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  • Matthew Kerns

James A. Scott


Some poets write to win a name,

Suppose they do, what matter;

I am content to sing the fame

Of SCOTT, the matchless hatter.


His fame is known the world around;

In this I do not flatter;

For when a stylish hat is found,

It comes from SCOTT, the hatter


Man save their money and their time;

And that's a weighty matter—

When trading in the hatters' line,

By knowing SCOTT, the hatter.


His hats are fair when others fade,

They neither break nor batter;

Of perfect shape and glossy shade—

Those hats, from SCOTT, the hatter.


His prices always suit the time,

His hats all heads will flatter—

They speak more plainly than these rhymes

The praise of SCOTT, the hatter.




This poem, and other inventive advertising, appeared in Chicago newspapers throughout the fall and winter of 1872. Scott the Hatter's shop, between the Sherman House Hotel and the Briggs House Hotel near Chicago's City Hall, was the finest and largest hat store in the city when Texas Jack Omohundro, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Ned Buntline arrived there in December to prepare for their debut performance in The Scouts of the Prairie.


Take a look at nearly any of the images of Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack taken over the course of the next decade and you'll notice the hats. Texas Jack adopted the wide-brimmed Boss of the Plains style as a cowboy in Texas, and brought it with him to Nebraska where he met Buffalo Bill. Newspaper descriptions of Omohundro and Cody frequently describe their "large sombreros," not yet commonly known as the chapeau of all men in Jack's former profession, the cowboy hat.


It is likely that the stars of The Scouts of the Prairie purchased the hats they wore on stage at Nixon's Amphitheater from Mr. Scott, as early images of Cody, Omohundro, and Buntline show hats not tattered and torn from trail life.

One might speculate that James Scott, like Elijah Greene with Remington Arms, took advantage of his relationship with the scouts by offering them a discount on their hats, knowing that theater patrons wishing to achieve their signature look would soon flock to his store. Scott soon became friends with Jack and Bill, and they invited him to join them for a hunt when their theatrical tour ended. It is likely that neither man was then aware that the tour would stretch from December until the end of June, and that at its conclusion they would no longer be frontier scouts, but world-class stars.


Mr. Scott traveled by train from Chicago to meet his new friends in Omaha, arriving too late to have his picture taken with Wild Bill Hickok in the now famous picture of the most famous hunter, cowboy, and lawman together in the same image.


James Scott (center, standing) with Elijah Greene and Eugene Overton (standing left to right) and Texas Jack Omohundro and Buffalo Bill Cody (seated left to right)

After the hunt, the group broke up, Cody heading to begin the next theatrical tour while Texas Jack married Giuseppina Morlacchi, world famous ballerina and his costar. Scott the Hatter continued to advertise in Chicago papers, though a fire and subsequent lawsuit in 1875 hampered his success. His business eventually moved, possibly to a larger store, in a different part of Chicago.


In 1879, the Chicago Inter Ocean reported that Scott the Hatter, driving his horse and buggy too fast down Madison street, struck and killed 60-year-old Thomas Cochrane. Scott claimed that his near-sightedness was to blame for the accident. After his horse struck the man, it panicked, and Scott was unable to keep it from pulling the buggy for several blocks before he reigned it in. Believing the man he struck to be unhurt, he had not returned to the scene of the accident. A jury determined that Scott was at fault for criminal carelessness, but that Cochrane was also at fault for moving slowly across a public street without exercising due dare for his own personal safety.


"Thomas Cochrane was a man in the humble walk of life," says a report in the Chicago Inter Ocean, "a hostler [a man employed to look after the horses of guests staying at an inn]. He was, moreover, an old man, about 60 years of age, and consequently not remarkable for the agility of youth or the business-like briskness of middle age. On the other hand, Mr. Scott is a man in the prime of life, but unfortunately, as he himself says, rather near-sighted. Well, Mr. Scott in broad daylight, on a populous business thoroughfare, drives his fast horse over Thomas Cochrane, 60 years old, and consequently somewhat feeble, and kills him, and the Coroner's jury decides that both parties were to blame, and poor old Thomas Cochrane sinks into a humble grave, and the thing is forgotten. That is all. But it may strike some people that if Thomas Cochrane, hostler (aged 60 years, and somewhat feeble), had, in the broad daylight and on a prosperous street, driven over and killed Mr. Thomas A Scott (in the prime of life), the Coroner's jury might possibly have places a higher estimate on a human life."

The Inter Ocean (Chicago, Il) April 1, 1879

Four years later, a small fire was reported at Scott's second location, at 111 Madison Street in Chicago. Apparently mice had eaten into a box of matches and then tried to eat the phosphorous match tips, which ignited and began a small blaze. Little damage was done to the shop, which Scott continued to operate for several more years.


Scott the Hatter disappears from Chicago newspapers in 1885, but a J.D. Scott the Hatter begins to advertise in Battle Creek, Michigan a few months later. Advertisements occasionally refer to "Great Scott, the Hatter." If this is the same man, he passed away on a winter sojourn to Tampa, Florida, on March 7, 1923, outliving every other man in the above image.

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