The origins of the cowboy boot are as tough to pin down as, well, a wandering cowboy. The biggest myth about this most iconic form of Western footwear concerns the boot’s pointed toe. To hear some old cowboys tell it, the pointed toe was the brainstorm of a clever cowpoke with a bad sense of aim. A pointy toe, he reckoned, would make it easier for him to slip his foot into his saddle’s stirrup.

Wrong. In fact, cowboy boots had round or square toes until sometime in the 1940s, when pointy toes were introduced for reasons having to do with fashion. Other aspects of cowboy boots are more venerable. The boot’s arched sole and pronounced heel was designed to keep a rider’s foot more securely in a stirrup, and the boot’s tall shaft protected a rider’s legs from sharp brambles, the constant rubbing of wooden stirrups, and perhaps even snakebites.

The first boots worn by actual 19th-century cowboys were modeled after boots worn by Hessian soldiers, who fought side-by-side with the British during the Revolutionary War.

Billy the Kid, though not a cowboy, was photographed in 1879 wearing such a Hessian-style boot, distinctive for its V cut in the front, pull-straps on the side, and leather or silk tassel (naturally Billy’s boots lacked this decorative touch). Other cowboys from this era wore variations on the Wellington, an English military dress boot that was actually a riff on the Hessian.

Sometime around 1870, a cobbler from Coffeyville, Kansas named John Cubine pushed the form further when he started making boots for Texas cowboys that, like a lot of footwear of the day, could be worn on either the right or left foot. These leather boots had pull straps, low heels, and roundish toes. They were also taller in the front to give the wearer more protection while making them relatively easy to get on or off.

By the 1880s, Hyer Brothers was just one of 100-plus boot makers in Kansas, while Justin Boots was probably the best known boot name in Texas. Sam Lucchese of San Antonio was right behind them, followed by Tony Lama and others. Kansas may have been where the whole thing got started (and even that’s not a certainty), but Texas is where the cowboy-boot industry was eventually established.

From the vantage point of the 21st century, the era of the cowboy seems to be a major part of U.S. history, but even by the turn of the 20th century, the cowboy was looked upon w...

With the advent of radio shows and movies in the 1920s and ’30s, the myth of the lone rider, driving his herd in hard country, was burnished until it gleamed. William S. Hart, Hoot Gibson, and Tom Mix were some of the early stars, and their appearance in cowboy boots of increasingly costume-like design in turn drove the design of these once simple boots to new, decorative heights.

Mix, in particular, was enormously influential. His boots were richly inlaid with contrasting colors of leather and silk stitching, and when he was killed in a car accident in 1940, it did not go unnoticed that like a good cowboy, he died with his boots on.

In the years since, boot makers have taken the simple template offered by the Hessian boot and used it as a canvas for every imaginable sort of decoration, using materials that go way beyond traditional cowhide.

Lucchese makes cowboy boots out of American alligator or lizard, in colors with names like peanut brittle and rust. Lama boots come in Caiman crocodile in almond or oryx. Loveless, which is one of many makers who has made cowboy boots for presidents, likes to work with ostrich, kangaroo, and elephant hide, while Caboots of El Paso has made boots out of cobra and python.

Then there are artisans like Dave Little, whose grandfather Lucien started the business that would become Little’s Boots in San Antonio in 1915. Little’s boots come in all variety of toe and heel styles, but it’s the burnished leatherwork that sets his boots apart. Little’s boots are like works of art, sold in pairs, featuring roses, eagles, flames, cactus, horses, and steer skulls in alternating shades of leather, ostrich, and you-name-it.

Rocketbuster of El Paso makes boots in a similarly exuberant vein, with designs ranging from pink boots decorated with cherries to curly-toe creations that look like they’d be worn by some sort of demonic court jester.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

All About Shoes

All About Shoes

From Canada's Bata Shoe Museum comes a visually impressive exhibit focusing on the history of the shoe from traditi… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

Virtual Shoe Museum

Virtual Shoe Museum

This virtual museum from Shoe Icons Publishing showcases over 800 pairs of shoes and related reference information.… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Womens Ariat Fatbaby Cowboy Boots Size 9 BOld Gringo Brown Leather Floral Embroidered Pointed Toe Cowboy Boots Size 8.5Rare Frye Side Lace Oiled Leather Ladies Cowboy Boots 8.5 B Lt Wear Excell Cond!Womens Yippee Kiyay Old Gringo Western Boots Siz 7 BEuc Mens Olathe 19 Inch Leather Polo/ Cowboy Boots As 11.5- Made In Usa $350 RtlT.o. Stanley Anteater Exotic Custom Made Cowboy Boots Men Sz 8.5 D Women 9.5 MWomens Ariat Fatbaby Western Boots Size 7 1/2 BCuadra Mens 10 Tall Brown Leather Western Cowboy Boots QBeautiful Lucchese Distressed Leather Ladies Cowboy Boots 8.5 B Light Wear Mint!Mens Black Label Tony Lama Cowboy Boots Size 10 1/2 DLucchese Handmade Exotic Elephant Shark Cowboy Boots Men Sz 7 D Women Sz 8 MAriat Women's Size 9b Cowboy BootsJustin Boots 8292 Mens Brown Cowboy, Western Boots 9 Extra Wide (ee) BhfoMen's Tony Lama Elephant Skin Roper Style Western Boots - Size 12 DFrye Brown Studded Women's Shoes Size 7m Western Cowboy Boots $398-#0415 DealLadies Ariat Fatbaby Brown Leather Upper Western Boot - Size 8bWomen's Ariat Brown Sahara Sassy Western Cowboy Boot Size 8 B Worn Twice!!Womens Ariat Fatbaby Sz 7.5b Western Cowboy Boots #16405 Black LeatherAriat Black & Ivory Leather Western Boots Womens Size 7.5 BWomens Corral Brown Cowboy Boots 7.5Justin Registered Exotic Sea Alligator Cowboy Boots Men Sz 9 D Women Sz 10 MLucchese Texas Mens Vintage Cowboy Western Boots Leather Exotic Snakeskin 12dAriat Men's Cowboy Western Work Boots Size 13 D Scalloped TopsWomens~ariat~fatbaby~western~boots~size 8.5 B~buckskin~leather~cowboy~brownAriat Women's Fatbaby Cowboy Western Work Boots Size 8.5 BMens Lucchese 2000 Cowboy Boots Size 10 1/2 DLucchese M1608 R4 Montana Mens 10.5 D Full Quill Ostrich Cowboy BootsTony Lama Brown Snake Skin & Leather Men's Cowboy Western Boots Y0017p Sz 10.5Vintage Exotic Caiman Crocodile / Alligator Cowboy Western Boots L@@k .. 9 DBrand New! Men's Rebel By Durango Cowboy Boot - Size 11Mens Old West Western/cowboy Boots 9 1/2 D Brown/blue Leather 13" TallWhat A Cowboy Boot! Super Tall! Heavy-lug Soles! Hand Made! Great Price! Size 10Kim Kardashian West Tony Lama Black & Brown Leather Cowboy Boots Sz 7.5 M Lucchese 5394 Mens Black Leather Cowboy, Western Boots Shoes 12 Medium (d) BhfoGolden Goose Young Western Boots Size 39Ariat Sz 8 B Womens Crossfire Caliente Square Toe Western Cowboy Boots 16876Men's Cowtown Hornback Alligator "back Cut" Inlay Top Cowboy Boots Size 11dJustin Women's Size 8 Vintage Black Leather Cowboy BootsFrye Billy Stud Pull On Cowboy Boots Womens 11 B 77760 Maple BrownLucchese Classics L1510 Mens 11.5 D Black Goat Cowboy Boots Made In UsaSea Alligator Cowboy BootsMens Size 12 D Justin Brown #3104 Full Quill Ostrich Western Roper Cowboy BootsTony Lama Cowboy Boots, Men's Sz 11 D Us, El Paso Tx, 8056, No Reserve Auction!!Lucchese Classics L1532 Mens 13 D Black Calfskin Cowboy Boots Made In UsaTony Lama 6252 Black Exotic Shrunken Shoulder Cowboy Western Boot Men's 10.5 DNib Tony Lama Signature Collection Lizard Cowboy Boot, Size 8 1/2Womens Justin Western Cowboy Boots Size 7 1/2 BHand Made New Mens 10 E Black Leather Pointy Toe Cowboy Western Boots BeVintage "rare" Larry Mahan Alligator Crocodile Exotic Western Boots Brown 10 DLucchese M1001 S54 Lewis Mens 12 D Anthracite Madras Goat Cowboy BootsMen's Lucchese Western Boots Full Quill Ostrich Tan Black Size 12 D New Ariat Mens Workhog Steel Toe Brown Western Boots 10006961 Shoes Size 9.5 MAriat Fat Baby Women's Brown Leather Cowboy Western Boots Size 9b #13830Tony Lama Womens Size 8b Brown Leather Pink Shank Renegade Western BootsToga Pulla Black White Leather Buckle Detail Cowboy Boots Size 38 8Vintage Lot 2 Wheeler Boot Co Texas Custom Made Leather Cowboy Boots Size 11.5Corral Womens Brown Leather & Turquoise Cowboy Western Boots Size 6 1/2, 6.5 MedWomens Cowboy Boots Size 7.5 Pink And Brown Lucchese M4539 Brant Mens 12 D Brown Hornback Caiman Crocodile Cowboy BootsLucchese M2690 Landon Mens 13 D Black Hornback Caiman Crocodile Cowboy Boots