Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A Cowboy's Wild Rag in Jacquard Silk

By Davalynn Spencer

It’s rare that you’ll see an image of an Old West cowboy without a neckerchief, scarf, or wild rag around his neck in some fashion. It might be hanging loose and low the way Kevin Costner wore his dirty-gray neckerchief in the 2003 film, “Open Range,” or pulled up closer to the throat, maybe over the mouth and nose if the man is riding drag on a herd of cattle or holding up a stagecoach.

Snake hunter with a loose bandana. Definitely not Kevin Costner. Pixabay
Today you’re likely to find the accessory wrapped twice around the neck and tied off with a fancy buckaroo knot or silver concho. And not just on men. Women and men both sport the silky wild rags in colors that far outshine Costner’s dirty gray.
Horsewoman with a jacquard-weave silk scarf tied in a buckaroo knot. Pixabay
Scarves of some form have been worn for practical reasons by Roman soldiers, pirates, early Americans and countless others. In the 1800s, upper-class gentlemen wore silk cravats. This neckwear gave way to a loosely-tied bandana among the working class, who used the cloth against the assaults of both dust and sweat. If no other cloth was handy, a big square cut of flour sack would do. However, paisley print was particularly popular and still is today among the wild rag-wearing working cowboys of the American West.

The term wild rag differs from a standard neckerchief and refers to a larger square of cloth, anywhere from 35 to 50 inches. Silk is the preferred fabric due to its versatility. It warms a rider’s neck in winter and keeps it cool from sunburn in the summer.

Jacquard (pronounced: juh-kaard) scarves offer a unique tone-on-tone pattern that lends silk a more sophisticated look. The weave raises warp threads independently of the others, and incorporates a pattern into the fabric itself, eliminating the need for the pattern to be dyed or printed, though some scarves carry both impressions – the weave and a dyed print.

Note the floral pattern woven into the scarf, creating a jacquard gray-on-gray effect.
A pattern in black is also printed on the scarf. Author's photo.

The term jacquard is coined after the inventor of the loom attachment required for the distinguished weave, French weaver, Joseph Marie Jacquard, 1752-1834. His invention of a punch-card programmable loom began as early as 1801 and was perfected over the next few years.

In 1804, Napoleon observed Jacquard’s programmable loom in Lyon, France, and granted a patent to Lyon and a pension and royalty to Jacquard.

The Jacquard weave is said to make the silk more pliable, but it definitely makes it more sophisticated, and subtle sophistication is a cowboy’s hallmark, from the jinglebobs on his spurs to the shape of his hat.

I learned to tie a buckaroo knot. It took me only 15 minutes
watching the two-minute video tutorial on YouTube. Author's photo.

A cowboy’s wild rag can be used to keep dust and grit out of his mouth, tie his hat down and hobble his horse, strain muddy water for drinking, bind up a wound, supply a tourniquet, handle a hot coffee pot, flag a race, sling an arm, blow a nose, or blindfold an ornery bronc.
But maybe most important of all, a good jacquard-silk wild rag is sure to catch the eye of a pretty little gal at the rodeo.

Abigale wiped her fingers on the towel and picked up the scarf, letting it spill like a green waterfall on the table. It was big enough for Seth to wrap around his throat twice, as ranchers did.
“He asked me to marry him last night. Well—in a way. He didn’t really ask. It was closer to telling.”
“And you didn’t take that well, did you.” Ida chuckled and sipped her coffee. “Nor should you. Never let him ride roughshod over you, but neither forget that he loves you. It will make all the difference in your partnership. If you choose to marry him, that is.”
“Mams would have said to have faith.”
“And she’d be right,” Ida said. “Faith is something we carry with us. Trust, on the other hand, is something we do. The two work together, like the light and darker weave in that jacquard-patterned scarf.”
Ida gave Abigale’s hand a gentle squeeze. “I won’t tell you to follow your heart. But I will tell you that God gives us faith so we can trust Him. He’ll let you know. All you have to do is ask.”   ~from A High-Country Christmas: Romance Collection


  1. I'd never heard the phrase "wild rag" before! I'm also surprised by the fact that cowboys like the fancier jacquard weave and even pattern. My no-nonsense Yankee husband likes bandanna-type hankerchiefs. He doesn't use them as neck scarves, but I imagine he'd just choose a bigger bandanna if he needed something, or wool. Thanks for the interesting post!

  2. Thank you for sharing your most interesting post!

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Connie. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  4. I love your history posts! They are always so interesting!!

  5. Thanks for the history lesson! Love your books!!! Merry Christmas to you and the Cowboy!!!

  6. Very interesting bit of information, Davalynn! :) <3