Border Studies at EPCC
Boot Capital of the World
Article first published in Vol. 10, 1992.
By Elizabeth Mendoza & Jose Luis Holguin
Click-click! Click-click! The sound of the spurs on dusty, worn boots tells the movie viewer the gunfighter has arrived. For a few seconds, the only thing the audience see is a pair of scuffed, brown boots, one of the symbols of both the mythical and the real West.
The real cowboy worked hard. His job included protecting land from marauders, herding cattle and delivering them to markets hundreds of miles away over rough country. His clothing had to be durable, especially his footwear. The primary function of the boot was to protect the wearer from rugged mountain territory, the harsh desert climate, and attacks by wild animals found in the cowboy's terrain.
Although the height of the cowboy era was between 1860 and 1890, the boot has symbolized the West for more than 150 years. By the middle of the 1800s, the boot was knee high in front and lower in the back. In the 1870s, rows of stitching at the top provided support for the cowboy's leg.
The first boots had only one strap sewn into the back of the boot below the knee. Later boots had two bootstraps made of heavy leather sewn into the side seams of the boot top.
Two other parts of the boot which have changed over the years are the toe box and the heel. The toe box of early boots were round, and now they vary from square to pointed. The height of the heel ranged from 1-1/2 to 3 inches. The width of the heel also varied considerably. For the cowboy the main function of the boot heel was to keep the foot from falling out of the stirrup while he was herding cattle.
After boots were immortalized on the silver screen during the 1930s and 40s, a totally new clientele developed for them. Not only did traditional bootmakers benefit from the popularity, but local companies like Tony Lama became nationally prominent and mechanized to produce large quantities of boots.
Rodeo riders and western-wear customers can choose numerous styles and colors of boots. They have a larger selection of leathers to choose from besides cowhide. Among the more exotic are sea bass, stingray, sharkskin, and various types of ostrich, lizard, and snakeskins. The most popular color for men's boots is black. For women it's red or white.
Local boot fanciers and working ranchers in this area can still buy a good pair of handcrafted boots. Some people prefer the value of a well-made custom boot and will spend a little extra to have a comfortable boot made just for their feet.
Pedro Fimbres, 75, makes custom boots in the back of his home in Colonia Júarez. He first started as a shoemaker when he was 10 years old, helping his father who was a well-known shoemaker. He started making boots only for himself until the day a wealthy man was interested in the boots Fimbres was wearing and asked where he bought them. When Fimbres told him he made them himself, the man was so overwhelmed by the workmanship that he ordered a pair of blue-dyed cowhide.
That first sale established Fimbres' reputation, and he has been known for his custom boots for well over 50 years. His boots range in price from $250 to $900 a pair. He knows that they are a bit expensive, but he says the work is too hard to make them any cheaper. Fimbres has a five-month waiting list for his boots, and his old customers keep coming back and bringing their friends.
Fimbres has also planned for the future. He is teaching his youngest grandson, Jacobo, 12, the art of making boots. "He has a great ability to make boots. Very few people are so quick in learning," Pedro says as he hugs his grandson.
Urban cowboys and working ranchers have found that what Fimbres says is true: "There's nothing like a well-made pair of boots."
Residents and tourists to this area have many choices in selecting their boots, from warehouses to custom shops. Besides the dozen or so big retail boot companies, with outlets all over town, El Paso also sports a couple of dozen smaller custom boot shops. These boot companies are the ones who advertise in the Yellow Pages. There are many more whose own customers direct others to them. El Paso truly deserves its title of "Boot Capital of the World".