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Cowboy Boot Makers

In 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 resurgence.

 

 

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