Story of the Western Bolo Tie

Many years ago when I was a teenager I had a special bolo tie that was unique and elicited many comments of admiration. It was constructed from an amazingly attractive and iridescent piece of abalone shell from the coast of New Zealand or so I was told. Now many years later, just as a matter of curiosity, I decided to check into the origin of the western bolo tie. Turns out that there is more than one version of this cowboy tie came be part of the American West.

Perhaps the most common version revolves around a story based in the Southwest in the late 1940’s, specifically 1949, not that long ago from a historical perspective. A group of friends were horseback riding in the Bradshaw Mountains near Wickenburg, Arizona. The wind was strong, blustery and gusty and blew the hat off one of the party members named Victor Cedarstaff. Upon retrieving his hat he removed the hatband which contained a valuable silver buckle and draped it around his neck as he needed both hands to control his horse. When he received many compliments on his new apparel, as I had with my bolo tie from New Zealand, he returned home and creatively went to work. By trade Mr. Cedarstaff was a silversmith. He replaced the hat band with a braided leather cord; attached silver balls to the ends of the cords lending weight along with style and then added a turquoise buckle to go along with his silver buckle. The necktie jewelry was so unique that he later had it patented. Most attribute the name of the western tie to its resemblance to the bolo used by Argentine gauchos to catch wild game and cattle.

A competing story reports that Indian artists on the reservations made a version of the “slide tie” in the 1920’s. Bolo tie jewelry such as tie slides, silver or gold tips, and silver or turquoise buckles or sliders have been associated with several of the native Indian tribes such as the Hopi, Navajo and Zuni ever since.

Regardless of which story is correct the bolo tie is now a staple in southwestern wear. In fact two states, Arizona in 1971 and New Mexico in 2007 have adopted and recognized the bolo tie as the official state neckwear. And according to Wikipedia in the same year, 2007, the Texas Legislature named the bolo tie as the official tie of Texas. I live in Texas and it is not unusual to see state legislators wearing a western bolo tie on any given day. You will probably see many variations of the cowboy tie if you attend any rodeos or square dances. In fact, today many women also wear the bolo tie.

Bolo ties, however, are not limited to the Southwest or even to the United States. Countries all over the world including England, Japan, Korea, China, Australia and, as evidenced by my story, New Zealand, have imported this western tie. If you haven’t tried one you might want to consider it. They are simple, stylish, and extremely attractive and are a good conversation starter.