If you spend any amount of time driving through rural America, you are bound to come across what some might consider a strange sight – a random boot placed over a fence post. Sometimes there will be a whole string of them, depending on the reason that particular farm had for putting them there. And there are a surprising number of reasons behind this old ranch tradition, ranging from the sentimental to the practical.
Memorializing a Loss: One of the most commonly cited reasons a farmer or rancher might slip his boot over a fence post is to memorialize a loss. For instance, if a rancher loses a beloved horse, some will put up a pair of boots to honor their service. It is also a tradition among some to “post” boots belonging to a family member or close hired hand that has passed away or moved on from the farm. One legend is that the boots are placed soles up so the “soul” of those being memorialized goes to heaven.
Protecting Fence Posts: An explanation that allegedly dates back to the frontier days is that when a pair of favorite boots was finally too worn out to wear any longer, the farmer would put them upside down on a fence post to keep water from settling at the base.
Protecting Horses: It has been claimed that some place their boots over metal t-posts so their horses don’t hurt themselves when rubbing up against them.
Passing Them Along: Another legend says that farmers and ranchers would post boots in order to help the less fortunate. When it was time for a new pair, they would hang the old ones on posts close to the road so a passerby in need could take them for themselves.
Marking Property: During the western land rushes of the late 1800s, settlers set up posts to mark their property lines. Often, because of disputes, cowboys and ranchers would set their boots on the posts as a clear signal of ownership.
Communication: Before modern technology allowed us to be digitally connected, farmers and ranchers would let others know where they were working by pointing the boot toe in that direction. A boot on a fence post could also signal that the work day was over. If the boot was turned toward the farm house, it meant they were home. Conversely, if it faced away from the house, it meant the farmer was out.
Purely Sentimental: Many of these reasons to post boots are no longer necessary but the long-time tradition endures simply for sentimental reasons. On a stretch of Texas Highway 39, west of Hunt, there is a string of fence posts with a single boot secured to each one. It’s known as Boot Hill and anyone can leave a boot so long as they sign it. According to Texas Monthly, the fence’s origins date to the early 1970s, when a Kerr County family began putting the worn-out boots of the half dozen young buckaroos up on the fence posts of their friend and neighbor, John Jobes. Soon the old boots of Jobes’s two young daughters went up. Then Jobes’s ranch hands put their boots up on the fence. In time, the posts became the final resting spot for anybody’s old boots and has even begun to fill up on the other side of the road. Check it out HERE. There is also a spot in Glenwood, Minnesota with a similar boot fence started by Ted and Suzanne Blair in the early 2000s, which you can read about HERE.