Ouray’s $7.00 Silk Top Hat


The practice of meeting with Indians to maintain peace and establish trade began with the first colonial settlers in America. As the colonies grew into a nation, delegations of Indian leaders travelled to the nation’s capital city to meet with government representatives.
          In his book Diplomats in Buckskin, Herman J. Viola explores the history of Indian delegations visiting Washington, D.C.
          The chapter on Financing the Delegations considers travel expenses. Some businesses in Washington benefited from catering to the Indian delegations. Government auditors often questioned these businesses about charges that seemed excessive. One such inquiry concerned a bill for $32.25 from Auerbach and Brother store, located at 623 Pennsylvania Avenue. The charges were for outfitting Chief Ouray during his visit to the city in early 1880 .
          The store owners confirmed they had provided “a hat, shirts, and other incidentals” for the chief. Viola notes that the owners’ “eloquent” defense of the expenses suggests they might have feared losing future government business.
          The Auerbach brothers reported that “None but the best of Everything would answer his purpose.” They explained Ouray’s short and stocky build required special order shirts. The brothers admitted that the $7 silk top hat “was expensive, but it was top of the line…We can prove, that no hatter in the Country, can furnish the same quality for a smaller price.”
          Viola notes, “The same was true of the collars, gloves, silk scarves, gold-plated collar buttons, gold-plated stick-pin, and cashmere stockings they sold Ouray. He wanted the best, and he got it.”

Clipart illustration courtesy the Florida Center for Instructional Technology

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