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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Texas Icons
Cowboy Boots

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

Wearing cowboy boots today?

Unless you've been horseback riding, you're wearing those boots more because they are Texas icons than for practicality. Boots were specifically designed for saddle sitters: The narrow toes facilitate placing your feet in the stirrups, the high heels help keep them there, the strong soles make it easier to stand in the stirrups and the high tops protect your ankles in brush country.

These days, of course, most Texans who wear boots pull them on because they represent us. Yankees expect their vision of a Texan to wear boots. Beyond that, a good pair of boots -- once broken in -- are just plain comfortable. And in cold weather, they keep your feet warm.

However, until you or a professional has stretched them a bit, brand new boots are not always pleasurable to wear. That phenomenon, so well known to any boot wearer, led to the expression: "The reason I wear boots is because it feels so good to take them off!"

In the Lone Star state, and indeed across the West, there's more to boot-wearin' than breaking them in. Beyond their practical value as foot protectors (they're pretty much guaranteed to give a rattlesnake a toothache), boots can be worth a lot of money. Custom-made boots, once not too much more expensive than manufactured boots, have long since become quite pricey.

A quick Google check brings up a high-end pair of American alligator boots listed online by one Austin boot seller for $12,995. That's roughly 25 percent of what a new pickup can set you back, gun rack not included. If the size $13K boots don't fit your budget, the same Capital City store does have a nice pair for $2,295 and others on down from there into the few hundreds of dollars.

Even old boots can have value as collectibles. A pair of hand-tooled boots once worn by a Texas Ranger, for example, can fetch big bucks at auction simply because a ranger had stood in them.

Money aside, if you really want to look like a Texan, boots properly worn should have the pants legs stuffed inside the tops. Look at pictures of old time cowboys, or go hunt up a present-day cowboy. Chances are, their pants legs are inside their boots.

Women have one more option when it comes to boots -- they can wear them with skirt or dress. (It must be admitted that men also are perfectly free to wear boots and a dress any time they by gosh want to. But even in these modern, open-minded times, in some parts of Texas doing so still might lead to a lively, or even hands-on, interaction.)

Drugstore cowboys-okay, most of us-wear our jeans or slacks over our boots.

No matter how you wear your boots, you probably don't want them on if you're going to walk a lot, especially in rough country. Walking or hiking shoes and rubber-soled boots are made for walking, just like leather-soled cowboy boots are made for riding or looking like a Texan. Yes, Nancy Sinatra was just plain wrong in her 1966 hit song, "These Boots Are Made For Walking."

High-top rubber boots are made for walking in water. That said, cowboys did not wear rubber boots. So what did old time Texans do when they got their boots wet?

First, consider the consequences. Wet boots mean more to the wearer than the discomfort, if not outright danger in freezing weather, of having wet feet. Boots being made of leather, wet boots can lose their shape.

Savvy hands knew to take their boots off when they got wet and stuff them full of oats. The oats absorbed the water and held the boot in shape until it dried, a long-defunct magazine called Texas Week reported in the fall of 1946.

Think boots weren't important to Texans back when?

In 1947, a 17-year-old from Ohio passing through Jeff Davis County in far West Texas got arrested for stealing a pair of boots and a coat.

Taken before a grand jury, which shows how seriously folks around Fort Davis took their boots in those days, the teenager from the heartland readily admitted that he had stolen the cowboy footwear and coat. But he had not done so to be fashionable. He did it because he was cold, caught unprepared in high country where the mercury at times can get downright low.

Grand jurors, knowing what the temperature had been at the time of the offense, opted to soften the rule of law. They bought the kid's story and passed another Texas icon-a cowboy hat-to raise money for the kid's bus fare home. He even got to wear the coat and boots home, providing he agreed to send them back when he got there.

Whether he returned the property was not reported, but I'd bet my boots that he did.

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"January 4, 2017

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