Hat Ranch: the graveyard for lost hats of the unwary

Mountain Tales: First-hand stories of life in Tehachapi


July 22, 2023


Tehachapi Pass and Oak Creek Pass are known for being windy (hence all the wind turbines), which is typical of mountain passes. But the nearby desert town of Mojave has breezes that range from mild zephyrs to irrational blustery gales, and there are times when the wind never seems to abate. And it was the wind that once created a most unusual crop on a piece of desert land outside Mojave. Local residents called the patch of brush the "Hat Ranch" because anyone could go there and get any style or size of hat for free!

The hats ranged from derbies to broad-brimmed sombreros and Stetsons, and as an added bonus, some were even brand new. During the late 1800s, the north-eastern part of the Antelope Valley was the focal point for many a would-be millionaire. The mines at Johannesburg and Randsburg were producing loads of ore and a mineral called borax was coming out of Death Valley and Searles Dry Lake beds. Not only did the area attract many prospectors but land speculators and salesmen as well, who were said to have been the best suppliers to the "Hat Ranch," since their headgear was not designed to withstand the desert winds. Plus anyone headed further north up into the Owens Valley had to pass through the Mojave area first.

Visitors to the region came by trains chugging up the long desolate grade from Los Angeles to the dusty desert town of Mojave. Here they were met by a stage for the rest of their journey. Rather than the enclosed Concord-style stagecoaches seen in Westerns, the majority of these were lightweight vehicles called "mud wagons." The roof was flat and the open sides had leather curtains that were rolled down only in the most inclement weather. Passengers had little comfort or protection against the elements, especially wind.

Those who failed to hold on to their hat would soon feel the wind snatch it right off their head and watch as it tumbled across the desert ground. Stagecoach drivers didn't have the time to stop in order to allow a passenger to retrieve his headgear, and the wind could sometimes keep hats moving faster than a man could run anyway. Hats also blew off the heads of those who ventured next to the open windows or the platforms of trains, and certainly no train stopped to give a passenger the chance to grab his runaway hat. It was said that one traveler lost his derby before reaching Mojave, where he purchased another, but also lost the new hat after getting aboard the stage from Mojave.


The Hat Ranch was a slight depression of about two acres out east of the town of Mojave, where the prevailing westerly winds would blow hats until they were caught up in the branches of creosote bush, saltbush, sagebrush and other arid shrubs, and locals could sometimes find a hat in the size and style they wanted by visiting this curious place, though the elements did not spare the lost hats for too long.

– Gloria Gossard

The late Gloria Gossard was a good friend of writer Jon Hammond, and she was a longtime Bear Valley Springs resident. She helped preserve the old Bear Valley schoolhouse, and she wrote several books about the area.


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