Feb 02 2019

Cowboys & Flags

by Caren Cowan, Executive Director,
New Mexico Cattle Grower’s Association
Read this article & more in New Mexico Stockman Magazine

Spending a month or two in Santa Fe during the Legislature can be challenging. You are away from home and around a lot more people than you usually are. You miss your own bed and your dogs. You are expected to be nice ALL the time. After some 28 years, I am allowing myself to fall off that wagon.

We attended a reception the first week of the Session. In the style we all believe in, the formal part of evening started with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. As I proudly looked around the room at all the hats, cowboy and others, that were removed for the opening.

My mood and my view was spoiled by a lone cowboy hat that still sat atop the head of a guy who was saluting rather than holding his hand over his heart. I guess I am beginning to understand all of Grandmother’s rules better and this behavior went all over me.

I asked around and learned the guy is a would-be congressman in New Mexico’s second district. I thought if the guy wanted to be elected in a district full of cattlemen, ranchers and bona fide cowboy hat wearers, he might appreciate knowing how far out of line he was keeping his hat on inappropriately.

Imagine my surprise when he told me he would be breaking the law if he took the hat off as a show of respect for the American Flag. He said there had been a new law passed that required veterans to keep their head cover on and to salute during the Pledge or the Anthem. I asked him to show me the law and he started fiddling with his phone.

He told me that flag etiquette had changed several years ago and that is was hard to be an early adopter of new things. I reiterated that his behavior would not garner him votes especially in the rural areas. I wasn’t fast enough to think to ask him if he ever drove over the speed limit.

The whole episode got me thinking about the things many people don’t know about cowboy hats and veterans requirements … including me. Here’s some information I found. Some of it is preaching to the choir and I apologize for that in advance, but tune ups are never a bad thing.

A Guide to Cowboy Hat Etiquette

Bernard Hats has a website that is full of information on cowboy hats. They say that while the cowboy hat is one of the most beloved items of western wear, there’s more to buying and wearing cowboy hats than just putting it on your head.

The first Rule that is indisputable and critical, is DO NOT mess with a cowboy’s hat.  A cowboy hat is a very personal, and sometimes very expensive item that you don’t pass around. In some places, to touch a man’s hat without permission will get you hog tied to a tree so you just don’t do it.

Some standard, base-line points of etiquette:

  • Any time you enter a building, the hat should come off.
  • If it is an informal occasion you may put it back on but for a formal occasion it should stay off.
  • When sitting down at a table for a meal, the hat should come off unless there is nowhere to safely lay the hat.
  • When sitting down at a counter for a meal, the hat can stay on.
  • Out on the range however, keep your hat on while you eat. If you take your hat off, another wrangler might step on it or spill food on it.

Originally felt hats were intended for winter wear (protecting from moisture and cold) and straw for summer (protecting from heat and sun) which is logical.  An arbitrary fashion rule is supposedly that felt is worn between Labor Day and Memorial Day, and straw in between. The reality is that both are seen at either time of year depending on the weather at the time of wearing. If it’s super-hot, maybe a straw would be better than a black felt hat. If it’s a cold night, a straw might be too chilly on the head and felt would be a more comfortable choice. Then again, if it’s a formal event, I probably wouldn’t wear a straw no matter what. Let common sense be your guide.

When to remove your cowboy hat

During the National Anthem, Pledge of Allegiance, the Passing of the Flag, In Church, during a Prayer, an indoor Wedding, a Funeral (indoors) or at the “passing” of a casket in a funeral procession. Hold your hat in the left hand with your right hand over your heart. You may also hold your hat in your right hand, followed by holding your hat over your heart. Either way is acceptable.

When you are introduced to a woman. If warranted, remove your hat (by the crown) with your left hand so that you may shake her hand with your right.

This should also apply to anyone who is your Elder or a “Man of the Cloth”. In other words, the Clergy, Pastor, Priest, and so on.

When you begin a conversation with anyone; but not needed if your just saying “hello” as you pass them.

It is generally considered, to always remove your hat while in a private home.

* Unless others are wearing their hat/s. It is then considered to be at the blessing of your host or hostess.

Always remove your hat by the crown.

*Some people do use their brim, but the brim must be strong. Do not use the edge of the brim. Removing the hat by the crown is the most customary.

If you need to adjust your hat, do so by the crown.

Never lay a cowboy hat down on the brim. Place your hat on it’s crown, brim up.

Your hat should always be removed while dining in a restaurant.

*Unless, you’re in fast food restaurant.

Take your cowboy hat off when you’re indoors.

Another key to being a proper cowboy is to remove your hat when you go inside. Elevators, lobbies, and building corridors are an exception to this rule, but once you’re in a room with other folks you should remove your hat, especially if there’s a lady present.

Never mess with another cowboy’s hat.

A cowboy’s hat is very personal property, so leave ‘em be unless you want trouble.

Rules for Saluting US Flag

Military.com has a wealth of information on veterans and head cover when addressing the flag. Traditionally, members of the nation’s veterans service organizations have rendered the hand-salute during the national anthem and at events involving the national flag only while wearing their organization’s official head-gear.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 contained an amendment to allow un-uniformed service members, military retirees, and veterans to render a hand salute during the hoisting, lowering, or passing of the U.S. flag.

A later amendment further authorized hand-salutes during the national anthem by veterans and out-of-uniform military personnel. This was included in the Defense Authorization Act of 2009, which President Bush signed on Oct. 14, 2008.

Here is the actual text from the law:


Section 301(b)(1) of title 36, United States Code, is amended by striking subparagraphs (A) through (C) and inserting the following new subparagraphs: “(A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note; “(B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and “(C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart;….

U.S. Flag Code

Military.com says the rules for handling and displaying the U.S. Flag are defined by a law known as the U.S. Flag Code. They excerpted the federal regulations here without any changes:

The following is the text of section 4 in United States Code Title 4 Chapter 1.

§4. Pledge of allegiance to the flag; manner of delivery

The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart. When not in uniform men should remove any non-religious headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should remain silent, face the flag, and render the military salute.

So there you have it, Mr. Candidate, get that hat off when it is appropriate.


We are three weeks into the eight-week 2019 Legislature and things are going pretty well. We were able to get the Beef Council bill to add a voluntary dollar to the state checkoff off to the Governor’s desk.

The Legislature and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham instituted a “rocket docket” for this Session. Bills that had passed unanimously or with little opposition during the last two Legislatures were pre-filed and put on a fast track to the 4th floor. We knew that the Beef Council bill fit that category so Senator Pat Woods got high behind and got the bill on the docket. Hopefully by the time you read this, the Governor will have signed it.

Before I say anything else, our Bill Readers deserve a great big thanks! They started working on pre-filed bills in December and the bills just keep coming. At press time there were right at 1,000 bills, memorials and resolutions filed. New bills must be filed by February 14, but memorials may be filed throughout the Session.

Additionally there will be over 100 “dummy” bills numbered. Leadership and committee chairs have the opportunity to continue to introduce legislation using these bills. The bills never get titles and often you have to chase the actual text down in the Capitol. At this time it appears that we could get to over 3,000 bills, but 6,000 looks less likely.

Another win the New Mexico Cattle Growers’ Association has under their belt is the amendment to HB 204, the Healthy Soils Act. The Association is not against healthy soils or even funding for more soils projects and/or to match with federal funds that are available.

The objections include the creation of more bureaucracy which would drain money off from the ground work, the number of groups eligible to receive monies available, the repeated use of the words “organic matter and carbon” (carbon is organic matter), and where the requested funds are going to go.

On the carbon issue, we were told outside a committee room that our cows are the reason that carbon is an issue and that eventually all of our cows will freeze to death. We and cows are the reason for the recent polar vortex (aka cold front) that recently hit the middle and Eastern part of the United States.

The amendment that got the bill out of its first committee took away the new bureaucracy as well as the list of groups eligible for the funding. All of these groups will still be able to access funds, but they will need to do it in cooperation with Soil Conservation Districts.

You may not know that due to all the budget cuts the state has seen over the past several years, the Soils Lab at New Mexico State University (NMSU) has been shuttered. It makes sense that if we are going to do more soils work, there should be a lab in the state to do the research and testing. Presently soils are being shipped to Colorado or Texas for the needed work.

The cost of restarting the Soils Lab is about $3.5 million. The bricks and mortar are still there, but the lab must be refurbished and new equipment and staff added for the microbial testing envisioned in HB 204. Additionally there will need to be recurring funds to maintain staffing and for supplied.

We will continue to work on this bill so it can be supported by all. Its next stops are the House Ag & Water Committee and then House Appropriations & Finance. It will have to be passed on the House Floor before beginning a similar journey on the Senate side.

There are at least three horse bills now introduced along with stopping animal killing contests, stopping trapping, some scary tax bills and plenty of water bills. We ask you to consider donating just one day to come to Santa Fe to help us work on all these issues and more. It is a small price to pay for protecting your family and your livelihood.      

Source: New Mexico Stockman, February 2018