Hyer Boots, The Regeneration

Despite challenges that included a 50-year hiatus and losing the family business, Hyer Boots is reclaiming it’s boot-making legacy.

By Amy Witt

Beyond the famous stitching and vintage patterns that go into crafting a pair of Hyer Boots is a story that unfolds like the pages of a worn, cherished family album. The company’s legacy is tacked and sewn into the soul—and, well, sole—of the West. They did, after all, invent the cowboy boot.

Through ups and downs that include losing the family’s storied cowboy boot business in the 1970s, Hyer Boots’ heritage refused to die, just like the spirit of the untamed American frontier. After 50 years, the legendary brand has returned, keeping cowboy values alive through every boot they build.

America’s Iconic Boot Brand

Originally, Charles Henry Hyer was a cobbler in Olathe, Kansas, and cowboy boots weren’t on anybody’s radar in the 1870s. That changed in 1875, when a cowboy pushing cattle through Olathe happened into C.H.’s shop; he needed new boots and C.H. modified the era’s Civil War-style boot design with improvements designed for long days in the saddle. Through C.H.’s meticulous craftmanship, an iconic symbol of the West—the cowboy boot—came to life. Hyer Boots continued to revolutionize their original design and its artistry, becoming at one time, according to their website, the largest manufacturer of handmade boots in America. Legendary figures like Buffalo Bill Cody, Marilyn Monroe, Will Rogers, Tom Mix and Theodore Roosevelt sported their own custom-made Hyer Boots.

For nearly a century, Hyer’s family-owned and -operated business reportedly ranked in the Top Five of U.S. footwear leaders. Company historians assert Hyer was the first to design the cowboy boot’s leather pull tabs, the first to create the toe bug stitching pattern and the first to reach cowboys, professionals and other customers through the mail. Even when railroads relegated cattle drives obsolete, Hyer continued to thrive, producing an estimated 500 boots per week and shipping $2.5 million worth of shoes and boots by the early 1900s. By the 1960s, Hyer Boots was a cultural icon, favored from the ranch to the rodeo arena, and from Hollywood to Wall Street.

History Lost

For more than 100 years, Hyer Boots thrived, its legacy tirelessly preserved through branches extending from its founder’s family tree. C.A. Hyer eventually took over for C.H., and in 1968, the company moved under leadership of Ford Bohl, the husband of C.A.’s daughter Nanette Hyer Bohl. By the late 1970s, financial hardships and industry changes took their toll, and the family sold Hyer Boots; with it went the trademark. Other boot companies carried the brand onward for a while, but the last Hyer-branded boot was made by the early 1990s.

“Losing [it] was a sore subject for years, which over time just caused our family to lose track of the history and story of the Hyer Boot Company,” said Hyer’s Head of Content Cameron Bohl, grandson of Ford and Nanette. “We would briefly talk about it here and there at family gatherings, and many of our family members had a vintage pair of Hyers or two sitting around the house. But none of us knew the significance of what Hyer once was.”

Time, it seemed, had silenced the storied brand. But after Ford died in 2019, a siren song emerged. Zach Lawless—C.H.’s great-great-grandson—dusted off some vintage Hyer memorabilia at his grandparents’ house. That Pandora’s box initiated a journey through decades of family history.

“It was as if my grandmother had waited 50 years for someone to ask her these questions about what happened to Hyer Boots,” Zach said in a Hyer-brand video, “Meet the Family.” “She started unloading all of these incredible stories about different people who wore the boots, about the workers in the factories, celebrities who came into the store. What I took away from that was that my grandmother was extremely passionate about it, and this was an incredible family thing. It didn’t feel right that it wasn’t in the family anymore.”

So Zach started digging. Eventually, he tracked down the Hyer trademark—at the time, it was under ownership of multinational conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway. Every Wednesday, like clockwork, Zach called the company to inquire about reacquiring the Hyer trademark. After two years of persistence, he succeeded.

“A lot of this has been a rediscovery of my roots, the family roots, but also a rediscovery of the Western lifestyle,” Zach explained. “Before Hyer, I graduated with an engineering degree and worked in finance in New York. I learned a lot about investing and running businesses. I started my first business in 2017; the skillsets I learned in starting that business became beneficial towards relaunching this business and its foundation.”


This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2024 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.