Dressing for the West by Joyce Henderson

I’m right proud to be here at the Junction. Thank you for having me.

I’ve been writing romance since 1984, and I’ve been fortunate to have several books published. I love what I do. I also love to share with other writers what expertise I have learned about this crazy business. 

Most people have heard the saying, clothes make the man. Through history that has certainly proven true. One can’t think of a knight in medieval times without picturing a man ironclad from head to toe. Even his horse carried protective armor. A mace could smash a horse’s bones if not protected similar to his ride.

Fast forward to the 1800’s and a man still made a living on horseback, but his clothes changed to what we think of as a cowboy. Cowboys’ clothes were nothing if not serviceable, from their hats right down to their boots.

Cowboys wore all types of hats from bowlers to boaters, but for service on the range, broad brims kept the sun off faces and necks. When times really got tough, a cowboy could pour water from a canteen into the crown as a handy trough to water his horse. Low-brimmed hats worked well on the plains when wind kicked up. As you can see, there were different styles worn in different parts of the West.

Cowboys wore what they owned, including long-johns unless it was hotter’ern billy-blue-blazes. They might have one change of shirt and pants; wash one set while wearing the other, and the clean set carried in saddlebags. Flannel shirts were the norm, and few wore belts because they’d chaffed around the waist. Some stitched leather over the seat of their pants and down the inside seam, to prolonged the life of the pants.

Before I forget, another piece of vital gear was the bandanna. If the cowboy drew the drag spot on a drive, rather than eat dust all day long he’d cover his nose and mouth with the bandanna. He could also soak it in cool water and wad it in his hat’s crown, which worked like insulation against the merciless sun. Of course, strips of leather could be used in an emergency, but a bandanna worked just as well as a tourniquet.  

Many cowboys wore chaps. And if you please, that’s pronounced “shaps,” not chaps.


 Shotguns             Batwings            Woolies

Made of leather, chaps protected men’s legs in dense brush. In winter, especially in Northern climes, men pulled on woolies. Rather than remove his spurs and boots, some chaps tied or buckled around the leg. Actually, cowboys of today still wear chaps, and some zipper up the outside of the leg hidden beneath fringe. There’s another shorter style chaps that’s call chinks, which comes from the Spanish chincadera, meaning sawed off. Both styles worn today by rodeo performers may have longer fringe or flashy inlay.

When I see folks today working around horses in tennis shoes, or worse, flip-flops, I want to smack ’em! Okay, I don’t actually follow through on that urge, but who in his right mind would work close to a six or eight hundred pound animal that could shatter fragile foot bones with one misstep? Sure, boots of old may not have stood up to all that weight, but they were better than nothing, and many boots manufactured today have steel toes.

  Early      Cowboy heel      Mule ear    Fancy

The early boots were worn home following the Civil War. That boot was plain with rounded toe and flat heeled. In the 1860s boot-makers added a reinforced arch and a higher heel. That higher heel serves another purpose. Hooked against the stirrup, it keeps the foot from slipping through. Try that in tennis shoes! The mule ear got its name from the leather flaps added to aid in pulling on higher boots. In brush country, that added height coupled with chaps was pretty good protection. And of course, today’s urban cowboy just loves the fancy stitching and colors added to dress-up his/her feet. Some say it adds to a better, closer fit, too.  

The working cowboy wore spurs. And more often than not, didn’t take them off when entering the house. This spur shows the leather strap that crosses the instep and attaches to spur buttons. Below that is a chain that circles beneath the instep of the boot. The rowel is attached to the heel shank, and of special interest…jinglebobs. Clint Eastwood usually wore jinglebobs on his spurs in his movies.

American cowboys preferred more blunt rowels which were less apt to scour his horse’s barrel. Did you see Mercedes Mc Cambridge’s scene in Giant where she raked Elizabeth Taylor’s black thoroughbred with spurs? As I recall, she wore the longer-rowels like a Spanish colonial pair. These spurs on the right depicted here are fancy silver. Sometimes a cowboy of yesteryear was flush enough in the purse to afford a pair.

This fairly well covers a cowboy’s clothes. His uniform of choice, if you will.

Many moons ago I’m astride the first horse we owned. We suspected Duke was born and bred in cold country. Every year he grew a winter coat, even in Southern California. He was only 14 hands, but he was a joy to ride and moved like a shot, whipping around barrels or turning in the keyhole race to carry one of us across the finish line, often times ahead of other riders.

There’ll be a drawing from the names of those who’ve slogged through this entire blog and leave a comment. I’ll be happy to give a print copy of my latest book from The Wild Rose Press to one lucky winner. The winner will be announced by one of the fillies in the Junction. She’ll explain how the winner should let me know where to send the copy.


And now for an excerpt from Capture an Eagle:

“Where in tarnation is she?”

Dandy pranced, responding to Tanner’s rising tension. The gelding turned in a slow circle as Tanner scanned the vast, lonesome prairie.

Well, fuming at his sister wouldn’t find her. And if Ma and Pa found out, fuming wouldn’t let him escape the tongue-lashing they’d give him for allowing Mariah to ride off on her own. Boy, howdy!

Even though it meant losing distance already covered, he’d have to head south on the west side of the cedar break to find her. “You better not have gotten yourself in trouble, sis,” he groused as he kneed Dandy into a lope.

About the same time he caught sight of them, Tanner smelled smoke. It made sense that Silver Eagle would’ve made a small camp for himself, including a cook fire.

The closer he got, the more perplexed he became. What in tarnation were they doin’? He yanked back on the reins when realization dawned.

Dandy plunged his head down and came close to hunching his back into a stiff-legged buck. Instead, he snorted his displeasure at the rough treatment on his mouth, tossing his head.

Tanner ignored it, so shocked was he. Kissin’? Mariah and Silver Eagle? He shook his head and rubbed his eyes to clear both. And still they remained snuggled together like wire wrapped around a fence post.  

Vaguely, he recalled that day he and Sil had found Mariah senseless at the river. Yeah, he’d noticed…somethin’. Okay, more than somethin’, but he’d chosen not to examine Sil’s

expression too closely. And then forgot about it.

“Damn you,” he seethed. “Damn the both of you!”

Dandy leaped forward when the unaccustomed spurs dug his sides.

Silver Eagle, attention snagged by pounding hoof beats, glanced north. He and Mariah merely held hands by the time Tanner closed in enough to leap from the saddle. Hat sailing off, his body hit Sil’s, sending him to the dirt, to sprawl on his back.

“Damn you! Damn you to hell!” He dealt a knuckle-buster to the jaw, snapping his friend’s head sideways. Knees planted on either side of Silver Eagle’s prone body, he continued yelling, “Damn you!” And put even more weight into his left. Sil’s head whipped the other direction.

“Stop it!”

He dimly heard Mariah’s shouts.

“Are you crazy, Tanner? Stop!”

The next instant her weight slammed against his back.

“Stop! He’s not fighting back! Tanner, for God’s sake, you’ll kill him!” She pummeled his head and shoulders with each desperate word.

More sorrow than his body and mind could tolerate helped him finally see that Mariah was right. Sil lay motionless, absorbing each blow. He hadn’t even tried to protect his face. One blow had split his lower lip. Bruising already evident on his cheek, he’d have a shiner so severe, he wouldn’t see out of that eye for a week.

When Sil slowly turned his head, Tanner saw swelling beginning around the other eye as well. But what made his own vision blur with tears was Sil’s eyes, mirroring the same heartbreak that sliced his own heart. Sil knew as well as he that their friendship, their brotherhood would never be the same.

Could Sil even work on the Broken Spur after this?

“Dammit, Tanner, move. Let him up.” Mariah tugged on his arm as if she could lift his weight.

He jerked out of her grasp and pushed to his feet. As he extended a hand to help Sil rise, Mariah shoved him aside. Falling to her knees, she brushed trembling fingers over Sil’s forehead.

“Look what he’s done to you,” she cried.

Thanks again to the fillies for having me.

You may find Capture an Eagle at The Wild Rose Press or at Amazon: In print,

ISBN: 1-60154-630-0, or Digital

And be sure to visit my web site: www.joycehendersonauthor.com

Stop in and say, howdy. Visiting with readers via cyberspace is one of the greatest privileges of my life as a writer.

There’ll be a drawing from the names of those who’ve slogged through this entire blog and leave a comment. I’ll be happy to give a print copy of my latest book from The Wild Rose Press to one lucky winner. The winner will be announced by one of the fillies in the Junction. She’ll explain how the winner should let me know where to send the copy.

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38 thoughts on “Dressing for the West by Joyce Henderson”

  1. Joyce, thanks for all the information about cowboy clothes. I knew some generalities but not all the variety of various articles the cowboys couldn’t do without.

    We are heading to Maui and the UpCountry where Hawaiian cowboys abound. I look forward to comparing the cowboy dress of Wyoming, Texas and Hawaii! Now I know what pieces to look for!

    Thanks for a great post.

    Peace, Julie

  2. Hi, Joyce! Thank you so much for an interesting and well-written post. Cowboys are fascinating from the top of their hats to the soles of their boots : ) I am the proud owner of a much-loved, much-worn pair of saddle tan Western boots. They feel almost as good as bare feet! I really enjoyed the excerpt from “Capture an Eagle” : )

  3. Howdy, Joyce! Welcome to Petticoats & Pistols. This was a such an interesting and useful post…Any chance you’ll write about women’s clothes sometime? I learned a lot today!

    Love the cover of your new book!

  4. I do have to say I always feel more for the women because of the uncomfortable clothes they wore back then!

  5. Welcone to Wildflowr Junction, Joyce! What a terrific excerpt, gorgeous cover, and great information. Best wishes for a ton of sales. I recently spent time at a real Texas ranch, and today’s cowboys still wear all that stuff! Have a wonderful day here! oxox

  6. Lots of great information.

    As a horse riding novice, How much weight can a horse carry? I know that a larger horse can carry more weight but in general. A lot of cowboys moved from place to place, did they just have a saddle bag with a change of clothes and a blanket? Do most cowboys wear levis ? under their chaps?

    What did they have on in the rain… a poncho?

    Whatan excerpt! It’s hard to picture your sister in a relationship with your best friend. I’d love to find out what develops between Silver Eagle& Mariah and how Tannner deals with it.

  7. Had my coffee to get my peepers open, and finally getting my act together this morning.

    Julie, I lived in Southern California for nie-on to 50 years and never flew to Hawaii. Now that I’m in Florida it’s doubtful I ever will. Maybe you could blog about your observations about Hawaii cowboys sometime.

    Agreed, Virginia C., there’s nothing kinder to or more comfortable on the feet than boots.

    Virginia B., will have to think about women’s clothing for that era. My heroines usually buck the system of the day when it comes to corsets. Maybe some of you here remember the “Mary widow” that we wore in the ’50s beneath strapless dresses. That’s the closest I’d ever want to get to a full corset like my grandma wore.

    Hi Tanya! Yes, I know you recently rode a horse in Bandera and loved it. That little guy I’m astride in the article knew more than we did when we first bought him. Duke and I had a difference of opinion once. He absolutely refused to stop until he was darn good and ready. and when he did, a few feet from a 12 or 15 foot drop into a gully I went sailing over his head, landing flat on my back looking up at the stubborn horse. Um, the air was blue for a few moments when I told him what-for! I still had the reins in my hand, and he looked down as if to say, “What are you doin’ down there?”

    Thanks for stopping by,Abi, Tracy, an Anon

  8. Hi Joyce, welcome to the Junction. It’s always a pleasure to have you. What a beautiful cover for your new book. The colors and graphics are really striking. It instantly catches your eye.

    A wonderful blog subject! It’s interesting to see the trappings of the cowboy, not only in yesteryear but today as well. Not a lot has changed. Especially here in Texas.

  9. Great post Joyce, welcome to the junction! Your book sound fabulous and I would love to read it. I laughed when you said people work around horses with flip flops on. I would not do it with flip flops but maybe with tennis shoes, mainly because still toed shoes are so uncomfortable. I can’t wair them they tare my feet up. You would think they could make them like other shoes but they are just not the same.

  10. Interesting post, Joyce. If any of you want a better look at those pictures, click on them and they get bigger.
    You can see a lot more detail.
    I love having such a solid visual for when I’m writing, Joyce. I’ll come back to this post often.

  11. Hi Joyce!

    GREAT POST!!! What a lot of good information, and the pictures were wonderful. I’m like Mary, I have to have some visuals to look at when I’m writing. Though I grew up here in Oklahoma, and had cousins and uncles and friends that were cowboys, my dad was more like Mr. Spock on Star Trek. And I had no brothers, so I never really got to be around the rodeo crowd much. I would go to my cousin’s house for a week every summer, and her brothers and father were all true-blue “cowboys”–raised cattle and everything for a living. I was in awe. LOLLOL Loved your post, and the wonderful information you included. Also enjoyed seeing the pic of you and your horse. I always wished for a horse of my own, but never got it. Glad to see you here at P&P!!!BTW, your cover is gorgeous.

  12. Hi Joyce, Loved your blog. The subject is dear to my heart. Come from a family of cowboys and packers in the Eastern Sierra. My husband also made western saddles and boots until he retired. He told me that the Hawaiian cowboys take their saddles totally apart at night to dry them out! I bet you, like me, can tell a real cowboy just the way he walks.
    Loved the story, too.

  13. Thanks so much to a few of my “idols” for commenting: Linda, Mary C., and Cheryl. Actually, I’ve lost myself in yesteryear reading all the lovely authors in the Junction. Many, many hours of pleasurable reading!

    I finally read this blog myself. For some reason the photo of the spur with the straps, curb chain, and jinglebobs is not there. If you don’t know what jinglebobs look like, they are double, little metal balls that hang below the rowel and jingle when the cowboy walks. A cowboy certainly couldn’t sneak up on a varmint wearing them!

  14. Enjoyed the excerpt and, as Laurie G stated, I’m
    looking forward to seeing how the story plays out.
    Thanks for coming to visit and thanks to the
    Fillies for inviting you to be here with us!

    Pat Cochran

  15. Well now I know how to pronounce chaps – thanks. I love learning new things and found it all quite interesting. And thank you for a wonderful excerpt too!

  16. Joyce,
    So nice to see you here at the Junction. I bought your first 3 books at Brenda Novak’s auction last year. Would love to add this one to my Keeper Shelf with the others.
    Interesting post and informative. This is the first time I have heard the different preferred pronunciation of Chaps.

    Am not a rider or horse person. They are so much bigger than I am. That plus I never had the opportunity to ride when I was growing up. I have ridden a few times, but not many. My sister was thrown when she was a teen. I didn’t know anyone could turn that particular shade or not breath for that long. Don’t think she has been on a horse since. Our daughter loves horses and rode for a while. She worked a wagon train unit of Boy Scout summer camp for several years. Unfortunately, she was pulled off a mule one morning when bringing them in to hitch up. After about 30 minutes they finally found her. She was told she bruised her hip and sent back to work. It is only 15 years or so later after hip problems and x-rays she was told she had actually broken/cracked her hip, which of course didn’t heal properly.

    I think I will continue to admire the work and ability of the cowboys and cowgirls, and keep my seat out of the saddle. Hope you have a great summer.

  17. Patricia B., send me your snail-mail address and I’ll send you a signed bookplate for any or all three of my books you purchased through Brenda’s auction appearance. And thanks for visiting her wonderful auction! I’ve been fortunate to participate in that worthy cause for three or four years, offering critiques to aspiring authors, and lunch-with at RWA’s National Conference the years I attended, which I will do this year.

    Actually, Patricia, it’s a miracle all of us didn’t die or end up maimed during the 20 years we owned horses. Above, my reference to Duke throwing me wasn’t the first time I was thrown. And my older daughter was thrown by my green-broke buckskin a few years later. Our younger daughter was thrown by her palomino, as was my hubby. The thing that made our riding practices so insane was, we would saddle-up and ride out “alone.” Not too bright.:-/

    Hi Karen! Nice to see you here. I always love your new releases. Are you heading to Fort Myers/Naples area for a book signing again anytime soon? Be sure to let me know so I can alert my chapter members when you’re in the area. And that goes for all the authors in the Junction.

  18. Joyce, what a wealth of information you’ve fit into this blog–very organinzed and concise. Cowboys were/are an interesting breed. And I always enjoy reading your stories about them. Capture an Eagle is no exception! What a wonderful story!

  19. hi joyce! thanks for coming by!
    i had no idea that chaps were really “shaps”
    learn something new every day!

    loved the excpert also…i was totally engaged and then it was done.

    checked out your website…loved your bio–you are totally a writer…it was even a great story 🙂

    oh…and i love the fact that you like putting “half-breeds” in a positive light…my best friend’s husband is a native american and her children are BEAUTIFUL!!
    and…i love all of your covers 🙂

  20. Hey Joyce, Great show! I enjoyed the excerpt very much, including the hook. And the fashion show was terrific as well. Your voice is great, in both the exerpt and your clothing description . . . so you! Cheers and happy writing, if not “Happy trails.” Jean

  21. Hey Joyce, Great show! I enjoyed the excerpt very much, including the hook. And the fashion show was terrific as well. Your voice is great, in both the excerpt and your clothing description . . . so you! Cheers and happy writing, if not “Happy trails.” Jean

  22. Loved the blog. A friend told me years ago that I was mispronouncing the word chaps. Since then I have had to explain to many the proper pronounciation. Often sent us to the dictionary.

    Loved the exerpt. Looking forward to reading the book.

  23. Enjoyed reading the information. Your book sounds really good too.
    I read that John Wayne influenced western wear a lot, especially hats. His Calvary style hat and tall Texan style hat were what film costumers based all the hats in westerns on because people recognized them after Mr Wayne appeared om them. It said that when his Calvary hat started getting a sweaty area around the band the costumer wanted him to wear a new one and he balked and said “How many times would a cowboy get a new hat?” Probably not too often.

  24. Hi Lynn and Jean, thanks so much for stopping by.

    Tabitha, I think children from all cultures are beautiful creations! I always notice the eyes first. All children have an innocence, a look of wonder that shines from their eyes no matter the color.

    I have a problem with pronunciations of a lot of words that the rest of the world thinks are pronounced one way but my down-home Texas family pronounced another. President Buchanan…my older aunts, uncles, Grandma, and my mother always said Buck.hannon, and we always said San Antone. And I don’t care what the dictionaries say, shaman will always be shay.man, not shah.man. 🙂 An aunt of mine (actually she’d be my twin if we had the same mama) says warsh for wash. Tickles me to listen to her talk.

  25. I enjoyed learning about cowboy attire. The excerpt was wonderful. It definitely sounds like a book I would enjoy. Thank you for being here today.

  26. Hi Joyce,
    I am happy to see you on Petticoats & Pistols.
    I love your books!!! My Mother and I are huge fans. I have been eagerly awaiting your new book, “Capture an Eagle”, and can’t wait to read it. Thanks for sharing all the great information on 19th Century Fashion.

  27. Thanks, Sharon! Linda, Jeannene, and Estella thanks for stopping by. Estella, your name is very close to one of my favorite aunt’s, now gone to her reward: Estelle.

    Joye, I’m a huge, died-in-the-wool Duke fan. He certainly popularized the cavalry hat and a lot of Westernwear of today.

    A couple things I failed to mention in my blog: the vest and duster or slicker. Cowboys favored vests because they rarely stuffed anything in pants pockets because it made for uncomfortable sitting in a saddle all day. He did need a place for his tobacco pouch and papers, you know. :-)And Northern cowboys usually had a slicker that covered them down to their boots in rainy weather. Dusters were popular in Texas and warmer climes. Mexican vaqueros usually wore panchos.

  28. Hi Joyce, what an interesting post! I learned a lot. I never thought about cowboys wearing vests becase they couldn’t carry things in their pants pockets, but of course it makes sense.

    I learned a long time ago to wear boots around horses. I got my feet stepped on, but got only bruises. Flip-flops? I can’t imagine it.

  29. The witching hour is fast approaching here in my barn. I think it’s time to call it a day. Once again my thanks and a tipped hat to the fillies for having me. As usual it was a rip-roarin’ good time. Look me up in Orlando if any of you are moseying to RWA’s conference. You can pull up and chair and jaw awhile. We might find a nip to share, too.
    ‘Nite y’all.

  30. hi and welcome; just got home so am trying to get this in before bed.

    very interesting info you gave; great excerpt also.

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