Monday, January 13, 2014

Cowboy Boots

Imagine shoes without a left and a right. There was a time when ready-made shoes had to be broken in to fit. Only custom-made shoes and boots had a left and a right. There were basically two styles of boots worn on the early frontier. One was Hessian boots, worn by the German mercenaries who fought for the English during the Revolutionary War. Hessian boots came below the knee and had a large v-cut top with a decorative tassel. Wellingtons were the other style, made popular after 1815 when the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at Waterloo. Wellingtons had a stacked leather heel, square or round toes, and were cut straight or slightly curved just below the knee. Both types later influenced cowboy boots. These early boots had leather soles that tended to slip. Nails placed in patterns on the soles helped give the boots better traction. Hobnail boots were rough on wooden floors, and this explains why saloon floors were notoriously in rough shape. The Hyer Boot Company in Olathe, Kansas, supposedly made the first pair of cowboy boots in 1875. A cowboy who was wearing frontier boots had just returned from a long cattle drive. He asked Hyer for a custom pair of boots with a pointed toe that would easily slip into a stirrup, a slanted heel that would stay put, and a high top with a V-cut scallop in front and back for comfort. They immediately caught on and others began to make them. In 1903, Hyer’s added decorative toe stitching, or toe wrinkles, as the final flourish. Montana cowboys, and cowgirls, wear these same boots today.

Cowboy, Honeycut on White Star. August, 1904, by L.A. Huffman
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives, 981-491


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