Is there anything more Texan than the cowboy hat? At this point, most non-Texans think it’s part of the official Lone Star State uniform. They’re in Texas films. They’re in the songs. It’s only fitting that a museum dedicated to the cowboy hat would reside right here in Texas. Ben’s Western Wear in Cotulla, Texas puts the cowboy crown front and center at the Texas Hat Museum. And they’re not just any old hats. George Strait, Nolan Ryan and all the cowboys who’ve worked the land surrounding the south Texas town of Cotulla have all left their Stetsons on the wall.
Ben’s Western Wear was established in 1946 by local rancher Ben Ludeman, when he saw the need for a western wear supplier in the small town. For over 50 years, the store has provided ranch wear and outdoor gear to locals. In the 1980s, Ludeman passed away. His nephew, Stewart Martin, took over the shop.
Martin carried on the customers-first tradition of his uncle Ben. In addition, Martin added unique touches to the store. He began stocking shelves with items that represented Texas culture, such as Texana literature by the likes of J. Frank Dobie.
The hat museum started when one appreciative customer loved his new hat so much he wanted to leave the old behind. Rather than tossing the sweat-stained and tattered old lid in the trash, Martin hung it up on the wall. Eventually, more and more folks began leaving their old hats in Martin’s care. Martin understood that while the hat may not make the man, it did say a lot about how he lived. Just like that, the Texas Hat Museum was born.
Since then, customers from all over Texas, from ranchers to oil field workers to world famous country stars, have been leaving their hat behind at Ben’s.
Along with Strait and Ryan, a slew of notable Texans have donated their hats to the museum. Former governors Rick Perry, Lamar Alexander and Dolph Briscoe’s hats are featured, as is cowboy poet Don Cadden’s. Cadden’s poem “If Old Hats Could Talk” hangs prominently on the wall at Ben’s.
The video below gives an inside look at Ben’s Western Wear.
Whether you want to tip your own Stetson to the crown of King George, pick up some new duds or simply bask in the beauty of the cowboy hat, Ben’s Western Wear is a true Texas original that everyone should experience at least once.