by Mel Fenson
Ed Martin is a master bootmaker, who turns fine leather of all types into beautiful handcrafted cowboy boots. Ed always strives for perfection in his boot making. His work ethic is, “I try to make the best boot in the world I can and then I try to make the next pair better.” 81-years old, Ed has been making boots since he was 13-years old.
Ed crafts exquisite boots from many different types of leather, including exotic leathers such as, alligator, python, frog, lizard, kangaroo and ostrich. “I use a lot of kangaroo skin,” he said but, “...most of the boots I make are from Ostrich skin, because the leather is so supple and soft .” The most important thing, Ed notes, is whether the boots fit well. He says, “A perfect fit comes from perfect measurements of a foot and the construction of a last or mold that is fitted for each foot.” “A good boot,” Ed continued, “should feel good the first time you put it on.” Every boot Ed makes is custom made for the customer’s foot. “The most important thing I have to offer to our customers is a perfect fit or as perfect as I know how.”
Ed still makes boots the way they were made 100 years ago, using the old Amarillo style to create a look, which was popular among cowboys and business people in the Texas Panhandle, during the 40’s and 50’s. Custom boot making requires more than 40 steps and it takes about 50 hours time to make a pair of boots. It used to take him 30-40 hours, he recalls, but now he says he takes his time. He thinks he makes better boots now than he has ever made before in his life, “...because I am not rushed now and I can really think things out.” He said, “speed is not the issue, quality craftsmanship is. Every step of making a boot is so critical, that if you make a mistake, you just throw the boot away and start over again. You just can’t afford to make a mistake when you are making handmade boots.”
Ed was born in Spearman, Texas in 1927. His family moved to Amarillo, Texas in 1941, where his father opened a boot shop. He said he used work in the shop after school and his father taught him how to make boots. He dropped out of the 5th grade to work in the shop and grew up making boots. Ed still cherishes and uses a pair of old but well-made boot making pliers that his dad gave him when he was young. While growing up in Amarillo, Ed’s entire family was involved in boot making. His two brothers and a cousin were also boot makers and his mother was a top stitcher.
While in Amarillo, Ed eventually went to work for Engerton’s Boot & Saddle. He said, “We made boots mostly for cowboys from big ranches, such as the XIT Ranch, the LX Ranch, the Matador Ranch and the Four Six’s ranch.
The XIT Ranch at that time was the largest ranch in America. It covered over 3-millon acres but most of their holding have now been sold to other ranchers and farmers. The XIT ranch was located south of Dalhart, Texas in the Texas Panhandle and extended south all the way to Lubbock. The group of people that owned XIT Ranch had received their land in return for building the Texas state capitol building in Austin. Ed commented, “I knew a cowboy that worked for them, who said one pasture he worked included 400 sections - that’s big! He said it took two weeks to round up all the cattle in the pasture and then they still missed some of them. Those days represent a lot of history,” he added, “There were also a lot of small ranches in Texas, during my boot making days in Amarillo,” Ed continued, “and we got a lot of business from the cowboy country.”
Ed said the market for handcrafted boots began to be impacted by large boot companies, when factories, such as Tony Lama, Justin and Nocona started up.
Ed lived in Amarillo until 1961, when he moved to Boulder, Colorado for health reasons because both he and his son Paul had asthma. He said, “We were asthma-free for years once we moved to Colorado.” Ed opened a shoe repair shop in Boulder and after four years, turned it into a boot and saddle shop, Martin’s Boots & Saddlery. He later sold that shop and opened the Tepee Western Store in Boulder. He operated that business until 1986, when he moved his family to Firestone, Colorado, where he and his son started making boots in his garage, under the business name of EP Martin, a name he still uses today. The name of the business incorporates his and Paul’s initials. Ed said Paul passed away at the age of 34 on Thanksgiving Day of 1989 - as a result of being prescribed medicine that was too strong. Paul had been studying for the ministry, when he died.
Ed’s son, Paul, had been brought up the same as he was and learned the craft of boot making after school the same as his Dad did when he was young. When they worked together, Paul made the upper part of the boots and handled the top stitching, while Ed made the lower parts.
Ed has since trained two custom boot makers, Suzanne Watson, who makes boots in Paonia, Colorado and Jim Covington, who makes boots in Boston. He describes them as being among the best boot makers in the country.
Ed’s shop is now located in Ft. Lyon, Colorado, five miles east of Las Animas. His customers learn about him by word-of-mouth and many still come from Austin and Amarillo,Texas as well as other parts of the country, but most of his customers are from the Denver area, “... because we were there for many years and were well known. We still make boots for cowboys but not as many as we used to because there are not as many cowboys now as there used to be when I was making boots in Amarillo.” Ed says his customers come to his shop in Las Animas, “ or I go to them.” He goes to Denver occasionally and sets up in a friend’s western store for a day and a half to take orders from customers who have been told he would be here.
The price for a pair of Ed’s custom boots starts at $850 and can cost up to a couple of thousand dollars, depending on type of leather and the amount of special detail work required.
said custom boot making is a time consuming craft and he can only produce about
a hundred of pairs of boots a year. Ed explained that in earlier days of boot making,
the work was divided between top makers, bottomers and fitters. He said he
started out making bottoms, "...but eventually I learned it all.”
He also added, “I keep learning new things about boot making all the
time and I am still open to learn anything more I can.” He said it makes
him feel gratified for a customer to be pleased with a pair of boots, “
...that look good and really fit their feet, and that they really love.”
Ed Martin, Bootmaker
E.P. Martin Boots
Ft. Lyon, Colorado
(5-Miles East of Las Animas)
31277 Hwy 183
Las Animas, CO 81054