If You See a Boot on a Fence, This Is What It Means
Turns out, ranchers hang their boots up because it carries a special symbolism
Whether in the city or the countryside, customs vary between subcultures, and one culture that’s still alive and well is cowboy culture on ranches. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, there are more than 2 million U.S. farms, and of those, 98% are family farms. (Of course, these numbers represent all U.S. farms, including those that are not ranches.)
An interesting fact: About 90% of U.S. family-owned farms are small operations, so you’ll likely see some time-honored traditions on many small-town ranches. But if you’re unfamiliar with ranch culture, you may encounter some practices that are new to you, like seeing a boot on a fence.
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Why do ranchers put a boot on a fence?
According to Texas-based radio station 100.9 The Eagle, Missouri is one such state that observes the tradition of putting a boot on a fence post. But what’s the meaning behind this custom? Educational resource website The Classroom gives some common reasons a farmer, or a rancher, would put a boot on a fence post. A couple of these reasons are somber, but whatever the case, it’s important not to disturb a boot when you see it on a farm fence post.
- A rancher is honoring their deceased horse. When a cowboy has a strong bond with his horse, it may become his daily workhorse. Per The Classroom, when a special horse like this is sold or dies, a cowboy will hang a pair of his boots on the fence to symbolize respect for the animal.
- Another rancher has passed away. When a comrade passes away, a cowboy may hang a boot on a fence post as a memorial.
- The boots have worn out and represent hard work. Because a rancher grows attached to his boots and wears them daily, it’s a tradition to hang them on a fence whenever they have worn out. This represents the hard work the boots made possible.
- The rancher is home. This older tradition was to hang boots up to let others know the rancher was home, before telephones and electricity made it easier to contact them.
Here’s what other unusual home traditions mean
Andrii Yalanskyi/Getty Images
Little-known traditions exist in other homes across America too, whether on a ranch or off. Here are what some unusual home-related customs mean:
- When someone paints a porch ceiling blue, it may be a southern tradition. Often referred to as “haint blue,” this superstitious tradition is meant to keep away evil spirits. It’s also thought to scare off mosquitos, according to The Porch.
- If you see a painted purple fence, it means you’re about to trespass. The purple paint serves as a “No Trespassing” sign with staying power. Because signs often get lost, damaged or stolen, purple paint is a more permanent warning to people about not entering private property.
- An iron horseshoe above a door is meant to bring luck. The lucky-horseshoe bit stems back to Irish folklore, according to Wide Open Country, but has since become synonymous with western cowboy culture. Yet again, its backstory involves warding off evil and, perhaps, the devil himself.
Other hidden meanings you may encounter? For starters, there’s meaning behind painted trees in the city or the forest, green porch lights and dryer sheets in mailboxes. For now, remember not to disturb boots hanging from fence posts if you’re ever near a ranch.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: “America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2020 Edition”
- 100.9 The Eagle: “If You See a Boot on a Missouri Fence, Please Do Not Touch It”
- The Classroom: “Why Do Some Ranchers Put Old Boots on Fence Posts?”
- The Porch: “Superstitions, Rituals & New Home Traditions”
- Wide Open Country: “The Legend Behind Hanging Lucky Horseshoes”