April 11, 2019

"My hats off to you and your boot builders" C.M. Russell

by Barbara Pepper-Rotness, Reference Librarian

Catalogues are an excellent source of information when researching items commonly used during a particular time period. We can learn about washing 'machines' that are no more than a scrubbing board; or, about houses sold as a kit like the Sears Mail-Order Homes (check out this Sears Homes Archives - it includes images and prices of their home kits from 1908 to 1940!).

H. J. Justin & Sons, Inc. 1940 cowboy boot
 catalog dedicated to C.M. Russell
  Some catalogues are more
   interesting than others,
   though, such as this one
   in the Montana Historical
   Society’s Library 
  collections. Created by 
  the H. J. Justin & Sons, 
  Inc. boot company in 
  1940, the catalogue
  is unique in that 
  it ties cowboy boots
  to a well-known 
  personality in U.S. 
 Western history, that of 
 C.M. Russell, 
 the cowboy artist. 
 Throughout this beautiful 
 little booklet are pictures 
 of cowboy boots that
 were popular during the 
 early 1940s, interspersed 
 with illustrations by 
 C.M. Russell. 

The entire booklet is dedicated to the artist and includes “A Tribute to Charles M. Russell, written as an introduction to the artist’s book by the beloved cowboy humorist and actor Will Rogers”. On the second page of his tribute, Will Rogers quotes "a lot of them old reprobates, they said," speaking of Charlie:

“We may have Painters in time to come, that will be just as good as old Charley. We may have Cowboys just as good, and we may occasionally round up a pretty good man. But us, and the manicured tribe that is following us, will never have the Real Cowboy, Painter, and Man, combined that old Charley was, For we aint go not more real cowboys, and we aint got no more Cows to paint, and we just dont raise no more of his kind of men, and if by a Miracle we did get all that combination why it just wouldent be Charley.”

Charlie himself was fond of the Justin Boys and their boots and demonstrated that by purchasing his own boots from them. He even wrote letters to them, such as the one below copied in the catalog, praising their products:
Letter, dated December 28, 1921, from CM Russell to H.J. Justin and Sons
The Justin Boys were so dedicated to keeping C.M.Russell's name and art alive that on the credit page of this 1940 catalogue, it says that each booklet costs 50 cents to purchase and half of each purchase will be 'presented to the Montana Cowboy's Association for its Memorial to Charlie Russell.'

The cost of the boots themselves, though, depended on the style and whether the boot was customized. or, 'Made to Measure'; or if it was from their stock, as we can see below on the inserted price list effective June 1, 1940:
Retail Price List Effective June 1, 1940, from
H. J. Justin & Sons, Inc. catalogue

Let's look at some of the boots you could choose from:

'For the ladies', there was a nice selection of boots that the "dudines* really go for":

"No. L1514 – The Dudines really go for this trim streamlined Western Gypsy boot with its Narrow Square toe, classically simple stitching pattern and dainty row of white stars inlaid around the tops. The whole boot is made of soft pliable Brown Kid and lined with Justin’s smooth tough baseball leather."

And, in reference to their description above concerning the 'smooth tough baseball leather', they included a full page description of the baseball leather they used:

The Justin and Sons Boot, Inc. company was even able to import 'exotic' leathers like kangaroo from Australia.
Genuine Australian Kangaroo Leather selections,
from 1940 Justin Boot catalogue

And, even though round-toed boots were slowly going out of fashion by this time (see below), 

This early 'infographic' describes the evolution of the cowboy boot
[From: The Old West - The Cowboys, by Time-Life Books, 1973]

the H.J. Justin and Sons, Inc. company was still selling them in this 1940 catalog, along with medium-square and narrow-square-toed boots.

Begun in 1879 in Spanish Fort, Texas, a frontier settlement on the later-named Chisholm Trail, Justin Boots is located in Fort Worth, Texas and continues its tradition of creating boots 'crafted by skilled boot-makers using only the finest leathers and quality materials.'


*'Dudine' (and 'dudess'), were early forms of 'dudette':

From A Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles, University of Chicago Press, 1951