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Saturday, September 13, 1997

Cowboy footwear is integral part of Cattle Baron's Ball

By DAN R. BARBER The Dallas Morning News

DALLAS - Consider the humble cowboy boot.

Except for his horse, a real cowboy valued few possessions more than the boots on his feet. Good foot leather was more important than a good horse, a six-gun, spurs and a wide brimmed hat in the days of cattle drives, shootouts and bar fights.

They persuaded a horse to giddyap, made John Wayne taller, John Travolta cooler and kept the cowstuff off a drover's feet.

Cowboys simply aren't cowboys - urban or otherwise - without a pair of boots between them and the ground. And no guest with a sense of history and good taste would be seen at this year's Cattle Baron's Ball without them.

"You don't go to the ball wearing anything but boots," said Billy Payton, a Neiman Marcus executive who had a pair made especially for the occasion.

The Cattle Baron's Ball wouldn't exactly be the Cattle Baron's Ball if people didn't wear boots, Payton said. This year it's being held at the Brinkmann Ranch in Frisco on Saturday.

"It's in a cow pasture. And when you're in a cow pasture, you should do what the cowboys do," he said. "There aren't many styles of shoes that are appropriate in a cow pasture."

Cowboy boots aren't so humble anymore.

"What's so cool about boots?" Janie Guerriero said, pondering the question. "They're comfortable, they're chic. I think nothing's cooler than a pair of boots, jeans and a blazer."

Mrs. Guerriero, the granddaughter of Henry S. Miller, will be one of about 2,300 people - most of them in their favorite boots - mingling at this year's ball when the Brinkmann Ranch's gates open at 7 p.m. Since 1974, the ball has raised more than $9 million, on behalf of the American Cancer Society, for research projects in Dallas County alone.

Eleven pairs of cowboy boots line Mrs. Guerriero's University Park closet. Black ostrich. Black lizard. Brown lizard. Hot pink suede. White Indian moccasin-style boots. A pair of red lizards, black suede mules and a few others.

Wearing cowboy boots is a tradition in her family.

"My dad took me for my first pair of cowboy boots when I was 14," said Mrs. Guerriero, now 36. "I got my boots before my first big kiss."

To this day, she still remembers what her first boots looked like.

"They were brown, and I want to say Justins. They were real pretty. Rounded toe. I got hooked on them."

In fact, she's loved cowboy boots longer than she's loved her husband, whom she married in 1979.

"I've had one pair of boots longer than I've had him," Mrs. Guerriero said.

She has good historical taste, too. Her first Justins were descendants of one of the most popular boots of the Old West. Joe Justin, 19th Century bootmaker, so popularized the working cowboy's footgear that the term "Justin" meant boots, according to "Cowboys & The Wild West."

For the ball, she's chosen a pair of peachy-tan Larry Mahan lizard skins so cool they aren't available anywhere, she said. And they'll match the lamb-skin halter top and skirt she's having made.

"Who could two-step in a pair of heels?"

Kathy Freeman, 41, loves to dance, too, especially in cowboy boots. She'll wear a pair of black ostrich boots, not because they're her favorite, but because they match the black lace dress she plans to wear.

"They're comfortable and I like the way they go with jeans," Mrs. Freeman said.

Payton, Neiman Marcus' vice president for customer programs, said he will wear his reverse calfskin, handmade by the J.B. Hill Boot Co., a new custom bootmaker in El Paso.

"They're beige, light-sand-colored. Full top," Payton said. "They're high and they've got great stitching."

A new pair of J.B. Hill boots sell for $400 to $3,700, said Dr. Jim Hill, founder and president of the year-old boot company.

Payton made his selection because of assurances he received from J.B. himself.

"I'm wearing those because no one else at Cattle Baron's will have those boots," he said. "That was a guarantee J.B. gave me when he made those. No one else in TEXAS has a pair like them."

He owns three pair of boots. The others are Lucchese ostrich and Teel Stanley kangaroos.

Eddie Kimmel, a custom bootmaker in Comanche, about 100 miles southwest of Fort Worth, said boots are THE symbol of the cowboy mystique.

Each year, the Kimmel Boot Co. produces 500 to 600 pairs of boots made from a variety of leathers. Many customers who call to order a pair say they want the kind Gene Autry and Roy Rogers wore.

"I think it possibly has a lot to do with the cowboy deal of the Old West. Rough. Tough," he said. "They seem to think that's the life."

Kimmel has donated a pair of full-quill ostrich boots valued at $1,300 for the ball's auction. The company has about 200 customers in Dallas and surrounding suburbs.

Cowboy boots aren't just about the Old West. They also symbolize the New West and Southwest, said Reid Slaughter, publisher of Cowboys & Indians Magazine.

Slaughter, a University Park resident, owns eight pairs. He has chosen custom Rodney Ammons boots for the ball.

"They're like putting on slippers. When you wear boots, at the end of the day you might feel some fatigue. But you don't if you have a pair of handmade custom boots."

Slaughter, 39, said his Ammons boots fetch about $1,800 over the counter. They're worth every penny, he says.

"Ammons is one of the premiere El Paso bootmakers," he said. "Probably one of the top five in the world."

Only custom-made will do for the Cattle Baron's, he said. No everyday, off-the-shelf stompers for him. Besides the Ammons, he owns Luccheses, Stallions and Rocketbusters, a maker of ornate boots in El Paso, which "The Cowboy Boot Book" described as "West Texas retro-moderne."

"They're so comfortable," Slaughter said. "As opposed to your butt-kicking boots."

But he offers a word of caution. Boot-buying can be addictive.

"You start out with two or three pairs, then you end up like Imelda Marcos," he said. "You have 30 or 40 pair."

Mary Louise Sinclair, who owns four pairs, knows that boots are all the fashion in Texas. She just doesn't understand why.

"I'm not wearing boots at all," said Mrs. Sinclair, a Highand Park interior designer who's attended the ball for 14 years. "I'm wearing high-strapped sandals. I don't like to do what everyone else does."

Even oilman husband, Robert Sinclair, owns a pair of the ritziest, well-heeled boots imaginable - knee-high, full alligator Lucchese's. He won't wear them, though.

"His motto is, 'Why be normal?' " she said.

Mrs. Sinclair said she actually loves boots, but in the proper setting. Like while hunting doves. Boots in high places really aren't that big a deal, she said.

But don't hold it against her.

She's from Mississippi.

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