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”)

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]

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]

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]

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]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Buckaroo Custom Cowboy Boots By Caboots 20" Tall Collectables! 10.5 MensOld Gringo New Ginger Womens 9.5 B Vesuvio Brass/green Leather Cowboy Boots HhBig Black Boots! Big Heels! Tall Tough Justin Cowboy Boots! Size 11Justin Light Tan Genuine Full Quill Ostrich Men's Cowboy Western Boots 9.5d $554Authentic Old Gringo Apache Zipper Women's Western BootsA184 Used Damaged Lucchese (classics) Blue Stingray Cowboy Boots Men's 10.5 DOld Gringo Women's Western Boots Sz 8.b Black Green Yelow Blue Men's Rios Of Mercedes Black Western Boot Crocodile 11Vintage Olathe Tall Cowboy Boots Size 10 1/2d Ariat Women's Unbridled Brown Boots Western Cowboy Ladies Size 7.5b Sz 7 1/2 B Gene Autry Leather Kids Cowboy Boots In Original Box-graham-brown Co-1950sShyanne Womens 8 B Tall Brown Distressed Leather Western Cowboy Boots RAriat Womens 6.5 B 37 Rodeobaby Rocker 10006763 Western Cowboy Boots CgWomen's Ariat Fatbaby Black Leather Cowboy Boots Size 8.5Ariat Brown Leather Fat Baby Mid Calf Western Boots Women 38.5 Us 7.5Women's Ariat Fatbaby Cowboy/western/work Blue Suede & Tan Leather Boots Sz 9 B.Justin Womens 7 B Tall Classic Brown Leather Western Cowboy Boots JDan Post Womans 7m Brown Cowboy Boots. Great Condition.Old Gringo - Women's Cowboy Boots - Size 7Justin Peanut Brittle Full Quill Ostrich Men's Cowboy Boots 9.5d**free ShippingPink Tony Lama Cowgirl/cowboy Boots Women's 7b Wide Square Toe 3r Buckeroo LqqkAriat Fatbaby #14770 Womens Brown With Pink Stitching Cowboy Boots Size 8.5Lucchese Anteater Western Boots, Size 11d, Style 48370Vintage Lucchese Python Snakeskin Tall Cowboy Boots Rare Mens 6d Fits Women 7-8Frye Cowboy Boots Ankle - Womens - 9 MCorral Chocolate Natural Africa Inlay Leather Distressed Cowboy Boots Size 8Ariat Womens 7 B 37.5 Brown Distressed Leather Western Cowboy Boots BdAriat Black Leather Cowboy Boot Shoe Size 6.5Old Gringo Women's 9 Chocolate/turquoise Distressed Cowboy Boots Red FlowerMens Ariat Sport Square Toe Earth Leather Western Boots Sz 10.5 EeMens Vintage Custom Hand- Made Elephant Skin Western Boots Size 8 1/2Double H H Buckaroo Dh1533 Mens 8.5 D Caramel Leather Square Toe Cowboy Boots HzLucchese 2000 Black Kangaroo T3318 Western Cowboy Boots Size 11 DWomens~ariat~fatbaby~western~cowboy~boots~size 8.5 B~leather~cowboy~ostrichWomen's Twisted X Cowboy Boots Size 7 B Excellent Tim Foust's Don't It Feel Good Tour Snake Print Cowboy BootsRios Of Mercedes Texas Chocolate Brown Elephant Mens Cowboy Boots Vintage ExoticLucchese Men's 10.5 D Snip Toe Cowboy BootsAriat Western Boots Mens Ranchero Leather Cross Inlay Brown Size 10.5 D 10011800Durango Mens 8.5 D 41.5 Rebel Db5444 Brown Leather Western Cowboy Boots TMen's The Old Gringo Cowboy Boots Size 11dMens Nocona Brown Leather Farm Cowboy Boots Sz 12 DA183 Used Lucchese (1883) Black Cherry Ostrich Leg Cowboy Boots Men's 10.5 DAriat Womens Ranch Luxe Overlay Western Boots Leather Black Size 8.5 B 10015338Size 9 ½ Lucchese Brown Leather Classics Handmade Cowboy Western BootsSignature Lucchese Black Leather Traditional Cowboy Boots Shoes 11 Ee Wide NrAriat Womens 10 B 41.5 Blackwater 18102 Tan Leather Western Cowboy Boots MnWomen's Justin Size 9 B Burgundy Red Cowboy BootsOlathe Men's Black Western Boots With Red & Blue Stitching Size 12 DLucchese 2000 Mens 11 D Tall Classic Brown Leather Western Cowboy Boots BdLucchese M1020 R Toe Mens Size 13 D Black Lonestar Calf Cowboy Boots No ReserveLucchese 2000 Men's Leather Cowboy Boots Us Size 11dAriat Heritage Driftwood Brown And Pink Leather Cowboy Western Boots Womens 9 BVintage Lucchese Roper Cowboy Western Boots, Ostrich, Mens 8dOld Gringo Boots Sonia 13'' Cowboy Boots 9 1/2 DMens 8.5 D Longhorn Green Caiman Alligator Leather Western Cowboy Dance BootsLucchese 2000 Womens 8 B Square Toe Cowboy Western Boots Mens Ariat Cowboy Boots Size 10.5 D Style 10007850Lucchese 2000 Womens 8 B Lizard Leather Western Cowboy Riding Dance BootsJustin Womens 9 B Gypsy L2900 Brown Leather Western Cowboy Boots Gs