the myriad of changes occurring in the Old West let us examine the common boot.
Originally built on one last to fit either foot, the foot gear had wide, flat
heels and "stovepipe tops" reaching almost to the knees. Made for walking or marching
the design was utilitarian.
As the emigration reached the vast expanses
of the Great Plains, riding horses was a must, so boots changed. The tops became
shorter because chaps and leather leggings now protected the rider's legs. Without
the constraints of war, tops were decorated and stitched to prevent wrinkling.
Heels were made smaller, more narrow and taller to keep a rider's foot
from sliding on through the stirrup. Long-distance rides were made easier by allowing
the rider to rest his arch on the stirrup instead of the ball of the foot.
"Joe" Justin was working near the Red
River Crossing during trail-drive days when a cowboy asked him if he could
make a pair of riding boots. Joe's success in the venture led him to design a
"paper order blank" on which a customer could draw the outline of each foot, measure
the circumferences at different points, list all measurements with his preferences
for kind and color of leather thus inventing the term "custom-made" footwear.
Joe and Alice Justin had seven children, six sons and one daughter, who
all went into the boot business. In 1908, all combined into the H.J. Justin and
Sons Inc. Daughter Enid established the extremely successful Nocona Boot Co. She
divorced and remarried twice, each time her ex-husbands starting boot companies
of their own. The rest of the Justin family begged her not to marry again to cut
down on competition. The company eventually owned Justin, Nocona and Tony Lama
boot-making companies in America.
and why did the cowboy vest come about? It was a common sense invention. Most
cowboys rode bronc horses a lot of the time. Those mounts did not like any unusual
motions or activity made by the rider. Most wore tight Levis, topped with chaps,
making trouser pockets difficult to access.
The answer, a cowhide or wool
vest provided easy-to-reach pockets. A vest provided warmth if buttoned and allowed
cool air to enter if left unbuttoned. Few sizes were offered, as each vest had
little straps and buckles in the back to make it fit. There was no collar to chaff
Best of all, a vest had lots of big pockets, both high and low.
Among the articles that could now be carried were a pocket watch with fob laced
through a button hole so it could not drop out and be lost, a button-down pocket
to hold the blessedly important "tally book" holding all the information about
numbers of livestock, list of local brands, dates to remember, debts, income and
a few addresses of relatives.
Finally, pockets to hold Bull
Durham tobacco and cigarette papers, chewing tobacco or a can of snuff depending
on what was your favorite sin. Also most vest pockets contained some strike-anywhere
kitchen matches, a hand-whittled toothpick and a few folds of waste paper for
the emergencies. What more could any self-respecting cowboy want?
"It's All Trew" February
2, 2011 column
Delbert Trew is a freelance writer and retired rancher. He can
be reached at 806-779-3164, by mail at Box A, Alanreed, TX 79002, or by e-mail
at email@example.com. For books see DelbertTrew.com. His column appears