History of Cowboy Boots

After the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers headed West where land was cheap and plentiful. Millions of wild cattle roamed the Texas plains and the cattle industry and the legendary cowboy were born. The early cowboys wore their military issued Wellington type boots. Over a period of years, these were replaced with boots more suited to the daily life of the cowboy. Many of the features of cowboy boots, so admired today, had a specific purpose.

The tight fitting vamps and high arches allowed more support to the foot, the leather soles made it easier to slide the foot in and out of the stirrup. The slung back heel allowed a better grip for the foot on the stirrup and the tall shafts protected against cactus and brush and kept rocks and dirt from falling inside the boots. As the Longhorn cattle drives increased in the decades from 1870-1900, boot makers set up shop in small towns along the main cattle trails, such as Joe Justin's place in Spanish Fort, Texas, a stopping off place on the Chisolm Trail.

Early cowboy boots were usually plain with 2 to 3 inch heels and 17 inch tight fitting shafts. Long mule ear pulls were favored. Many cowboys would visit a boot maker's shop and order a pair of boots, then pick them up the next time they came through town. Some traced their feet on a piece of paper and mailed it the boot maker. For a cowboy, the price of a pair of boots took a big chunk of his wages and he expected to get years of wear in return. A boot maker had to make a pair of well-constructed and long lasting boots. Many small boot shops grew into major boot manufacturing companies, like the Justin and Tony Lama brands which are still in business.

It was not until the 1920's with the popularity of cowboy movies and dude ranches that the more colorful and decorative boots became popular. The bright stubby or peewee boots of the 1940's and 50's are popular with boot collectors today. It is not unusual to find a pair of fifty or sixty year old boots still in wearable condition. Custom boot makers still abound offering well made and mostly exotic skin boots which are also avidly sought by collectors. Any cowboy boot lover will tell you there's nothing as comfortable as a pair of well fitted western boots.

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