The Magic Hat


“There must have been some magic in that cowboy hat he wore,
Cause when he walked into the bar, the ladies met him at the door.”

The shop was called “Western Outfitters” and it was on a side street in the historic district in old Tombstone, an 1890’s sliver-mining town in southern Arizona, turned into a tourist trap that is well worth an afternoon’s visit. The Chamber of Commerce brochure reads…

TOMBSTONE, in Cochise County, Arizona, is no doubt the most famous and glamorized mining town in America. Prospector Ed Schieffelin was told he would only find his tombstone in the San Pedro Valley. He named his first silver claim Tombstone, and it later became the name of the town. Incorporated in 1881, “The Queen of the Boom Towns” is situated on a mesa between the Dragoon and Huachuca Mountains at an elevation of 4,540 feet. At its peak it boasted more than 10,000 residents.

While the area became notorious for saloons, gambling houses and the O.K. Corral shootout, in the 1880s Tombstone had become the most cultivated city in the West. Underground water flooded the mines though, and falling silver prices ended the boom in 1904. Surviving the Great Depression and relocation of the County Seat to Bisbee, in the 1930s Tombstone became known as “The Town Too Tough To Die.”

The main street is remarkably restored into something like its original wild-west roots. This is the scene of the OK Corral where Wyatt Earp, "Doc" Holliday, Virgil Earp and Morgan Earp fought the Clantons and McLaurys. Shoot-outs are re-enacted several times a day for the tourists, and residents and shopkeepers wear period customs to give the place color.  I had spent the day taking in all of the options, a carriage ride tour, the gunfight, drinks at Mad Mary’s, and museums like the fabled “BirdCage”.

The world famous Bird Cage Theatre, also referred to as The Bird Cage Opera House Saloon. This was a fancy way in the 1880's of describing a combination saloon, gambling hall and a house of ill repute. Well, that was the Bird Cage Theatre and it was known across America by its unreputable reputation. In 1882, the New York Times referred to the Bird Cage as, “..the Roughest, Bawdiest, and most Wicked night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” For nine years it never closed its doors, operating 24 hours a day. During this period, 16 gun and knife fights took some 26 lives. There are still 140 bullet holes throughout the building, marking the ceilings, walls, and floors.

It was late afternoon when I entered the shop. It was like stepping into a time machine. The furnishings were vintage 19th century and the stock was a mixture of things from six-guns to spurs. I tried on a leather vest, but the tanner must have been a skinny guy, cause I couldn’t get it buttoned over my gut.  Instead I drifted to the display of cowboy hats. I’ve wanted a cowboy hat ever since moving to Arizona two years ago but couldn’t find one that fit me and also looked good when I stepped in front of a mirror.

The shopkeeper, a wizened old lady dressed in Indian garb of a vintage that predated the mining town, approached me and said, “you are looking for something special?” I told her I wanted a cowboy hat that fit me and that the ladies wouldn’t laugh at me for wearing. She gave me a knowing grin and said, “I have a special hat for you”.  She disappeared into the back of the store and soon emerged carrying a black hat with a gold band.  I tried it on and couldn’t believe it. It fit perfectly and I liked the way it looked.  I said, “I’ll take it, how much?”  When she said ten dollars, my mouth must have dropped open.  I had looked at so many hats ranging from $50-$200 that the price seemed unreal.  Why, I’ll bet hats like that haven’t sold for ten dollars since the 1890’s.  I gave her the money and she said, “Put it on right away, it will bring you good luck.

I didn’t have an opportunity to wear it again for another two weeks, but a trip to an outdoor Country bar on a Saturday night seemed like just the right occasion.  I donned my jeans and Stewart boots, a white shirt and my new hat, and I was off to the races. I hadn’t been there but 20 minutes when a handsome woman standing next to me making idle conversation suddenly asked me to dance.  I showed her my best Arizona Two-step, and when the music ended, we walked back to where we were previously standing.  No sooner had the band started playing again when a different lady asked me to dance and off I went again.  Before the hour past, no less than four women had asked me to dance. That hasn’t happened to me since I was 16.  It had to be the hat.

I keep it carefully hidden away in a dark closet now. I plan to wear it again this weekend, but I need to be careful with it. It must have some powerful magic. I have this feeling that if I went back to Tombstone to look for that shop, that it might not even be there. Probably closed up a hundred years or so ago.J

Gene Ziegler