tired and waiting to check in the last room the hotel had available,
I watched an equally tired young man walk into the lobby.
This was Kingsville,
so he could have been a King Ranch cowboy or someone who aspired
to be. One thing for sure, he was not an aviator newly assigned
to the naval air station there. More likely, given the wild Eagle
Ford Shale boom, he was an oilfield worker.
If so, he must have been a pipe truck driver or in some other career
track not subject to as many federal safety rules as rig workers,
because he was wearing cowboy boots, not clunky steel-toed safety
shoes. Not only did he not have on government-approved foot wear,
he had his jeans tucked into the tops of his boots. This indicated
that, whatever else there might be to know about him, he was a sure
‘nuff, real Texan.
Of course, how a fellow wears his boots is not absolute proof of
Texan-ness. I, too, am a sure ‘nuff, real Texan. But on this night,
I wore tan walking shoes and khaki cargo pants.
Even so, seeing such an open expression of a Lone Star pedigree
got me thinking about cowboy boots and their role in our culture.
If you’re wearing boots today, unless you’ve been out horseback
riding, you’ve got them on more because they are Texas icons than
for their practicality. Boots were specifically designed for riding:
The narrow toes to facilitate placing one’s feet in the stirrups,
the high heels to help keep them there, the strong sole to make
it easier to stand in the stirrups if necessary and the high tops
to protect your legs from brush.
These days, of course, Texans who wear boots pull them on because
they represent us. Yankees expect we Texans to wear boots. Beyond
that, a good, well-broken-in pair of boots are just plain comfortable.
you want to really look like a Texan, your boots should be worn
with the pants leg stuffed inside the tops, just like the young
man in Kingsville. Look at pictures of old time cowboys, or go hunt
up a present-day cowboy. Chances are, the jean legs are inside the
Drugstore cowboys–okay, most of us–wear our jeans or slacks over
I own two pair of boots, one that belonged to my granddad and the
other, a handcrafted pair given to me by a friend. Both have served
me well over the years, but I did eventually come to understand
that no matter how many Westerns we Baby Boomers saw when we were
growing up, you don’t wear cowboy boots if you’re going to be walking
around in rough country. If you do, sooner or later the slick leather
soles of your boots will slip on a rock and the rest of your body
Walking shoes or lower cut, cleated boots were made for walking,
just like cowboy boots were made for riding. (Yes, Nancy Sinatra
was wrong in her 1966 hit song, “These Boots Are Made For Walking.”)
I knew one old-time Texan, a retired educator, who solved the boot-vs-walking
shoes problem by purchasing custom-made walking shoes with fancy
boot tops sewn on. Not only did he not have to mess with tying his
shoes, his ankles were protected in true cowboy style. Even so,
he was good to go, mobility wise.
hurricane season approaching and therefore a vague possibility of
rain, neither are boots the best wet-weather footwear.
So, before walking shoes or rubber boots, what did old time Texans
do when they got their boots wet?
First, consider the consequences of getting your boots soaked. Wet
boots mean more to the wearer than the irritation of having wet
feet. Wet boots, being made of leather, can lose their shape.
Old timers 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?
1947, a 17-year-old from Ohio passing through Jeff
Davis County on a chilly day made even nippier by the mile-high
altitude, got himself arrested for stealing a pair of boots and
Taken before a grand jury, which shows how seriously folks around
took their boots in those days, the teenager said he had stolen
the boots and coat because he was cold.
Grand jurors, knowing how low the temperature had been, bought the
kid’s story and passed another Texas icon–a hat–to raise money for
bus fare home for the boy. And he got to keep the coat and boots
for the trip, providing he agreed to send them back.
Whether he returned the property was not reported, but I’d bet my
boots he did.