Cowboy Boot Makers
1870 the US Census recorded 121 boot- and shoe-making establishments
in Kansas and 98 in Texas. Most of these shops were also making
stovepipe stogie boots (work boots), ranger boots (farmers' boots),
cavalry-style boots, lace-up boots and shoes, and a variety of
footwear for the general populace.
History shows, however, that the most influential boot makers
in Kansas and Texas pre-1900 were primarily of German or British
descent. (The Italian shoe- and boot-making influences of Tony
Lama and the Lucchese family and others were felt after the turn
of the century.)
Although bootmakers were present throughout the Great Plains then,
it does not diminish the influence of Charles Hyer of Hyer Brothers
Boots in Olathe, Kansas, and "Big Daddy Joe" Justin
of Justin Boots in Spanish Fort, Texas as the leading bootmakers.
There was no other footwear in the 1890s and early 1900s that
could have provided as much protection and practical application
as the tall-top, high-heeled cowboy boot. This boot provided year-round
protection from mud, snow, gravel, brush, thorn, and horn, allowing
the cowboy to always keep one thickness between his pants and
his leg. Changes and improvements, for fashion or utility, were
always being made. Heels went from low to high, to low, and back
to high again. Toes were varying widths in square and round shapes.
Some soles were thick, while others were thin, and the tops were
either plain or decorated with coloured leather and stitching.
These changes were made to satisfy the individual's fashion, a
bootmaker's choice, or to improve safety and efficiency. The result,
given personal preference, was a perfect tool for the feet used
in a very special way.
The Hyer Boot Company holds a proud place in Kansas history and
is regarded among those who pioneered bootmaking and marketing.
The company was founded in the1880s by brothers Charles and Edward
Hyer who learnt from their father, William, a German immigrant.
In 1872 Charles found work at the Olathe School for the Deaf teaching
shoe and harness making. He opened a small cobbling shop on the
side and hired his brother Edward to help him run it.
American folklore credits Charles Hyer as one of the first to
invent the cowboy boot. Legend has it that a Colorado cowboy stopped
by the Hyer shop on his way home from the Kansas City stockyards
in 1875 and requested a new pair of boots that were different
from his Civil War-style boots. He wanted boots with pointed toes
that would let him slide into the stirrups; high, slanted heels
that would hold stirrups, and high tops with scalloped fronts
and backs so he could get in and out of them more easily. As story
goes, the unknown cowboy was so pleased with Hyer's work that
he returned to Colorado and told others about his new boots. With
an immigrant workforce from Germany, Sweden and Poland during
the early years Hyer made cowboy boots for cattlemen, rodeo performers
and movie stars such as Buffalo Bill Cody, Tom Mix, Will Rogers,
and Gene Autry.
Hyer went further, to reach potential customers further west and
across the ocean, the company created mail-order catalogues with
measuring charts. WWI, the Hyers made boots for the officers at
Fort Leavenworth and at Camp Funston. In 1961, governors from
the 49 other states were outfitted with Hyer boots courtesy of
Governor John Anderson. In 1977 the Hyer name was sold to the
Ben Miller Boot Company of El Paso, Texas.
Hyer like other companies had to strategically move at the end
of WWI. By then a three-piece pattern for the boot had emerged.
It led to the birth of the three-piece western boot - with a one-piece
top and a seam running up the back of the leg as in the military
boot. The leg of the boot--the top--presents a large canvas for
decorative work which saw the style become popularly known as
“tejas” (Spanish for Texas) and it enjoyed a great
popularity, especially in that state. They were difficult to make
however and moved out of wide American popular fashion until recent
Modern Cowboy Boots
Although Cowboy boots are timeless, cinema has rejuvenated
its appeal. Read more about modern
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