Oklahoma Couple Has Furry Hobby

Jul 7, 2013

ELGIN, Okla. (AP) — The 1950s was the apex in popularity for the Daniel Boone coonskin cap. So perhaps it's nostalgia spurring the sale of Kevan Martin's handmade fur hats.

For more than 32 years he and his wife Debbie have taken animal skins and turned them into various styles of hats and bags.

"It's a forgotten trade," he said. "There are just not a lot of people doing what we do."

Martin said it all started after going to rendezvous.

"I first got involved as a part of the Frontiersmen Camping Fellowship," Martin said. The fellowship is a ministry of the Assemblies of God for those who like to experience the mountain man life of the 1800s.

While Kevan Martin is the hat maker, his wife takes the fur scraps and creates bags that can be attached to a belt, The Lawton Constitution reported. The bags can be used to carry items such as cash, driver license or a cell phone, she said.

"This is hobby money for us," Kevan Martin said, referring to the bags.

Coyote, raccoon, skunk, fox and wolverine fur is turned into different types of hats under the hands of Martin.

He said when he first started making the hats he trapped the furs himself and learned how to tan. It is a very long, involved process.

"The first one stuck straight out it was so rigid," he said with a laugh.

He said another problem with tanning is if the process is not correct then the fur will eventually smell like the animal it came from, especially a skunk.

Eventually he learned the time-consuming process, but now he purchases furs every spring from northern fur trappers who trap in upstate New York, North Dakota or Canada.

"Up north the fur is longer because of the cold weather, plus they tan them out," Martin said.

He said he used to advertise a lot but "I got so much business I got sick of making them."

Now the couple has a few items for sale at the White Buffalo Trading Post in Medicine Park. The Martins attend a couple of rendezvous events and they purchase a table to display and sell their furs and hats at the twice-yearly Wanenmacher Gun Show in Tulsa.

Kevan Martin said it's the only show that brings in enough people to make it worth their time and effort. He said it draws from 35,000-50,000 over the two-day run.

"We try to make up a few hats in advance then we go and just sit there and sew for two days," he said.

"At the show there are some fur dealers there, but nobody but us makes anything with them during the show."

For some of the hats, such as the Davie Crockett hat Kevan Martin makes, he uses just the body and the tail. Other hats include the tail, body and the face, while still others he uses the whole skin, including legs.

"Sometimes I use as many as three skins," he said as he placed on his head a three-skin skunk hat complete with face and tail.

His all-time favorite hat is made from a wolverine. "I've had this one for about 15 years," he said as he put the hat, which is crafted from the whole pelt, including head, tail and legs.

He said their bags average about $25 apiece while hats start at $100 and go up depending on the type of fur. A wolverine hat can be as much as $400 to $475.

"They might pay more for my furs, but we are known for our quality," he said.

After the many years of making hats, today Martin doesn't use a pattern: "The pattern is in my head." He also uses his head to measure the length of the strips needed for the hat band.

He said from start to finish it takes him less than three hours to make each hat.

The last thing he does is inscribe the couple's hallmark which is a "K'' for Kevan attached to a "D'' representing his wife's name. Above that he pens in his nickname "Wolfeman" and the scripture John 3:16-17.

Martin said the hobby of creating the fur items has been self-supporting since their initial investment, which he earned from a remodeling job.

"We just have a lot of fun," Martin said.