DUNCAN — Mark Crutcher's statement needed a little more explanation.
Crutcher's eyes were scanning the top two of four rows of cowboy hats along the north wall of his Western wear store in Duncan.
“These hats have a lot of character,” said the owner of Crutcher's Western Wear.
What's your definition of character, he was asked.
“Dirt, sweat, and more,” he replied.
The two top rows contain well-worn cowboy hats. There are felts, straws and even a hard hat shaped as a cowboy hat.
Crutcher remembered seeing such a collection across the Red River.
“I came across the idea from a Western store owner by the name of Nat Fleming, who owned The Cow Lot in Wichita Falls, Texas,” he said. “Cowboys would come in, buy a new hat and leave their old hat.”
The Cow Lot Western Wear store closed, but Fleming's extensive collection of cowboy hats is displayed at the Museum of North Texas History in Wichita Falls.
“So I got the idea from seeing it there when that store was open,” Crutcher said.
In 2006, Crutcher started taking in a few hats — and then it took off.
There are 28 hats on display, many with the names of the owners tucked in the hat bands. Crutcher estimates there are an additional 50 cowboy hats in the back.
Among the 28 is Lee Patterson's old felt that is not only stained but torn.
Nearby is David Jobe's straw that is splattered with “black gold,” Crutcher said.
A ranch hand wears a cowboy hat for purpose, not looks. A hat is there to take about anything the job or Oklahoma weather can throw at him or her.
Some of the cowboy hats have a little bit of it all.
Since most of the hats come from those in Crutcher's trade area, some people can name the former owner without looking at the tag.
“A hat says a lot about who owns it,” he said.
The hats are up on that north wall not only as a conversation piece but out of respect.
“I've got the old hat collection on the top rows and my good hats on the bottom rows,” Crutcher said. “I had someone come in from out of state, a tourist, I think, and he said, ‘Well, I want to buy that hat up there.' I think he wanted a cowboy hat that made it look like he'd already been there and done that on a ranch.
“I said, ‘No, I'm sorry, they're not for sale.'”
The hats in the storeroom are only there because Crutcher ran out of suitable space to display more than what's up now. But he stares at the walls, thinking how he could make it work.
“I've got the hats, I've just got to figure out a place to put them all,” he said. “And then the other day, an old boy asked me when I was going to start collecting old boots. It'd be a neat idea, if you had room. Maybe if I only put up one boot instead of the pair, it would work.”
Who knows what kind of “character” those would bring to his walls.