No small feet

Lee Pitts

It has been reported that the first thing the great director Cecil B. DeMille looked for in a young and sexy starlet wasn’t her face, legs, derriere or other points of her anatomy. No, he looked at her feet!

Cowboys are the same way.

Ever since the first cowboys went up the trail they’ve prided themselves on having small feet. I’ll never forget meeting John Wayne for the first time. Here was this large man and yet his feet were stuffed into boots with an underslung heel that made his feet look tiny by comparison. I don’t know if cowboys wear such boots because they leave a smaller track, are a good excuse for not having to walk too far, or they are easier to get in and out of stirrups, but I tried wearing a such pair of boots one time and fell over more often than a bowling pin. It was like wearing a pair of ladies high-heeled shoes. (Not that I make a practice of that!) Every time a gentle breeze blew I had to grab on to something or else I’d lose my balance and tip over.

Boots touch my sole. But make no mistake, just because I wear boots doesn’t mean I’m a real cowboy. I just don’t have the feet for it. Although I do have small feet they are so deformed I can’t wear most off-the-shelf boots. You might say that my feet have always been my Achilles heel, and I mean that in every sense of the word. The only thing I remember about myself before the age of five is that from the moment I was old enough to wear real shoes (not those cute little things babies wear) I had to wear high-top orthopedic shoes. A toddler fashion icon I was not! Little good those clunky orthopedic shoes did because I still have a hard time finding footwear.

I’ve thought of getting a pair of custom made Paul Bond boots but I’ve heard they can cost up to $2,000 and I’d never spend three months wages on anything, let alone a pair of boots. These days I mostly wear a pair of low top Justin slip-ons that are really comfortable and look like boots from a distance but are more closely related to Nike than they are a purebred pair of Luchesses or Tony Lamas.

My Wellington boot phase lasted 25 years and I was uncomfortable most of the time. In Oklahoma most cowboys have a pair of brown Justin Ropers and I really love the look, especially the way the Okies leave part of their pant legs tucked in with the other part hanging outside the boot, as if they’d just stepped off a real good horse. Calf ropers look really good in these boots and I should be able to pull off the look because my dad was from Tulsa, but whenever I wore them I was always getting high centered due to the low heel. And people gave me loose change because I looked like a tramp.

Next I tried wearing lace-up packer boots but I’ve never liked tying my shoes and it goes against my rule of never trusting anyone who wears lace-ups. Because politicians invariably wear shoes that they must have someone else tie for them, I’ve always thought that they were filled with something besides feet. Know what I mean?

I really admire the way the real cowboys in New Mexico wear their nearly knee-high boots, with their pant legs stuffed into them. I slept out with the cowboys on the Bell Ranch once on a roundup upon the invitation from Jeff Lane, who looked better in a pair of boots than any man I’ve ever met. When I asked the Bell Ranch boys why they wore their boots outside their pants they explained that their legs didn’t chafe as bad in the saddle and at night creepy things couldn’t crawl up into their boots because they got elevation sickness. I explained that I didn’t need such protection because any critter that crawled into my low boots was going to suffocate from the bad gases anyway.

Speaking of which, Spike Van Cleve, who wrote one of the best cowboy books of all time, “40 Years Gatherins’,” was from Montana and he didn’t understand the New Mexico boot look any more than I did. He tried it but explained that he really liked to eat beans and whenever he wore his pants inside his boots and he ate beans, he kept blowing his boots off.