Reine Hafley Shelton
Clarence W. "Pinky" Gist
Guinn "Big Boy" Williams
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Feet, Boots, and Measuring Tape: Gaining a Foothold on Eternity
Douglas Fairbanks appearing with Tex Austin, Dave Whyte, and Lee Robinson at Madison
Square Garden, circa 1923. Boot book inset, Blucher Fitting Book, Volume 20, 1919, page
300, 2001.022.019. Photo by Ralph R. Doubleday, R.241.262
Grauman's may have its celebrity forecourt, but the National Cowboy & Western Heritage
Museum has its own collection of memorialized feet.
Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939) starred in the 1922 silent movie, Robin Hood, which
premiered at Sid Grauman's Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California. In equal partnership
with Fairbanks and actress Mary Pickford, Sid Grauman opened Grauman's Chinese Theatre across
the street from the Egyptian Theater with the 1927 premiere of Cecil B. DeMille's King of
Kings. Before its opening, however, Grauman gave a tour to celebrities and during this tour,
Norma Talmadge unintentionally walked across a wet cement slab leaving her footprints. Thus
was born the idea to have movie stars leave their footprints, hand prints and signatures in
the wet cement of the theater's forecourt. Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Norma
Talmadge were the first celebrities to adorn the forecourt in this manner.
An action hero for his time, Fairbanks appeared in several westerns prior to 1919 including
The Lamb (1915), Martyrs of the Alamo (1915), The Half-Breed
(1916), Wild and Woolly (1917), The Man from Painted Post (1917), and
The Knickerbocker Buckaroo (1919).
What is less well-known is that before Douglas Fairbanks left his footprints at Grauman's,
he outlined his right foot to order a pair of kangaroo, 2-inch heeled boots. On February 25,
1919 Fairbanks ordered these boots from the Blucher Custom Boot Company. This transaction
and his right foot are memorialized in a Blucher fitting book held in the Dickinson Research
Center at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.
Parallel to Fairbanks' career, the Blucher Custom Boot Company was incorporated in 1915 by
G. C. "Gus" Blucher in Cheyenne, Wyoming. By 1919 Blucher moved his operations to Olathe,
Kansas where it stayed until 1969 when it moved to Fairfax, Oklahoma. In 2001 the museum
acquired 218 Blucher "Fitting Books" which are day books dating between 1915 and 1982
and used to record customer transactions. A typical entry on a Day Book page includes:
name of customer, address, date of order, price of boots and payments made, style number,
boot material and style preferences; special instructions, shoe size, and heel size; a
carbon blue outline of customer's foot probably transferred from original patron order
form; notation of date "out," meaning the date boots were completed or repaired and sent
There are other notable persons are represented in the early fitting book volumes. Rodeo
greats such as Vera McGinnis, Lorena Trickey, Chester Byers, Reine Hafley; rodeo clowns,
Pinky Gist and Red Sublett; and western actors such as Guinn "Big Boy" Williams and Buck
Jones, all have unwittingly provided foot notes to history after a fashion.
Vera McGinnis, circa 1920, photograph by Bone. Boot book inset, Blucher Fitting
Book, Volume 18, 1918, page 140, 2001.022.017.
Always fashion conscious, Vera McGinnis (1892-1990) was the first cowgirl to wear
pants in the arena around 1925. Considering skirts and tight breeches as nuisances,
McGinnis created a pair of trousers from a pair of little boys' flannel pants with
a zipper on the side. She remarked, "I like to wear them so then I can kick up my
heels as I like." In her book Rodeo Road, McGinnis commented upon how the Japanese
custom of removing one's footwear before entering a home or business changed a
near-and-dear cowgirl custom. She wrote, "Speaking of dress, Japan broke me of
one of the oldest and most convenient of cowgirl customs - that of wearing old
stockings, mates or not, with western boots...for one never knew when the boots
might have to come off. It was an amusing custom to us. In our outfit, footwear
- either boots or shoes - was easily identified, so if we were looking for someone
we could walk down the street, inspect the shoes parked outside the different
places, and the person could be easily located. Several pair of cowboy boots
lined up generally indicated a Geisha house and always attracted quite a bit
of attention from the passerby...I also remember several cowboys' wives sweeping
down the street inspecting the waiting boots with blood in their eyes."
Lorena Trickey, Pendleton Round-up, 1924, photo by Ralph R. Doubleday,
1979.026.1973. Boot book inset, Blucher Fitting Book, Volume 24, 1922, page 389,
Lorena Trickey (1893-1961), a bronc, Roman, and relay rider, captured the McAlpin Trophy in
1920, 1921, and 1924 as champion all-around cowgirl at Cheyenne Frontier Days. In 1925 she
won the bronc riding title at Chicago and several championships at Pendleton. She doubled
for Mary Pickford in the movie Through the Back Door and worked with Tom Mix in The Queen
of Sheba. Accused of stabbing to death her common-law husband, J. P. "Smiling Slim" Harris,
during an argument, Trickey pleaded self-defense and was found not guilty in 1927. She
married Magnus "Pete" Peterson in 1928 and the following year they retired from rodeo.
Chester Byers, World Champion Trick Roper, circa 1925, photo by Ralph R. Doubleday,
2001.036.149. Boot book inset, Blucher Fitting Book, Volume 32, 1923, page 34,
One of the greatest trick and fancy rope spinners of all time, Chester Byers (1892-1945)
was described by Will Rogers in the following way: "Chet knows more about roping than any
man in the world. He is one man in his line that is absolute Champion. He is what I would
call a 'natural' roper, what I mean by that he does everything 'right' with a rope, he
dont [sic] do anything 'wrong.' I only have two things that I will always die very proud
of, one of them was that I used to teach Chet Byers tricks with a rope, and the other
was that I waved at the train that Queen Marie was on, and I will always believe she saw me."
Reine Hafley Shelton
Reine Hafley Shelton on "St. Patrick" at the Wichita Falls Rodeo, circa 1935, photo
by Ralph R. Doubleday, 1979.026.1588. Boot book inset, Blucher Fitting Book, Volume 32,
1923, page 362, 2001.022.023.
The daughter of California Frank Hafley, Reine Hafley Shelton (1902-1979) was called the
World's Greatest Lady Trick Rider. For a time she performed a highly successful act
jumping 50 feet into a tank of water atop an Arabian horse named Lurline. With California
Frank's show Shelton, in addition to trick and bronc riding, performed as an elephant
rider and an oriental and flamenco dancer. In 1918 she began her competitive career
placing second in the trick riding at Cheyenne Frontier Days. Shelton earned over $125
by winning the bronc riding event at Madison Square Garden in 1924. In 1925 she eloped
with Dick Shelton while he was performing with Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show.
Pinky Gist and Freckles, circa 1935, photo by Ralph R. Doubleday, 1979.026.1442. Boot
book inset, Blucher Fitting Book, Volume 24, 1921, page 83, 2001.022.023.
Believed to be one of the first to include trained mules in his acts, Clarence W.
"Pinky" Gist (1892-1970) was most active as rodeo clown between 1946 and 1950, between
the ages of 54 and 58. He and his two mules, Mickey and Freckles, clowned at many rodeo
Red Sublett and Spark Plug, Tex Austin's Rodeo, Chicago, circa 1927, photo by Ralph
R. Doubleday, 1979.026.1480. Boot book inset, Blucher Fitting Book, Volume 32, 1923,
page 35, 2001.022.031.
Rodeo clown Red Sublett (1894-1950) joined Booger Red Privett's traveling cowboy show
at age 16. He worked and rode rough stock on ranches in Texas and Oklahoma including
the 101 Ranch. In 1917 he joined Lucille Mulhall's Wild West Show and rode broncs and
steers. After serving in the army during World War I, he returned to the arena in 1918.
He became a rodeo clown upon joining Tex Austin's Rodeo at the Magdalena Roundup. His
acts included trick riding bucking Brahma steers and oftentimes riding them backwards.
Guinn "Big Boy" Williams
Roy Rogers and Big Boy Williams in a still from Republic Studio's, The Cowboy
and the Senorita, 1944. Boot book inset, Blucher Fitting Book, Volume 24, 1921,
page 70, 2001.022.023.
Reportedly nicknamed "Big Boy" by Will Rogers in 1919, Guinn "Big Boy" Williams
(1899-1962), a cowboy in his youth, was a character actor in both A and B Westerns.
In 1944 he played sidekick to Roy Rogers in several movies including The Cowboy
and the Senorita and Hands Across the Border.
Buck Jones publicity still, circa 1930. Boot book inset, Blucher Fitting
Book, Volume 21, 1921, page 369, 2001.022.020.
Born in Indiana and raised on a ranch near Red Rock in Indian Territory, Buck
Jones, nee Charles Frederick Gebhart (1889-1942), became one of the greatest
of the B-Western stars. For a time he worked as trick rider for the Miller
Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show. Following World War I when he trained
horses for the Allied armies, Jones toured with the Ringling Brothers circus
and settled in Hollywood, California. There, for a time, he worked as an extra
for the Universal Studios, then, as a stuntman for Fox Studios. He landed his
first leading role as a cowboy star in the 1919 film called The Last
Straw. Jones reentered the army at the outbreak of World War II. On
November 28, 1942, during a bond-selling tour, Jones, along with nearly five
hundred other people, perished in a fire at the famed Coconut Grove nightclub
in Boston, Massachusetts.
The fitting books reflect the ups and downs of the boot business through two world wars, the
depression years and the 1950s, the golden age of television westerns. Some believe the golden
age of boot making occurred between 1940 and 1965. This collection reflects the economics,
geographical influences, and artistic and design changes of this era. An automated index to
the books is being created to assist researchers. A typical index record includes the name
of the customer, city, state, year, volume and page numbers. Currently, this index includes
over 80,000 records.
These fitting books also memorialize the pedal extremities of noted individuals and draw the
viewer closer to those individuals. Like an autograph, a foot rendering allows the viewer to
relate at a more human level to the individual who shares a dimension of themselves. In
attempting to put their best foot forward by dressing in fashionable western pedestrian fare,
these celebrities and others like them have imprinted their soles for posterity.