My favorite Christmas gift is a bright, red silk neckerchief from the mother of my sons. We’ll stop right here and clear the air. It’s called a neckerchief, not a scarf or a hankie or anything else.
NECKERCHIEF! Say it with me.
It must be made of silk to have any cowboy cred at all. Long enough to wrap twice loosely around the throat, and tied with a square knot, it coddles the jugular and carotid and keeps the wearer warm in winter and cool in summer.
A neckerchief is a very utilitarian item in the cowboy’s wardrobe. Aside from the above benefits, in a pinch it can be used as a tourniquet or toilet paper, depending on the emergency. But once used thus, it should be discarded and a new one acquired. This is the voice of experience talking.
Back before cowboys started wearing those goofy square-toed boots and hats with the brim ruler-straight in front, there was a stringent etiquette about wearing a neckerchief. Rule #1 says that it must be a solid color.
Red and black were the preferred palette, but every now and then you’d see a blue one on a cowpuncher with a daring sense of fashion. Patterned neckerchiefs were only worn by drugstore cowboys or pimps.
I saw this rule enforced one summer when a neighbor kid came to the ID to help gather and brand. I’d known him and his family for years and really valued his help. The kid was no slouch at cowboyin’.
But he must not have read the codicil in the Code of the West that forbade patterned neckerchiefs. He met our crew up on the divide by Bradley Peak just as the sun was coming up. His horse spooked as he got close to us and started bucking and pitching down through the sagebrush.
After he had a free and frank exchange of views with his mount, they trotted up into our midst, and he grinned and said, “Rodeo’s over, we’re ready as hell.”
He was wearing a pale lavender neckerchief sprinkled with delicate little paisleys. No wonder his horse was nervous!
He was a good natured kid and took the ribbing in stride. I think he expected it. He might have worn that purple paisleyed monstrosity just to get a rise out of us.
Rimrock, my top hand, allowed as how the kid might be more comfortable back at the house, making sandwiches for the branding crew with my wife and kids.
Randy the Cowboy, who was actually a second cousin to the kid, offered to backtrack to the barn to get a sidesaddle so the kid could ride wearing a dress. “I think we just might have a pink rope somewhere, too”, Randy offered helpfully.
The kid could have worn stiletto heels and a bustier from Victoria’s Secret to the branding and not drawn more ridicule. But, like always, he worked like a demon and drank his share of beer.
When it was all said and done and the cattle counted through the gate after branding, he tightened the cinch on his horse for his long ride home. He shook hands all around and grabbed a warm beer for the road.
When he was mounted, I thanked him for the help and asked when we could return the favor. He said that his outfit would brand in two weeks at his dad’s pens on the other side of the Seminoes, and they’d sure appreciate the help.
He tipped his hat to me and fondled his lavender paisley neckerchief and said, “Dress appropriately.”