- Definitions for the
Cowboy boots are boots worn by cowboys. They have a high heel, rounded to pointed toe, high shaft, and no lacing. Cowboy boots are normally made from leather but sometimes they're made from "exotic" skins such as alligator, snake, ostrich, elephant, sting ray, elk, buffalo, etc.
A cowboy needed to be able to quickly and surely mount and dismount his horse in the course of work. In addition to working cattle, they also worked and trained new horses. Much of their riding was cross-country, conditions were rough and unpredictable, and weather variable from summer heat to winter snow. Staying alive and comfortable under these conditions drove the mutation of the cavalry and other tall riding boot designs into what has come to be called the "cowboy boot".
Most histories of the cowboy boot agree they were derived from the cavalry boot used in the Civil War in the early 1860s and other similar designs. Working cattlemen in the 1870s and 1880s asked bootmakers for modifications to better fit their working conditions. Predictably, most of these bootmakers were in the cattle ranching areas of Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. The two most renowned bootmakers of the era were Charles Hyer of Hyer Brothers Boots in Olathe, Kansas, and "Big Daddy Joe" Justin of Justin Boots in Spanish Fort, Texas.
While mounting, the slick, treadless leather sole of the boot allowed easy insertion of the foot into the stirrup of the Western saddle. While an extremely pointed toe is a modern stylization appearing in the 1940s, the toe of the original boots retained the more rounded shape of other boots. A slight point to the toe does make it somewhat easier to quickly insert the foot in the stirrup, but an extremely pointed toe is not helpful and not practical in a working boot.
While mounted, the tall heel prevented the foot from sliding forward through the stirrup, which could be life threatening if it happened and the rider were to be unseated. The tall shaft, comfortably loose fit and lack of lacing might save a cowboy's life since his body weight would pull his foot out of the boot if he were unseated and his boot remain stuck in the stirrup.
While dismounting, the slick sole allows the boot to easily come free of the stirrup.
The tall leather shaft of the boot helped to hold it in place in the absence of lacing. While mounted, the shaft protected the leg from saddle rubbing, brush and thorns. While dismounted, the shaft helped protect the leg and foot from rocks, brush, thorns, and snakes. In wet weather or creek crossings, the high tops helped prevent the boot from filling with mud and water.
Decoration varied widely. Early boots
were plain leather, but as custom boots
were made, cowboys asked for decorative
stitching, cutouts in the high tops (early
on, often Texas stars), and different materials.
Modern cowboy boots are available in all
colors of the rainbow and a pair has been
made from just about every animal whose
skin can be made into leather.