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Coonskin caps are a type of headwear that has come to be identified with the early years of the American frontier. Essentially, the coonskin cap is composed of the fur of the body of a raccoon, complete with the tail of the animal. In many versions, the head of the raccoon is left intact and is located on the front section of the cap.
The origin of the coonskin cap is traced back to Native Americans. Various tribes used the cap as a practical part of attire when hunting, while in other groups the coonskin cap could indicate a position of prominence among the people. When the first European settlers began to move into what is the modern-day states of Kentucky and Tennessee, they quickly caught on to the use of the coonskin cap as a part of hunting attire.
Many persons associate the coonskin cap with such frontier figures as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. According to folklore, neither gentleman actually employed a coonskin cap in daily life. The story goes that a young actor portraying a frontiersman in order to promote a popular song of the 1820’s helped to create the general persona of the frontiersman wearing moccasins, buckskins, and a coonskin cap. In later years, it is said that Davy Crockett would don the cap when making public appearances, but otherwise did not make use of the headgear. Daniel Boone was said to have no love at all for the coonskin cap, preferring to wear felt hats instead.
As a fad, the coonskin cap was at its zenith during the decade of the 1950’s, when the new medium of television offered young children an adventure show built around the exploits of Davy Crockett. Children in both the United States and the United Kingdom were caught up in the fad. These latest versions of the coonskin cap were not made of actual raccoon, however. Faux fur was used for the body and tail, and a simple fabric lining was used to complete the cap. While aimed at young boys, a few entrepreneurs also designed a coonskin cap design for young girls as well, often using white faux fur as the material of choice.
For several years, the coonskin cap was a favorite of many young boys and girls. The fad continued into the 1960’s with a television based on the adventures of Daniel Boone. However, by the end of that decade, the craze had run its course and young people began to take their fashion cues from other sources.
Today, the coonskin cap is still available. Often, the cap is manufactured as part of costume designs for theatrical productions, although some frontiersman hobby groups also include the coonskin cap in their historical restagings. As in the 20th century, the coonskin cap of today is usually manufactured with materials other than actual raccoon tails, skin or fur.
I came along after the coonskin cap craze had run its course, but I do remember seeing some little boys wearing the things -- usually acquired from an older brother or cousin. I always thought they were a little creepy. Same reaction I had to my grandmother's fox fur someone gave her. It still had the fox head on it. Gruesome.
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