Cowboy Boots – A History

Cowboys herding cattle across U.S. territories after the American Civil War realized they needed boots that were different from common boot styles of their times. Neither war, carriage or field-style boots served well during long hours as riders navigated brush and brambles, creeks and rivers months at a time.

Around 1870 a lone cowboy took his war boots to a shoemaker and asked if they could be given a pointy toe so he could slip his foot into a   stirrup  quickly. He also wanted a taller shaft that would protect his legs and a larger, under-slung heal to keep his heel in the  stirrup  when riding hard on the trail.

The shoemaker cobbled together a knee-high design, to protect its wearer’s legs from thorny mesquite trees, barbed wire, snakes, and other dangers. Long mule-eared straps were then attached for pulling the boots on.

The tough leather of traditional “working cowboy” boots protected a rider’s ankles from otherwise-bruising wooden  stirrups , and from the rubbing of legs against  stirrup  leather. Cowboy boots were stitched on the outside to prevent the leather from buckling and rubbing against a cowboy’s leg.

The trademark, under-slung heel of cowboy boots serves to protect the cowboy, allowing him to dig his heels into the ground when grounding a calf or leading a horse in treacherous terrain. It also keeps the boot properly positioned in the  stirrup , alleviating an ever-present peril that existed for thousands of years before cowboy boots were born: the very real possibility of being dragged to death by a spooked horse should a rider fall from his mount with a foot and boot caught on the wrong side of a  stirrup !

The first pairs of cowboy boots were for working purposes only. There was no “style.” Cowboy boots were viewed simply as an improvement on a vital tool, designed to keep cowboys safe and as comfortable as possible during long, hard months in the sun and rain.

The revolutionary new “no-style” design quickly became a part of a cowboy’s tool kit, as necessary to him as his lasso, his rifle, his branding iron, his neckerchief, and his buck knife.

Originally cowboy boots were individually made by a cobbler who would measure a cowboy’s feet and make a pair of boots to fit them. Mail-order boot companies came years later.

Over time, cowboy boots became a significant fashion statement as the customary black or brown stitching on the outside of the boot segued to more colorful stitching. Designs and pictures began to be sewn into the boots and boot makers started experimenting with inlays and overlays. Within a decade, clever boot designs appeared across America and began to intrigue the world. If a cowboy boot could be made truly extraordinary, the designers realized, so much the better!

Cowboy boots have been on the mail order market since the 1880’s. In the early 1900’s, with silent motion pictures spotlighting cowboys, and railroads running reliably between coasts, the popularity, manufacture and distribution of cowboy boots mushroomed.

Today, cowboy boots are on millions more feet that that first cowboy and his cobbler could ever have imagined!