History of Riding Boots for the Cowboy

Hessian boots
Hessian boots | Source

The history of the western or cowboy boot is part of the history of riding boots in general. The English riding boots were, of course designed for horseback riding and is used for many sporting events involving horses, horse shows and pleasure riding. Ending just below the knee of the rider are the tall boot, which would include field, dress and hunt boots. They are standard apparel for show competitors in hunter/jumper and dressage. A lower boot, the paddock has stops above the ankle and is mostly worn by children; show competitors in the UK,and Australia.

Field boots have lacing at the ankle for some who find it more comfortable to ride with a highly flexed ankle, making them popular for jumping events. Motorcycle police or mounted police may wear these. Usually black in color.

Dress boots are usually stiffer and do not have lacing at the ankle. Usually worn for show events. Also usually black.

Hunt boots, also known as Jodhpur boots come just above the ankle and used mostly for pleasure riding.

Cowboy boots. Ad for Tony Lama custom boots for President Harry S. Truman
Cowboy boots. Ad for Tony Lama custom boots for President Harry S. Truman | Source
Roper style boot
Roper style boot | Source

Cowboy Boots

Most features of the modern cowboy boot have a practical purpose. Its design has come from the influence of several cultures.

For most of us the distinguishing feature of the western boot is that it has a high heel. However, Soldiers, herders and other horseback workers have worn heeled boots in the 16th century. Duringthe Cromwell Interregnum (1649-60) Stuart cavaliers, many of whom immigrated to the United States had particularly high heels.

Hessian Calvary officers of the 18th Century liked a tall boot with a V cut in the top center and decorative tassels.

After Napoleon’s defeat at waterloo the Duke of Wellington’s boots gained popularity, with low heels and calf high tops.

American military boots in the 19th Century developed along theses lines. Many soldiers when discharged took their boots with them and some were cowboys and pioneers. The laced boots eventually proved impractical because the boots get caught in the stirrup if the rider is thrown

Early boots for cowboys were strongly influenced by the vaquero tradition imported from Spain to the Americas.

Since the 1920’s the movies and stars such as Gene Autry and Roy Rogers have influenced cowboy boots. Autry in an autobiography mentioned how many pairs of boots he owned. I forget the number but it was a collection of high numbers.

I recall on the Tonight show many years ago that Dale Evans who was Roy Rogers co star and wife telling a story about Roy and his boots.

Roy had bought a new pair of cowboy boots that he valued highly. Sometime during the night a cougar got into the house and chewed up the boots

 

In the morning Roy got real upset, got his rifle and saddled his horse trigger. He was going to hunt that cougar.

 

Later in the day he came back home with the cougar tied behind the saddle.

 

And dale said: “Pardon me Roy, is that the cat that chewed your new shoes/”

That story may be lost on younger readers not familiar with songs from the 1940’s.

The cowboy boot is a specific style of the riding boot and historically was worn by cowboys. They typically have a high heel, rounded or pointed toe, high shaft and no lacing. Usually they are made of leather from cowhide but sometimes more exotic leathers are uses such as snakeskin.

The roper boot is a newer version for rodeo riders who participate in calf roping.

Industrial Age


Boots were individually  handmadeand  according to the culture the styles varied. The industrial revolution allowed for mass produced boots. The Wellington boot was one that could be mass-produced and was popular with cowboys in the United States until the 1860’s. The Wellington, basically a cavalry style boot lost popularity due to style preferences.

Bookmakers in the cattle ranching areas of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas started making American style boots. Two well known boot makers, Charles Hyer of Hyer brothers Boots in Olathe, Kansas, and H.J. “Big Daddy” Justin of Justin Boots in Spanish Fort, Texas and later Nocona, Texas.

Cowboy boot heals Buckaroo
Cowboy boot heals Buckaroo | Source

Specialty of design

Although cowboy boots are popular today for design most features were practical. The treadles leather sole made it easy to insert and remove the foot from the stirrup of a western saddle. The original toe was rounded a bit narrow at the toe for ease of insertion. An extremely pointed toe appeared in the 1940’s and has no practical use.

The tall heel helped keep the foot from sliding forward through the stirrup was dangerous if the rider was unseated. A cowboy had risk of falling from his horse became use he had to ride young and unpredictable horses. In addition ranch work was challenging in difficult terrain where there was danger of being thrown from the horse. If a foot was caught in the stirrup and the horse ran off the rider would be dragged on the ground.

The tall shaft, comfortable loose fit and lack of laces helped prevent dragging because the rider’s body weight would pull his foot out of the boot if he fell off the horse. The shaft also protected the lower leg and ankle from rubbing on the stirrup leathers. When mounted it also protected the lower leg from brush and thorns. When not mounted it protected the leg from rocks, brush, thorns and rattlesnakes.

Today fancy boots are worn for country western dancing, bbut rugged practical cowboy boots are still worn by farmers, ranchers and others.

© 2011 Don A. Hoglund

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Comments 32 comments

suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

I love the Dale Evans story. Interesting Hub. I imagine most cowboys wouldn't wear snakeskin boots these days.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for being the first to comment. I'm not sure who wore snakeskin in the first place.


Wealthmadehealthy 5 years ago

Enjoyed this trip down memory lane. Roy and Dale Evans were on my tv all the time when growing up. Personally, to get rid of all the smog, we should go back to riding horses. Then we wouldn't have to worry so much about fertilizer!! LOL Great hub!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Riding horses has an appeal but there is a lot of work involved. thanks for the comment.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Interesting Hub!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for commenting.


Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

Thanks for the info. The Livestock Show and Rodeo is coming to my town soon -- so the boots will be out in full force. Everybody is a cowboy for @ 2 weeks!


Rhonda Waits profile image

Rhonda Waits 5 years ago from The Emerald Coast

Hi a great and interesting hub. Thanks for sharing with us. I use to always go to rodeos when I was younger,I really enjoyed it. I love cowboy boots.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Truckstop Sally

I hope you enjoy the rodeo.. Thanks for commenting.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Rhonda Waits

I remember going to rodeos with my Dad. Funny that the only picture I have seen of him in riding gear he is wearing English riding clothes.thanks for commenting.


agvulpes profile image

agvulpes 5 years ago from Australia

Mate you got me in real good with that Roy Rogers Story lol

There are some very interesting facts in your Hub that I was not aware of, such as the high heels thing, I thought it was invented by Tom Mix cos he did not want to be seen as shorter than his leading ladies lol.

Definitely rated up :-)


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

The story was better when Dale Evans told it partly because she could sing the punch line.Thanks for commenting and rating.


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 5 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

"Cowboy Up!"

Flag up!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for reading and commenting.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Are you familiar with the famous Tony Lama boots? Will insert a link here: http://www.tonylama.com/en/index.html

They used to have a store in Houston that was famous for making special handcrafted boots for those that could afford it. Gifts of them were given to some of our Presidents, etc. Every type of leather imaginable was used. I remember walking in the store and just looking. Those boots were each a work of art! I see now by various links that they are now in places like Dubai.

Very interesting hub! You are really adding some interesting pieces to the hub topic of the week! Useful rating from me as well as up.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I am really not a fan of cowboy boots for myself. I did have a pair once but the heels were too high and I couldn't walk in them. In my younger days I wore engineers boots or motorcycle boots as they are probably called now. They were popular in the 1950's and very serviceable. Later I wore a Wellington style boot. Now, being a slave to fashion, I wear tennis shoes.

Thanks for commenting and the rating..


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

Great hub. Roy Rogers was my favorite cowboy growing up. I loved Trigger, Buttercup and Dale Evans too.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for your comment. Everyone liked Roy Rogers, I think.


Genna East profile image

Genna East 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

Cool hub; once again, I learned new and interesting things. Thank you for sharing this.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thank you for reading my hub and commenting on it.


kittythedreamer profile image

kittythedreamer 5 years ago from the Ether

Wonderful hub, dahoglund! I don't know how I missed this one before. I am no cowboy but I absolutely love the look and feel of a good pair of cowboy boots! My mom used to ride rodeo and I always envied her pairs of boots. Great write-up. Voted up and awesome.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thank you for the comment and the votes.I appreciate it.


rihsam10 profile image

rihsam10 5 years ago

Amazing hub..thanx for sharing


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for commenting, rihsan


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

"Now, being a slave to fashion, I wear tennis shoes." Haha! Guess I am sharing your same fashion sense! Those and flats comprise most of my favored shoes these days.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Before I retired the dress code at work was such that people who used to wear suits and ties to work were wearing jeans and tennis shoes.The same fashion seems to apply to church, around here at least.

Thanks for commenting.


WesternHistory profile image

WesternHistory 5 years ago from California

Very good story with a lot of interesting historical information. I like how boot designs were influenced all the way from Napolean to Roy Rogers. Thanks for the hub.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for commenting. I like boots but can't wear them anymore because I have to have shoes for diabetics.At least around here there are none in boot style available.


brolan profile image

brolan 5 years ago from indonesia

ahai,,i love boots .. Because in fact strong and resilient, boots become material military uniform, boots and then inspired many people, so the longer the usefulness of boots in the know people more and more popular today in wearing cowboy..see my website http://shoesboots-uk.com


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I like boots but I can't wear them because I need diabetic shoes.Thanks for your comment.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 14 months ago from East Coast, United States

I remember having a pair of cowboys boots when they were kind of a craze. Everyone had them and so did I. But I could never get used to the durn things - I need comfort.

The Roy Rodgers story was interesting. Mad about the boots, I would have been amazed that a cougar managed to get into the house. Worried too. Maybe the dog ate the boots and blamed it on an unwelcome guest.


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 14 months ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Delores, Thanks for reading and commenting. I bought a pair of cowboy boots once at a garage sale. They were comfortable on my feet but the high heels were hard for me to walk in. Contrary to the song the boots are not made for walking. When I was young I wore engineers boots, now called motorcycle boots, I guess. Best shoes I ever had.

Dale Evans probably told the story better than I did. It helps if the story teller is a singer.

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