I hied off down a sidetrail Saturday evening — one populated by hunters and fur traders, Civil War soldiers, Mexican partisans, a Norse god, a wizard and a spirit of forest, field and stream. It was a delightful journey.
It started, oddly enough, on Facebook. One of the frontier-related pages I follow — Just Frontier Trash, 1750-1790 — kicked up an interesting description from traveler Henry Rowe Schoolcraft of a hunter in the Ozarks wearing “a short, greasy buckskin frock and a pointed old hat.”
“Pointed Old Hat” conjures images from Middle Earth — Tom Bombadil and Gandalf. And we’re off…
Tom Bombadil always gets left out of the adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. I love the sidetrail of the hobbits’ evening with Tom and his wife Goldberry, who is really the only woman (water nymph?) in LOTR that might be considered “sexy.”
Back to hats…
Such doings as Tom’s old, battered hat with a tall crown and Gandalf’s wide-brimmed wizard hat are not fanciful. The wide-brimmed, and round-to-pointy tall crown dates authentically to the early medieval period. Odin was depicted by the Norse as wearing a hood or a wide-brimmed hat, looking very much like You-Know-Who.
Tolkien’s tall hats are not anachronisms (we’ll leave the pipeweed for another day). There is a fine example of a medieval felt hat pulled well-preserved from a Swedish bog. It’s called the Lappvattnet hat and it dates back to the 14th Century, and it looks just the way I picture Tom Bombadil’s hat.
Made of sheep’s wool, it is a frontiersman’s headpiece. According to TheMedievalHunt.com:
The north part of the Scandinavian peninsula was at this time not part of any kingdom. Norway claimed some tax rights of the Sami people on the eastern sides. On the Baltic coast Swedish traders, so called birkarlar, where the only ones from Sweden allowed to trade with the Sami, a right they kept for a long time. Traders from Novgorod, the forerunners of the Russian empire, also came from the north to trade. The trade was almost exclusively with furs. Bisshunters (someone that hunts mainly for furs) and furtraders lived and traded here. The trade then moved over [to] Stockholm, as this was a stapletown which all trade in the region had to go through. In Stockholm foreign traders would buy the goods and transport it out to the customers in Europe and the world. The area of Lappvattnet also had trade with the Norwegians, getting English goods from the Norwegian ports. This paints us a picture of a harsh pioneer frontier, but with connections to modern cities and fashion for those of means. The hat probably belonged to either a bisshunter or a furtrader. The name “Lappvattnet” means “the Sami water” Lapp, being an older term now considered derogatory. That the hat was found here, might implicate that the owner was part of the furtrade in some way.
Yeah, I love that.
The Black Hand Trading Co. has produced a recreation of an artifact from Puritan New England:
Continuity & Persistence see the “old pointed hat” crop up in the frontier Ozarks — and on Civil War battlefields. Here’s an example that was picked up on a battlefield in Arkansas and now resides with the Kansas Historical Society:
The Scarecrow in Wizard of Oz could have rocked that hat.
The Very Tall Crown was not uncommon in the era — witness this Yankee hat from a Michigan outfit:
Many Mexican sombreros from the 18th to the 20th Century featured a Very Tall (And Pointy) Crown.
The military campaign hat that came into style at the turn of the 20th Century features what is often called a “Montana Peak” — where the crown is bashed on four sides and comes to either a pointed or rounded peak. The New Zealand Army of the Boer War/Great War era fully sent it with what they called a “Lemon Squeezer” version of the campaign hat — tall and very pointy.
My own EDC hat is a modified Montana peak (bash on three sides) and the point on the modest crown is slightly rounded.
I’m not prepared to go full Frontier Partisan Gandalf…
Quixotic Mainer says
I had a very dear friend, now sadly gone to his reward, who used to perpetually rock a tall crowned Hardee Hat when doing fast draw competitions, or embracing his true passion in life: being a cannoneer. He had a sugar loaf sombrero he would bust out on occasion too, which inspired several Gandalf references.
That scene of Odin and Slepnir out on an epic trail ride is fantastic, as is “Gundalf”. Awesome stuff!
I always thought of Eowyn as the sexiest woman in LOtR. Different strokes…
I used to have a poster of Josef Madlener’s “Der Berggeist” painting, which Tolkien owned as a postcard and drew some Gandalf inspiration from. I always thought the German landscape in the background influenced how I imagined Middle Earth, and some of the breathtaking Swiss mountain villages must have influenced Tolkien’s Rivendell description.
I still want to get the book that came out a couple of years ago on the landscapes that inspired Middle Earth. (The Worlds of JRR Tolkien, John Garth)
John Maddox Roberts says
It has always (at least since the late ’60s) my belief that Tom Bombadil is the Green Man figure, also called the King of the Wood. Tolkein, Graves, Mary Renault, Henry Treece and many other writers of the first half of the 20th century were all strongly influenced by Sir James George Frazer’s 1890 book “The Golden Bough: the Roots of Religion and Folklore” a seminal study of the King as the embodiment of fertility and nature. Gandalf says that Tom is the oldest creature of the wood. The King’s sacred tree is the oak with its dependent mistletoe. In fact, the Golden Bough itself is the mistletoe. An old English term for mistletoe is “goldberry.”
I did not know that re Mistletoe — though Tolkien surely did. How wonderful, all of it.
lane batot says
My favorite character in “The Hobbit” was Bror, the bear man. I was sorry he had such a limited role in the movie. I always related to this character, and the depiction of his home in the movie made me realize we both have very similar house-keeping practices!
John Bullard says
I always thought the photos of Union General Ambrose Burnside wearing that high-crowned Yankee hat helped to unintentionally clue you in to his ineptitude.as military leader. Looking at them, he just looks like the very definition of “twit”.
There’s a hilarious picture of a statue of Burnside that is a roost for w whole bunch of pigeons. About his level of accomplishment.
David Wrolson says
Every once in awhile I check in on “Civil War Humor” on Twitter. He has a bumper sticker called “Confederacy of Dunces” with pictures of Hood, Bragg and Jeff Davis.
For those that don’t know-there is a semi-famous book called “Confederacy of Dunces” which is well-known in trivia circles for various oddities of the author and book and so forth.
BTW-My pastor said today he is really enjoying the Private MacAuslan stories by GMF. He said he laughs out loud at them. Although, I think he laughs easily.
I re-read the first Flashman to see if I can send that a Pastor’s way-but I just can’t. GMF is so clean in MacAuslan so I will let that stand-I did also send his film memoir.
To be fair, I asked him for a rec and picked up on one that he mentioned in the sermon-Eric Metaxas’s bio of Dietrich Bonhoeffer-so I have that one coming from the library.
Not sure if the book lending to the pastor will continue-but if so my thoughts have turned to Alexandra Fuller’s books-I know we both have our issues with her, but I absolutely love “Cocktail Hour Under the Tree of Forgetfulness.” Absolutely top 5 book for me.
To get there, however that would have to be the 3rd of her books to read.
1) “Don’t Let’s go to the Dogs Tonight”
2) “Scribbling the Cat”
3) “Cocktail Hour.”
Years ago, I made a mistake and had somebody try and read Private MacAuslan without having read “Quartered Safe” and I think it is important to read books in a certain order.
Pastor has been to Ethiopia-so Fuller’s central Africa stuff is not totally out of line.
Fuller, whatever else, is a real-deal writer. Very, very good.
It depends on the pastor. My pastor once used lyrics from a Metallica song as a teaching point. I don’t know if he listens to much heavy metal now though.
On the other hand, my high school was run by extreme fundamentalists who consider all rock music to be Satan’s music. I mean they believed that “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles was wicked. It was okay to listen to Imagine because that was folk (even if it’s a very anti-religious song.) They tended to believe that the beat to rock and roll was, in their words, sensual. Well isn’t all music to some degree sensual? They were also suspicious of jazz.
I once had to do a report on Burnside for school. It was amazing how bad a leader he was. I think he was once nominated for worst general of all time.
Quixotic Mainer says
I think his ultimate problem was that he didn’t know how to deflect, mollify, or just say no to political pressure. The whole Fredricksburg debacle should have been called off when the rain wrecked roads held up the pontoons and lost them the element of surprise. But the suits told him he needed to move ASAP, “nah, it’ll be fine”, so he just went ahead with a plan that was already ruined, to the tune of 13,000 casualties…
Guy invented a pretty great carbine, and had journeyman record of service on the frontier, he was just in no way, shape, or form ready to lead the AOP.
That second photo of ol’ Tom makes me think of Tom Berenger playing James Longstreet in the Gettysburg movie. Granted, I’m reading Shaara’s ‘The Killer Angels’ right now, so I’m probably predisposed to be thinking of it!
The world could always use a few more pointed old hats.
Wow — you’re right.
John Maddox Roberts says
That first hat just shouts: “Solomon Kane!”
SQUIRE RUSTICUS says
I believe pointed crown hats were more common and established on the Eastern frontier, in Dutch and Germanic areas than depicted today.
I have a reprint of and 1820’s German immigrant hunter, want to say his last name was like Buemmer. Probably some of you gentlemen know to whom I refer and the book. The title had Hunter in it. If I recall right, he mentions part of his hunting costume as having a pointed Jaeger style hat, as he makes his way across the Eastern frontier. I’m not thinking it was the traditional Alpine hat of later date, but maybe more of what was depicted in “Hillbilly” cartoons later. In my library I have traditional German hunting books with ink etching of pointed hatted Jaegers in Austria and Bavaria.The gentleman I mention hunted deer and bear, killing and wasting an extraordinary amount of meat and hides (rain and rot).
The sugar loafed sombrero held a long sway in the South West even with anglos.
A good felt sugar loaf sombrereo can be still purchased for River Junction Trading Co. out of Iowa (Cowboy shooting, frontier goods).
Wonderful reading. Thanks for all the work on this.