Sunday, May 28, 2023


The art of cowboy communication; the Western spirit lives on

I love learning about regional traditions as we travel around the country in our RV. Recently, I saw a boot hanging upside down over a fencepost in Nebraska. When we stopped for lunch at the local mom-and-pop eatery, I asked about the boot on the fencepost. I discovered that this tradition has deep roots in the past and several different explanations in the present.

Early cowboys

Before the age of telephones, automobiles, and other modern conveniences, cowboys used a boot on their fencepost to communicate. Here’s how: If the cowboy was working in the south pasture, he’d position an old cowboy boot upside down on the fencepost with the toe of the boot pointing south, toward the pasture. If it was dinnertime, and the cowboy was at home eating his meal, he’d turn the boot so that the toe pointed toward the house. Why? So that anyone needing to speak with the cowboy would know where to find him.

Today’s many explanations

Now we have different and perhaps better ways to communicate, so why do boots still show up on fenceposts? Here are a few of the explanations we were told as we RVed through Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and more. (I’ve even seen photos of this tradition in Canada!)

  • Marking property. During the land rush in Oklahoma, folks 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.
  • Memorializing a companion. In the past, when a ranch hand was hired on, he became like one of the family. He lived on the property, often shared meals with the rancher’s family, and worked side by side with his boss, day after day, year after year. If the ranch hand died or moved on, often his boots were placed on the fenceposts as a memorial. It served as a visual reminder of the loss of a dear friend and coworker. (One older Texan explained it this way: “The sole of the boot pointed to the sky. It was a comfort to the family to know that their friend’s soul also reached heaven.”)
  • Memorializing a companion (part 2). Just as I described above, when a rancher or cowboy’s horse died or was sold and taken away, a cowboy boot over the fencepost memorialized the favorite animal.
  • Fencepost protection. This explanation makes good practical sense. Fenceposts were often made of wood, and they would rot as rain and snow penetrated the post. To prevent this from happening, worn out boots were placed on top of the posts, protecting them from the harsh elements.
  • Dry boots. A rancher’s hardscrabble life often meant sheer punishment for his boots. The boots tramped over damp grass, slogged through mud, and enabled the cowboy to clean out his horse stalls. An easy way to dry the boots was to place them upside down on the fenceposts. I imagine their wives were happy not to have that fragrant smell inside their home, too.
  • Good will. Yet another explanation for the fencepost boot tradition is the desire to help the less fortunate. When a rancher decided it was time for a new pair of boots, he’d set his old ones on the fenceposts near the road. That way, those in need would find and take the boots for themselves.

When in Rome, er, Texas. It seems as if today’s ranchers like the sentimental thoughts behind the boot tradition and continue the practice as decoration. That’s why you’ll still see cowboy boots adorning the top of fenceposts in many of places you RV. It makes for an interesting conversation, don’t you think?

Have you encountered regional traditions while RVing? Please tell us about them in the comments below.


Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh
Gail Marsh is an avid RVer and occasional work camper. Retired from 30+ years in the field of education as an author and educator, she now enjoys sharing tips and tricks that make RVing easier and more enjoyable.


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6 days ago

I’m a retired farm hand. The tradition of which way the boot is pointing is where the farmer is that is true. If you see a pair by the back door, the mess is left outside. If the pair is out next to mailbox/ road, then if you need a pair it’s your lucky day. That came from a Wyoming cowboy that has recently moved on to riding in the sky.

6 days ago

What a cute article. I have seen boots on fence posts. I thought it was a way of marking off a ranch family’s generations of hard work. I am familiar with the U district but I thought tied sneakers over a trees marked gang territory. I love the U and appreciate the explanation under neath

suzanne Ferris
2 months ago

We have a tradition in the U district of fraternities throwing their tied sneakers into tree limbs too. Like Xmas ornaments that speak to their friends of some poor parent paying for their bills.

2 months ago

Last summer on our western trip I was amazed at the square limestone fence posts we saw in Kansas. Saw one up close not in the ground at our campground in Dodge City. It must have taken a lot of work to carve and move each one. I guess it was cheaper than importing wood from far away.

Diane McGovern
2 months ago
Reply to  George

That’s very interesting, George. Thank you! Have a great day. 😀 –Diane at

Marie Beschen
2 months ago

I haven’t seen the boots, which I’m surprised with all the trips we’ve taken through Texas! However we have seen baseball hats all along on fence posts that I found fascinating!

2 months ago

I liked this a lot- thank you Gail!

Neal Davis
2 months ago

Thanks, Gail! I enjoy learning through your accounts of your travels and the things you see and learn. 🙂

2 months ago

A boot on a fence post could also point the way to the main ranch house, when it wasn’t in view.

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