the Wild West didn't stay wild forever.

As towns formed and communities grew, the need for and tolerance of handguns started to fall. Starting in 1878, some 25 years into the westward expansion, action was finally taken -- even places as wild as Dodge City started posting signs like this:

Fabius Maximus
Man, we could go for some prickly ash bitters right about now.

In fact, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral was caused by one gang being unwilling to abide by the anti-firearm rule of Tombstone.

But it's not like the six-shooter of the time was very dangerous anyway. They didn't even use regular bullets like they currently do, instead opting for the so-called "cap-and-ball" system that was little more than a marble launched by black powder. It had an effective range of maybe 50 feet. The Adams, one of the first revolvers introduced at the time and a hallmark weapon of the era, would burn the living hell out of your hand while launching the bullet. So you had to be really sure you wanted to shoot that dude.

"You're lucky I'm out of burn salve, hombre."

That's why, even among those who used guns, six-shooters weren't the favorite. They were little more than a weapon of last resort. Shotguns and rifles were the preferred weapons, having both the power and the range to put down a mountain lion or a card-cheating son of a bitch. But who would ever want to watch a Western where cowboys were meeting at high noon to shoot each other in the face with huge shotguns?

Well, actually ...

For more ridiculous myths you believe, check out 6 Things From History Everyone Pictures Incorrectly. Or discover The 5 Most Overrated Jobs Of All-Time.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Reasons Everyone in the New Superman Movie is a Dick.

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