Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Botas, Part 1


I have studied Mexican leggings - botas - for decades. I've handled dozens of examples from the first half of the 19th century, and examined eyewitness drawings, paintings, read eyewitness accounts, and looked at early photographs. Needless to say, I've photographed many original pieces. Sad to say, though, I can't share any of these photos because of the agreements I have with museums and collectors not to publish their collections without permission and, sometimes, payment.




However, when the antiques dealer, Michael D. Higgins, publishes photographs online of a single bota he has for sale, I feel that not only is it alright to do so, but that I'm helping him to publicize his website:


This bota is a good example of the kind that was mass produced in Mexico and often traded into Texas, the Southwest, and California. Gringos liked them, too, though they tended to wear them backwards. That is, with the flap pointing toward the heel rather than the toe, as vaqueros wore them.



All of the Mexican and Hispanic-American botas I've ever examined, or seen in photographs, are made of suede leather. I've never seen grain leather used anywhere. The botas imported from Mexico are made of a substantial, but very flexible, leather - sueded on both sides, similar in feel to chamois but thicker, and dyed a light or dark shade of rust brown. These usually have patterns on them that appear to be tooled, but may have been mass produced with a device similar to a printing press. Sometimes, they have embroidered panels sewn to them - they are not themselves embroidered. And some are bound around the outside edge, often with a silk ribbon, usually green.


I have never seen any evidence, either written or visual (artwork or photographs) of other sorts of decorations, including conchas, loops, fringes, etc. 

I'll have more to share on botas another day.

A. In "Native Californians Lassoing a Steer," by Auguste Ferran, ca. 1850, we see vaqueros in their everyday and working dress. It is difficult to tell if their botas are imported or homemade, though the shape and the color of those worn by the two mounted men, at least, suggest imported. Note how the "wing" of the bota points toward the toe. [Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley]

B., C., D. G., and H. A single bota currently for sale by Michael D. Higgins. This legging is very typical of Mexican manufactures that were sold both domestically and as exports, chiefly to Hispanic communities in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

E. Daguerreotype of Docia and Aaron Tyner, who moved to California from Arkansas in 1852. Photograph ca. 1856-1858. By his ribbon chinstrap and his suede botas, probably imported, Aaron Tyner displays the kinds of vaquero clothing frequently adopted by Anglos who moved to California during the Mexican Era and Gold Rush. Notice that the wing of the legging is wrapped so as to face backwards, toward the heel - the opposite of how vaqueros wore them. The original photograph is in the Kings County Museum, California. It was published in Joan Severa's Dressed for the Photographer, (Kent State University Press, 1995)

F. In "Costume of Upper California," an illustration in the Atlas Pittoresque of Abel Du Petit Thouars, 1837, we see the reddish brown legging wrapped so that the wing points forward, toward the toe. This is how they were worn in Mexico and in Hispanic communities across the Southwest and in California.

I. Another bota of the kind manufactured in Mexico. It is "tooled" (possibly stamped using an etched plate and a press), but has an embroidered panel sewn to one wing only because, obviously, the other wing is hidden when the bota is wrapped around the wearer's calf.

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