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The Museum will be closed to the public on December 15 for a Private Event.

Every Cowboy Hat Tells a Story: James Arness’ “Matt Dillon” Hat

Every cowboy hat tells a story. From the quality of the materials to the customized crease, to the width of the brim, to the sweat and other stains, each hat reveals something about WHO is or was under the hat.

American Hat Company, Houston, Texas
Fur felt, grosgrain, leather

This hat came to the museum as part of the seven-piece costume actor James Arness (1923-2011) wore as “Matt Dillon” in the 1990 television movie, Gunsmoke, The Last Apache. He portrayed “Matt Dillon” in one of the longest running television series, Gunsmoke (1955-1975), then made five Gunsmoke television movies from 1987 to 1994.

After being severely wounded in Italy during World War II, Arness recuperated in Iowa, then headed to Hollywood to find work as a film extra. He became a beach bum and surfer and studied acting. Due to his size (6’ 7”) he played small roles usually as villains until cast as the alien in The Thing from Another World (1951).

In 1955, John Wayne declined the role of “Matt Dillon” in the Gunsmoke radio show but recommended Arness for the role in the television series. His “Marshal Dillon” became an iconic figure in American popular culture.

Come see our Sombreros Texanas and Bosses of the Plains exhibition now through January 8, 2023 to see this hat and many more from our collection.

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