The Earp brothers must be twitching in their graves. The same goes for Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday, Wild Bill Hickok and a posse of Stetson-wearing TV Wild West lawmen.
There's a new sheriff in one rural Wyoming county, and he has banned his department from wearing — gasp! — cowboy hats. It's a move that has caused an uproar and led one deputy to retire in protest.
And it’s not just those wide-brimmed symbols of the Old West. Those dusty old cowboy boots? Told to get out of Dodge.
New Sublette County Sheriff Stephen Haskell, who took office last month, requires deputies to wear black trousers, a tan shirt, black boots and a black ball cap.
Haskell, who is based in the tiny community of Pinedale, says the change is for safety and uniformity.
“I had my patrol deputies wearing one uniform, [and] I had detention wearing another uniform. It looked like the Skittles platoon,” Haskell told the Casper Star-Tribune. “We had a rainbow of colors. Who the heck is who?”
But critics contend the change ignores the history: an unofficial cowboy dress code that dates to nearly the 1800s, especially in Pinedale, a place recently heralded by True West magazine as one of the nation’s top 10 true Western towns. And this is Wyoming, where cowboy images are everywhere, including on license plates.
The sheriff’s department says people who even give a dang are watching too much television.
“There are 6,000 people in Pinedale in a county the size of Connecticut and the fact that people are now talking about this across the nation, it’s like, really?” Sgt. Katherine Peterson, a department spokeswoman, told the Los Angeles Times.
Peterson said that the department has received no complaints from residents. The outcry has come from outside Wyoming.
“People are saying, ‘This is the West! How can you do this?’” Peterson said.
The naysayers include Bob Boze Bell, executive editor of the Arizona-based True West magazine.
“I hate this: It’s just one more strike against the uniqueness of the American West,” he told The Times. “Enough trying to make this little town a world-class destination. It seems like there are a bunch of Easterners trying to change this place.”
He added: “I don’t go to New York City and tell police there they can’t wear blue uniforms. Let us wear cowboy hats.”
Peterson said Haskell is a Wyoming native and U.S. Marine Corps veteran who blanched when he found that deputies were wearing a host of different uniforms to work, including long outdated versions and even polo shirts.
“It was such a hodgepodge that he decided that some uniformity was needed,” she said.
And that meant cowboy wear got the boot.
“There is nothing anti-American about this, as some people have claimed,” Peterson said. “In Wyoming, you don’t even see working cowboys wearing cowboy hats in the winter. It’s too cold.”
Haskell, a semi-professional bull rider and bareback rider for seven years who keeps a “Cowboy Code of the West” plaque on his office wall, even took his argument public: He posted on social media that cowboy boots are slippery on ice, and cowboy hats blow away.
“Have you ever stood on the side of the highway on a blustery Wyoming day and tried to keep a cowboy hat on your noggin?” he wrote on the Sublette County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page. “I’d rather my deputies were concerned with their safety and the safety of the public than trying to chase down a fly-away cowboy hat.”
But Deputy Gene Bryson wasn’t buying that argument.
He retired last week, partly because he felt that if his cowboy hat was gone, well then, so was he.
“I am not going to change. I’ve been here for 40-odd years in the Sheriff’s Office, and I’m not going to go out and buy combat boots and throw my vest and hat away and say, ‘This is the new me,’” the 70-year-old law enforcement veteran told the Star-Tribune.
The thing was, he was the only deputy left on the force who was wearing a cowboy hat.
“That’s kind of the reason why I retired,” Bryson said. “That’s what looks good to me in the sheriff’s department,” Bryson said. “It’s Western. It’s Wyoming.”
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