Old West Cowboy Boots

“I can tell by your outfit that you are a cowboy.”

Old West Cowboy BootsNext to his hat, a cowboy’s footwear has traditionally been the most important symbol of his identity. Here are some little known facts about Old West Cowboy Boots:

Prior to the end of the Civil War, cowboys wore heavy-soled boots of virtually any style they could find.  Often his boots were made on the same form for both the right and left foot.  Although they eventually conformed to the foot, this wasn’t the most comfortable way to make a boot.

With the beginning of the cattle drives, and the cowboy having to work cattle and ride a horse for months at a time, he started realizing he wasn’t wearing the best boot for the job.  So, when he got to Abilene and the other cattle towns, the cowboy got together with boot makers and came up with what has come to be known as the cowboy boot.

Early boots were called “stovepipes” because they were black, about fourteen inches tall and had level tops.  The 1870’s cowboy had three choices: boots off the shelf, boots made by a local boot maker or custom made mail order boots.    

The Old West cowboy was very vain about his attire.  He was willing to pay as much as a month’s wages for a pair of custom boots that were designed more for looks than comfort.

Although the northern cowboy and the southern cowboy dressed differently, they did agree on their boots.  The exception was how the boot was decorated.  The Texas cowboy wanted a lone star or crescent on the front of his.  The northern cowboy’s boots were heavily stitched.  And their tops were rarely less than seventeen inches high.

Boots had square or rounded toes. (Pointed toes are a modern design.)  The soles were thin.  Supposedly, to better feel the stirrup.  Besides, a cowboy never walked very far.  The heels were “underslung.”  A small foot was desired, and the underslung heel provided a size ten foot with a size seven footprint.

The heels were 2 ½ inch to as much as 4 ½ inch high.  This prevented the boot from hanging up in the stirrup.  In addition, the heels made it possible to “dig in” when working cattle.  The tall heel also added a couple of inches to the height of a cowboy, who tended to be on the shorter side.

In the 1890’s, following the cattle drive era, performers in Wild West shows started wearing highly decorated boots.  Then came the movie cowboy.  Boots were no longer designed for protection against the elements and critters, or for riding and handling cattle, but for show and tell.  And to tell it best, they always added a pair of jingling spurs! You can read more about cowboy boots in the Old West by grabbing this great book HERE.

Time Zones in the United StatesTime in the United States, by law, is divided into nine standard time zones covering the states and its possessions, with most of the United States observing daylight saving time (DST) for approximately the spring, summer, and fall months. Time Zones in the United States is not new, and Dakota Livesay explains how the US got Time Zones.

They Played Poker For Cattle

Poker For CattleMay 9, 1885, Arizona Champion, Phoenix, Arizona – The Kansas City Journal tells of a game of poker played recently in that city between a Texan and Major Drumm.  The Texan had no money, but plenty of cattle and an immense desire to play poker with the Major.  The latter is known around the stock yards for his great natural resources, and he swept away the seemingly insurmountable difficulty by proposing a game of one steer ante, two steers come in and no limit.  They played poker for cattle on this basis.

Major Drumm dealt and the gentleman from Texas anteed one steer.  Both came in and the game opened with four steers on the table.  Major Drumm drew two tens and caught an unexpected full, while the gentleman from Texas struck a bobtail snag and passed out.

The third was a jackpot and it took three deals to open it.  The gentleman from Texas finally drew two jacks and opened the pot with a fine breeding bull, which counted six.  Major Drumm covered this with five steers and a two-year-old heifer, and went him twelve better.  The gentleman from Texas, who drew another jack, saw the twelve cows and went him fifty steers, twenty two-year-old heifers, four bulls and twenty-five heifer calves better.  Major Drumm looked at his hand and placed upon the table six fine Alderney cows, five imported Durham bulls, one-hundred grass-fed two-year-olds, fifty prime to medium corn-fed Colorado half-breed steers, with a side bet of a Normandy gelding to cover the bar bill.  The man from Texas made his bet good with an even two hundred and fifty straight Kansas wintered Texas half-breeds and ten Scotch polled cattle, fourteen mustangs and the northeast ¼ of the southwest ¼ of section 10 of the Panhandle of Texas, and called.

Major Drumm held three aces, and put in his hip pocket 750 steers, heifers, etc., and a big stock ranch.

The Electrical Corset


Reprinted from Dakota Livesay’s Chronicles of the Old West column in Cowboys & Indians magazine:

November 5, 1890, Enterprise, Riverside, California – I’ve always been opposed to this promiscuous courting; this vicious system which permits a young man without any intentions to waste a girl’s time with his attentions. At last I have devised a remedy. The electrical corset solves the difficulty. It will no longer be possible for a young man to slip his arm around a girl’s waist or lay his head upon her shoulder without giving the alarm. The “ting-a-ling-ling” will instantly bring her pa, ma or big brother into the room, and the offender will be summarily ejected.

The electrical corset has a great future. Its influence upon the moral tone of society is destined to be incalculable. We shall have no more of these hasty marriages, which end so speedily. Many a young man under the inspiration of the moment when his arm is encircling a girl’s waist breathes a love, which he would otherwise have left untold. This is all wrong. The electric corset will put an end most effectually to this practice.
But let parents be on their guard. These boys will devise means to beat the electric bell of this new corset, just as the conductors did the bell punch.

Valentine T. McGillycuddyValentine T. McGillycuddy; Army Surgeon, Agent to the Sioux, Candy Moulton, University of Oklahoma Press, (405) 325-3200, $26.95, Paperback.  Biography/U.S. History, 292 pages, Map, Illustrations, Notes, Bibliography, Index.

Valentine Trant McGillycuddy was born in 1849 in Racine, Wisconsin.  His parents were shopkeepers.  The boy had several siblings, and even as a child was drawn to healing the sick, practicing on the family pets.  He entered the University of Michigan at age seventeen, and became a doctor at age twenty, completing medical school at the Marine Hospital of Detroit.  The young doctor treated a variety of ailments from accidents and injuries to the hopeless mental conditions of patients at the Wayne County Insane Asylum.

Soon McGillycuddy’s own physical and mental conditions began to fail, and by 1870 he took some engineering courses and joined the U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers.  He headed Out West into the great outdoors to recover his health.  Soon he became a cartographer and surveyor as well as physician.  Tall and thin, McGillycuddy had a short beard and sharp eyes.  He became a rugged outdoors man, good with fractious horses and able to withstand harsh weather conditions as he worked with various surveying crews, and to “keep warm” he became a hard drinker.

A member of the Boundary Commission in 1874, he entered the Northern Plains Indian Territory.  From here it was on to the Black Hills where he met eccentric characters such as Calamity Jane tagging along with the Black Hills Expedition.  In later years McGillycuddy wrote about Jane’s involvement with the expedition and we see how her imaginative legend was perpetrated as she told many whoppers to anyone who would listen.

McGillycuddy’s adventures led him deeper and deeper into the Territories where he would eventually meet Chief Red Cloud and many of the other important Indian leaders.  His had dealings with General George Crook, including events swirling around the days of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  In time he was federally appointed Indian Agent to the Sioux

For a while this book concentrates mostly on all the politics surrounding the Sioux wars, military people, harangues between the generals and politicians in Washington D.C., treaties made and promises broken.  All of this information is found in books written with greater detail than found here, but this one gives a quick and easy to understand evaluation of the Indian Wars problems.  We wish this were told from McGillycuddy’s point of view, since many pages sometimes go by when he is not mentioned, thus he drifts into the background.

McGillycuddy had a wife named Fanny Hoyt whom he met early in his career, and who traipsed along with him as much as possible keeping a diary about army life and loneliness for a woman in the wilderness.  She seemed to be a good sport however, learning to ride horseback and keeping the home fires burning.  Rough housing, few female companions and harsh living conditions could not have been easy.

McGillycuddy was present at Camp Robinson the day Crazy Horse was murdered at the fort, where he demanding the dying chief be put into the adjutant’s office rather than the guardhouse.

After Fanny’s death from stroke, McGillycuddy married a second time to a woman much younger than himself who had a daughter with him and wrote his biography.  McGillycuddy died in 1939.  His cremated remains are buried on Harvey Peak in the Black Hills.  He is much to be admired for his hard work, gumption, and straightforward dealings with those around him.  He was a good husband and father.

This is a good, well-written book about a fascinating character who has been mostly overlooked by historians until now.  Kudos to Candy Moulton for bringing this man to our attention. You can grab this book HERE.

Editor’s Note: The reviewer, Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza is the author of numerous books about the Old West including The Apache Kid, published by Westernlore Press, P.O. Box 35305, Tucson, Arizona 85740.

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