Cordwainery and Cowboy Boots

Cowboy boots are a uniquely American art form... but their "look" owes much to 19th century European culture and German shoemaking. Shoemaking was a valued and respected art in Europe. The shoemaker apprenticeship program taught young men the art of cordwainery and the craft of cobbling.

"shoemaker, leatherworker," c.1100, from Anglo-Fr. cordewaner, from O.Fr. cordoan "(leather) of Cordova," the town in Spain whose leather was favored by the upper class for shoes.
Many cowboy bootmakers were of German heritage. The Hyer brothers were first-generation Americans. Their parents were German immigrants. Charles and Edward learned shoe making from their father, William, who had worked as a shoemaker since coming to America. G.C. Blucher was Austrian. J.C. Teitzel and C.C. Dehner were of German ancestry.

The Art of C.H. Hyer

The boots worn by the trail-riding cowboys were derived from two popular European military boot styles, the Wellington and the Hessian.

Wellington boots gained popularity in England when men started wearing trousers rather than tight britches. Usually worn under the pant leg, Wellington boots had below-the-knee tops with side seams, straight stacked heels, square toes and cloth tape pull-on straps. The tops were cut straight across or curved slightly higher in front and frequently had stitching around their top edge.

19th Century Hessian style Military Boots

Hessian boots, also known as Austrian boots, were named for the German city state of Hesse. Worn by Hessian troops in the Revolutionary War and similar to Wellington boots, Hessian boots are distinguished mainly by a V-cut in the center of the top. Large tassels were often hung from the center of the V-cut. Distinctive and fashionable, Hessian boots were popularized by German dandies in late 18th century England. The tasseled short boots worn by Drum Majorettes continue this tradition today.

C.H. Hyer

Charles Hyer is often credited with inventing the first distinctive cowboy boot in the mid 1870s. The story goes that a cowboy from Colorado or Texas stopped at the Hyer Brothers shop in Olathe, Kansas in 1875 or '76. The cowboy was wearing Civil War era Calvary boots and he wanted a pair of boots with a pointed toe that would slide easily into his stirrup. The boots had to have high, slanted heels that would hold his stirrup on a bucking horse and the cowboy wanted high tops with scallops in the front and back.

Hyer Brothers, Olathe, Kansas. ca. 1875

Charles made that cowboy a pair of boots just like he wanted. Other cowboys saw and admired Hyer's handiwork and orders started coming into the shop. Hyer was one of the first boot makers to use a self-measuring kit and mail orders to grow his business. Before long C.H. was running a boot-making factory that employed scores of highly skilled workers, most were from Austria, Germany, Poland and Hungary.

1930s Mail-Order Hyer Cowboy Boots

In their heyday, Hyer was the leading cowboy boot company in America, G.C. Blucher did the best custom work and Teitzel-Jones made the best military boots. Given that the cowboy boot was derived from a military boot, it is not surprising that Hyer also made boots for the military. Hyer and Teitzel-Jones had sales reps, known as fitters, who would travel from military post to military post making measurements and taking orders from Calvary officers for their boots. Hyer and Teitzel-Jones quickly became the major boot suppliers to the military.

Teitzel-Jones Boot Company

Military boots were J.C. Teitzel's main business. He started making boots in 1875 and he made boots for numerous high ranking U.S. Cavalry officers. His shop was adjacent to Fort Riley, home of the largest, and the last, horse cavalry units in the country. In 1916 Teitzel moved his shop to Wichita, Kansas where he joined forces with Schuyler Jones. Teitzel's partner, C.C. Dehner, chose to stay in Ft. Riley. The Dehner Company, now located in Omaha, Nebraska continues to make fine Riding boots and boots for the military and law enforcement agencies the world over.

The Art of J.C. Teitzel

Schuyler Jones assumed full ownership of the company in 1930 and Teitzel-Jones continued to make boots for the U.S. military until the horse cavalry was phased out in WWII. They also made some of the finest cowboy boots around. Master boot maker Carl McDowell got his start by working as a handyman at Teitzel-Jones in 1933. When he left to open his own shop in 1946 he was the bottoming room foreman.

Carl McDowell (l.) with some of his boots. ca. 1950

The Hyer Boot Company closed in 1977, ending a century-old family tradition of making premium quality Western boots. The Ben Miller Boot Company in El Paso owns the rights to their name.

Teitzel-Jones closed in 1950 after 75 years of making some of the best riding and cowboy boots you could buy.

Carl McDowell died in May, 2005. He was 93 years old. He was a master bootmaker and loved what he did.

The Blucher Boot Co. is still alive and kicking doing what they've always done.

The C.H. Hyer
1930s Mail-Order Cowboy Boots are available for sale.
Please contact me for details.


Mail Order Catalogs, Cowboy Boots & Gear

In 1896 the United States Congress authorized Rural Free Delivery and by 1911 there was a local U.S. Post Office at nearly every crossroads in America... almost seventy-seven thousand of them!

Terry, Montana Post Mistress Susie Snow and her husband in front of their combination log house and post office in the summer of 1899.

Cowboys, ranchers and farmers no longer had to go to a boot shop to buy their boots. They could order and get them by mail. This transition from face-to-face contact with their customers to a mail order business with a larger, nationwide clientele changed the face of boot making. Boot makers developed self-measurement systems and mail order catalogs. Many advertised their Cowboy boots in stockman journals and other trade papers.

1935 Hamley & Co. Catalog

Sears, Roebuck and Co. as well as Montgomery Ward & Co. also sold Cowboy boots by mail order. Hamley & Co., N. Porter and Fred Mueller were primarily saddle makers but all offered Cowboy boots in their catalogs too. Many boot makers discovered that a good self-measuring system and nice looking catalog wouldn't ensure success... finding skilled boot makers and materials were critical to succeeding in this very competitive business. Boot makers selling by mail order couldn't simply "talk the talk", they had to "walk the walk" and deliver a quality boot that fit and did the job.

1936 Fred Mueller Catalog No. 75

Kansas boot maker C.H. Hyer and H.J. Justin in Texas quickly established themselves as the giants in mail-order Cowboy boots. By the early 1900's they were each others major competition, leaving smaller shops and suppliers like Sears and Wards in the dust. By the 1920s most of the small shops dependent on the mail-order business had closed their doors.

G.C. Blucher Boot Co. Catalog

One notable exception was the G.C. Blucher Boot Company. G.C. "Gus" Blucher opened his shop in the northern cow country of Wyoming in the fall of 1915. Like the other five boot makers in Cheyenne, Blucher made boots for the hard-riding Cowboys of the Northern Plains. But, unlike many other boot makers, he focused his advertising on the mail-order trade.

1936 N. Porter Catalog No. 26

Gus Blucher had worked for H.J. Justin for several years and may have had his own shop in Nocona, Texas before moving to Wyoming. He had learned Justin's mail-order boot-making business well and he advertised next to Justin and Hyer in the Wyoming Stockman Farmer and other trade papers.

Olsen-Stelzer Catalog

Like many other boot makers, the G.C. Blucher Boot Company did not last long in Wyoming. The environment was harsh, skilled boot makers scarce, materials hard to get and expensive. His health failing, Gus decided to leave Cheyenne in 1919 for Olathe, Kansas. Shortly after the move, the G.C. Blucher Boot Company re-opened making "real Boots for real Cowboys". Blucher's two young partners William Flournoy and Ray Powers came from Nocona, Texas and were thought to have worked for H.J. Justin.

2007 Blucher Boot Co. Sales Sheet

Now located in Beggs, Oklahoma, the Blucher Boot Co. continues to make "real Boots for real Cowboys"... same styles, same way that Gus Blucher made 'em in 1915. My hat's off to you Smitty.

2007 Blucher Boot Co. Sales Sheet

I'll be publishing more on the old G.C. Blucher Boot Co., their clients and their boots. The complete 1948 G.C. Blucher Boot Co. Catalog No. 30. was published here January 1, 2008. Most of the other catalogs featured in this article, along with many others, are available on CD-ROM from Cabin Creek CDs.

1899 Post Office Photograph: Evelyn Cameron


G.C. Blucher Boot Co. Catalog No. 30

Catalogs were an integral part of any Boot makers' mail-order kit. This Blucher Catalog was mailed on June 24th, 1948, in response to an inquiry by Mr. Marion M. Madden of Detroit, Michigan.

Also included in the kit was an instruction sheet, order form, tape measure, reply envelope and this letter from W.L. Flournoy.

Collection: J. Davis