In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Carol A. Lipscomb, a Fort Worth resident, historian and author, talks about Enid Justin, daughter of Justin Boots founder H.J. Justin, who started her own boot company, Nocona Boots. Lipscomb wrote a book, The Lady Makes Boots, about Enid Justin and her legendary boot-making family.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Bob Francis: Tell me a little bit about the history of boots there in Nocona and how that started.
Carol A. Lipscomb: It started with Enid’s daddy, Joe. Herman Joseph Justin. He started making boots on the Chisholm Trail in about 1879. He was in a little town called Spanish Fort, which now is just a little ghost town, 20 miles north of Nocona. It’s right on the Red River. (Nocona is about 75 miles northwest of Fort Worth.)
And that’s where he started making boots.
His business grew and in 1889 he moved it to Oklahoma because the trail drives were coming to an end. And the railroad came in, but it bypassed Spanish Fort. Instead, it went to Nocona. The railroad built Nocona. So he moved there when the town shot up, he grew up with the town. He died in 1918. He was only 54. So he died as a young man. His sons took over the business and they’re the ones that moved Justin Boot Company from Nocona to Fort Worth in 1925. Because there was better banking, there were more railroad facilities, a better labor force, and they wanted to grow.
At the time Enid, who always said she was her father’s favorite child, just made up her mind that her father never would’ve moved their boot business from Nocona. He would’ve kept it there. And it was kind of her mission in life to open a boot company in Nocona to keep a boot company there. That’s what she thought her father would’ve wanted. That was kind of the main impetus behind her decision.
Photograph of Enid Justin and actor Ken Maynard each holding a boot while standing next to a horse at the Fort Worth Stock Show in March 1941. (Courtesy: Portal to Texas History, University of North Texas)
Francis: She always seemed to be headstrong. Tell us about an incident that happened when she was very young at her brother’s birthday party.
Lipscomb: That’s when she quit school. She was 13. She was suspended for three weeks for dancing in her own home at her brother’s birthday.
It made her so angry and she thought that was so unjust and unfair that she just got her books and she went home and she never went back. And later in life she often wondered why Daddy Joe and her mother didn’t make her go back to school. The business was really growing. So she started working there at age 13.
The rest of her brothers and sisters all finished school, like normal kids. So that tells you she was strong-willed.
Francis: When she decided to keep the company in Nocona, was there an acrimonious split between the family or what happened there?
Lipscomb: That really had an odd dynamic. Yes. At the beginning, of course, her brothers told her, “You’re going to go broke. You’re going to lose every cent you’ve got. It’s a foolish thing to do.” But she wouldn’t be talked out of it. Over the years, yes, they had a contentious relationship. There are even lawsuits over the use of the Justin name. Those are all in the book. There’s different things that happened.
The names were always getting mixed up in newspaper articles because it was Enid Justin, Nocona Boot Company or the Justin Boot Company. A lot of times those names would get mixed up. So one company would get credit for doing something the other company did. And that would cause the one that didn’t get the credit to be really upset. And there were lawsuits over things like that and the letters flew back and forth.
With one letter that I remember specifically, Enid wrote to her brother John, who was then the president of Justin Boot Company in Fort Worth and just read him the riot act over this issue that they were battling over. She signed the letter “P.S. I wish you had been here for our 4th of July celebration, we moved the piano out on the back porch and had a grand time.” So yeah, it was just kind of an odd relationship.
Francis: Despite all that, she maintained some sort of relationship with everyone.
Lipscomb: When she married for the second time, she was married in John’s home in Fort Worth. So that was a really interesting dynamic between them.
Francis: Under her watch, how successful, how large did the company become?
Lipscomb: The biggest year, 1989, I think, this is while she’s still alive, the company produced 343,000 pairs of boots. So that’s a lot of boots. They were a nationwide company, very successful.
Francis: This was during the Urban Cowboy phenomenon and all that stuff?
Lipscomb: That was in 1980. And that really was a big boom to the boot-making industry because then they were even wearing boots in New York City after that. Enid died in 1990. Shortly after that, there was just a turndown in the boot business and it was all fashion related. Boots just weren’t so popular anymore. And sneakers were in and loafers.
So for the next 10 years, the boot business was really declining. And it wasn’t just Nocona Boot Company, it was others also. After she died and the boot business really declined in 1999, Justin Industries made the decision to close Nocona Boot Company. At the same time, they closed the Justin Boot Factory in Fort Worth. So that shows you it wasn’t just for Nocona, it was the industry all around.
And Justin at that point, moved all of their boot manufacturing to El Paso, where it still is today, and they’ve done well.
Francis: How did you become interested in this story?
Lipscomb: I moved to Nocona when my husband bought the General Motors dealership there. That was in 1979. And Enid Justin was still living at that time. My husband had grown up in Nocona, so he knew her. At the time I was in graduate school working on my Ph.D.
So it kind of became a story that I got interested in to write about and I just didn’t get it done until years later. So now I live in Fort Worth, but I lived in Nocona for 18 years.
Francis: How quickly did you decide you wanted to do this as part of your graduate studies?
Lipscomb: I had to take an oral history course where you interview people and I needed a topic. I decided to do the Nocona Boot Company for a topic. That was while I was still in school. So I interviewed some of the main people, some of the Justin family members, like Joe Justin. I Interviewed plant workers that had worked there for years and office workers.
I had all those interviews that went into the University of North Texas Oral History Archives after they were completed. But then I didn’t do anything with them at the time. I went ahead and graduated. I got involved in other history projects and just put that on the back burner. And when I went back to it, like I said that was about six years ago and decided I was finally going to write that story.
So I got started on it and it took me about three years to write it for Texas Tech Press. Because I had published something there earlier and because they specialize in Western history, different parts of Western history.
Francis: One of the things that I think a lot of people today might remember, because you mentioned it in your talk, is about those great posters that they had in the 70s and 80s.
Lipscomb: Yes. The Last Rodeo Campaign, it was called. There were 12 of them in total and they were pretty wonderful.
Francis: And they were done by an Oklahoma firm, correct?
Lipscomb: Yes, Ackerman McQueen, of Oklahoma City.
Photograph of a collection of four advertisement posters for Nocona boots that correspond with a different animal. (Courtesy image | The Portal to Texas History, University of North Texas)
Francis: I think you said those posters were like the No. 3 or 4 ttop selling posters after Farah Fawcett and Star Wars.
Lipscomb: The one with the rattlesnake was probably the most popular and it was the No. 3 bestseller behind Farah and Star Wars. There were 12 of them in total. The Nocona Museum has all of them, has them framed.
Francis: In terms of a business person, what really stuck out for you? What was her business sense like?
Lipscomb: She just seemed to have an innate business sense. But I think she had worked with her father for so long from the age of 13, when she quit school, she had worked in the boot factory with her father. So I think she had just learned a lot during that time.
But she was also determined. She was not a quitter. She wouldn’t give up. And she knew she was going to have obstacles thrown in her way. And she did. But she just hung in there.
Francis: And where is the company currently?
Lipscomb: Yes. Justin still makes Nocona Boots, under the brand. They’ve just come out with their Nocona boot brand, a Miss Enid Justin, which I love. One style is the boot shoes. It’s a sharp boot for the Miss Enid Collection and that was something that she kind of originated in the 1930s.
Francis: She didn’t really wear boots much, right?
Lipscomb: Only on rare occasions when she did The Pony Express out of Nocona in 1939. In photographs she has on boots. And she wore them to occasions like that. But she preferred high heels and feminine shoes.
Francis: While Nocona Boots has moved on, someone is making boots at that old Nocona factory now, correct?
Lipscomb: Yes. Now it’s Fenoglio Boots. The Fenoglios are an Italian family that settled in Nocona in the late 1800s and have been there ever since. There have been other companies too, but they haven’t lasted.
Francis: If a business person was to read your book, what do you think they would take away from Enid’s story?
Lipscomb: Probably that if you want to do something bad enough and you stick with it, you can accomplish it.
Francis: She certainly did.
Lipscomb: And I think her lesson is a lesson not just for women. I can see the things she did being a good lesson for men in business also. She was just a good business person and very good at advertising and promotion. There are things to learn from her story, I think.
The Lady Makes Boots
Enid Justin and the Nocona Boot Company
by Carol A. Lipscomb
Published by: Texas Tech University Press, $29.99
A video of Carol Lipscomb speaking at the Fort Worth Library.
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.