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    

Old Inox Western Gaucho Boot Knife W/ Cowboys, Steer, Covered Wagon Etched BladeLucchese Classics San Antonio Hornback Lizard Brown 8 D New Soles Cowboy BootsBowman's Wilson Cowboy Boots! X Tall! X Beefy! Longbase-heeled! Size 11Mens Vintage New Olathe Turquoise/black Cowboy Boots 10 D Made In Olathe KsLucchese Men's Size 12d Suede Rounded Toe Cowboy BootsMs Old Gringo Western Boots Ellie Style Black Distressed Sz 8.5bLucchese Men's Size 11.5-12d Natural Python Belly Cowboy BootsOld Gringo Leather Western Boots Vintage Amazing Cowgirl Boots Ladies Size 81/2Lucchese 10 1/2 D Alligator Caiman Belly Crocodile Exotic Cowboy Western Boots Corral Boots With Angel Wings And Rhinestones Cowboy Cowgirl699rr Nwot Womens Old Gringo Nevada L175-262 Vesuvio Red Cowboy Boots Sz 8 1/2 BMens Lucchese Hand Made Since 1883 Black Cherry Ostrich Cowboy Boots 9.5 D ExcelJeffrey Campbell Nib Suede Cowboy Bootie 'olinda' 8.5m $199 Retail Sold Out!Tony Lama Black Full Quill Ostrich Western Cowboys Boots 10.5d Mint Condition*reduced For Quick Sale* Olathe Buckaroo Roughstock Rodeo Cowboy Western Boots! #g Vtg Mens Lucchese Snip Toe Cowboy Leather Brown Boots Size 10.5 DTony Lama Vintage Alligator Skin Exotic Leather Mens 10 D Cowboy Boots Y2196Dan Post Women's El Paso Western Boot 3247 - Size 10mMen's Justin Full Quill Brown Tan Leather Square Toe Cowboy Boots Sz 10 DMen's Lucchese Cowboy Boots Size 10.5, Brown SuedeMens Black Exotic Genuine Caiman Cowboy Boots 13ee J.b. Dillon (13 Ee)Single Antique August Buermann Cowboy Boot Spur Western AmericanaWomen Cowboy Boots Size 10Corral Women's Square Toe Cowboy Western Boots Black/silver Studded Cross C2859Vintage Nocona Mens 9 D Black Exotic Leather Western Cowboy Boots RopersLucchese Vintage Cowboy Boots 8d In Awesome Condition!Mens Nwob Double H Dh3561 Chocolate Ice Wide Square Roper Cowboy Boots Sz 13 EeLucchese Mens Cowboy Boots 11 EeOld Gringo Ladies Cowboy Boots/booties Size 8 Black Distressed With StudsLucchese Custom Brown Leather Cowboy Boots 9 D Usa Medium Amazing Frye Women's Western Boots Sz 10Justin Western Boots Bent Rail Square Toe Black White Womens Sz 7.5 BCorral Womens 8 M R1952 Desert Red Goat Leather Ropers Cowboy Western BootsWomens Ariat Legend Square Toe Rosebud Russet Rebel Cowboy Boots 9 B Lk Nu Justin Men's Full Quill Ostrich Cowboy Boots, Style 8713, Size 10.5Dan Post Men's Snakeskin Cowboy Western Boots Size 11 D W/boot Bag & StretchersMens Ariat Stillwater Antique Green Caiman Belly All Leather Cowboy Boots 11eeWomen's Ariat Heritage Western Boots Black Deertan R-toe 10001037 Size 8.5 WideLucchese 1883 Cowboy Boots Leather Square Toe Size Mens 12 WideMen's Resistol Cowboy Boots 13eeNew Justin Cowboy Work Boot Lucchese 1883 Usa Made Brown Glove Boots 10.5 Western Cowboy Boots Ariat Heritage Roughstock Cowboy Boots 10.5dTony Lama Women's Size 8b Tan/cerise 16" Buckaroo Western Boots 3r2402Lucchese 1883 Brown And Black Leather Cowboy Western Boots Mens Size 10.5 DLos Altos White Genuine Crocodile Tail 3x Toe Cowboy Boots Size 13 Justin Classics Alligator Belly Crocodile Mens Cowboy Boots Black 9 Style 9101New Men's Tony Lama Cowboy Boots Size 9dLucchese 2000 Mens Black Cherry Ostrich Leg Leather Western Boots Us 10 2e Girl Anderson Bean Cowboy Boot Company Size 3 Black Pink Very Good ConditionHarley Davidson Boots 12d Men Leather Western Cowboy Motorcycle Scout HarneesHarley Davidson Boots 11 Men Leather Western Cowboy Motorcycle Riding HarneesNew Lucchese Mens Rhys Cognac Caiman Western Cowboy Boots Shoes M4548 Size 11 MMens Tony Lama Brown Full Quill Ostrich Leather Cowboy Boots 569 Sz 11 Ee WideHarley Davidson Men's Western Boots, Blackleather Sz 10.5 Great Condition !!!Tony Lama Women's Size 9b Magnolia Orange 16" Buckaroo Western Boots 2401Corral Boots Sz 7.5m Womens Black/bronze Studded Whip Stitch Western Boots R1217Vintage Justin Black With Elephant Print On Cowhide Cowboy Boots, Size 11.5 E Frye Womens Ankle Cowboy Boots Us7.5Tony Lama Vintage 6530 Black Label Exotic Leather Mens 11 D Cowboy Boots