Q & A

Why the Stampede is interested in this old hat that could belong to a legendary cowboy

A piece of Calgary Stampede history may be on the auction block. A hat believed to be worn by legendary local cowboy Clem Gardner is listed on eBay by a seller in Muncy, Pennsylvania.

Brown felt hat seller claims was once owned by cowboy legend Clem Gardner is available on eBay

Legendary cowboy Clem Gardner in this undated photo from the Glenbow Archives. (Glenbow Archives)

A piece of Calgary Stampede history may be on the auction block.

A hat believed to be worn by legendary local cowboy Clem Gardner is listed on eBay by a seller in Muncy, Pennsylvania.

As of Thursday evening, the price was sitting at $1,699.99 US. And the Stampede is mulling a bid.

Cassandra Cummings, a historical specialist with the Stampede, appeared on the Homestretch to explain who Gardner was, what makes this particular hat special and why they're interested in it.

Q: Who was Clem Gardner and why is he important to the history of the Calgary Stampede?

A: Clem is definitely one of those cowboy's cowboys. He is essential to the history of the Calgary Stampede and he's there right from the get-go. So in 1912, the first Stampede, Clem is one of the competitors and he does quite well. He then has a history of competing up until 1944 when he retires.

He's always placing first, second or third, and he competes in the first chuckwagon races in 1923, he's named the Canadian all-around cowboy, then in 1952 he's actually chosen as the 1912 participant who has contributed the most to the growth of the Calgary Stampede so he's definitely this huge figure.

Q: I'm looking at a picture on eBay of this hat and it looks like it's in relatively good shape for a hat that's about a century old. Can you describe it for us?

The hat, believed to once be owned by Clem Gardner, as shown on an eBay listing. (eBay)

A: We're looking at a Gus style hat. It wasn't called Gus style until the 1980s from the Lonesome Dove movie starring Robert Duvall, named after his character Augustus. Basically it's quite a different hat than what is popular now. It's quite high in the back with a steep pitch toward the front and a very narrow crease. It's brown felt, possibly beaver, with a silk ribbon around it.

Q: So what went through your mind when you heard about this [auction]?

A: Immediately we were sort of like, 'Should we or shouldn't we?' but you need to find out the history behind it. Not that I feel there's any malicious intent but just because someone says it's Clem Gardner's or Guy Weadick's, doesn't mean it necessarily is. So what my job is, is to find the provenance of the piece, which is the history of it. Can we actually trace it back to Clem? Does the hat company they've named make sense? Does the time period make sense, et cetera.

Q: So how do you go about doing that? Because that would influence whether or not you want to acquire it.

A: There's a few avenues I've taken over the past couple of days to look into this. One of them is photographs. The Stampede archives as well as the Glenbow archives has a great collection of photos so we can look at photos of Clem and compare them to what this hat looks like, so there's a good first step.

Clem Garnder wearing a cowboy hat in an undated photo from the Glenbow Archives. (Glenbow Archives)

I also looked into the Hamley and Co. company. So they're primarily dealing in saddles, but they did have, and still do, a range of accessories, hats and that sort of thing, and looking at the trademark pictured on the eBay listing and comparing them historically to what they would have used, so we can establish a time period, or at least a time range.

We can also do research into personal contacts. Unfortunately we can't talk to Clem himself but there are going to be ranchers still in Calgary, especially associated with the Calgary Stampede that can maybe give us a bit of insight into Clem and what he would have worn or not worn.

Q: Based on your preliminary investigation, does it look like it belonged to Clem Gardner?

A: I'm increasingly thinking it does look like it might have belonged to Clem Gardner. I don't think I've said that out loud yet. It definitely fits the time period.

I think it's a little bit later than the 1915 the seller has estimated, based on that trademark and logo in the hat. But the style is right, it matches a lot of the style he's wearing in the photos. We're doing the best we can.

Q: What's your timeframe on this?

A: There are some Stampede collectors, some serious collectors out there… even Hamley and Co. has been around for more than 100 years and they're kind of a saddle expert, so it's sought after historically for a number of reasons.

So I'm definitely competing, but I would rather be sure and do my due diligence instead of finding out later maybe I wasn't correct.

The Hamley and Co. logo seen inside a hat believed to once have been owned by Clem Gardner. (eBay)

Q: What would it mean to the Calgary Stampede to get something like this if in fact it turns out to be authentic and you acquire it?

A: It is a huge piece in early Stampede history, it does mean a lot. What we would do is acquire it and put it into our collection and it would then be available hopefully for temporary exhibitions, public research and in the future we're hoping to build the SAM Centre, which is going to be an interpretive centre about western heritage on the Stampede grounds as part of Youth Campus… and I'm sure this would become one of the star pieces.  

A note accompanying the hat says it was acquired from the widow of Clem Gardner. (eBay)

With files from The Homestretch