Texas Times: The Lady Bootmaker from Nocona

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn Sep. 30, 2010, 8:43am

On the dusty roads of West Texas in the 1920s, an unlikely figure traveled from town to town in her Model T, signing up roughnecks and cowboys for custom boot orders and continuing her late father's bootmaking legacy.

Miss Enid Justin, as she preferred to be called during and after two marriages, was the daughter of H.J. "Daddy Joe" Justin, who in 1879 moved his leather craft business from Indiana to Spanish Fort, Texas, located on the Chisholm Trail.

Justin hoped to build his business among the throngs of cowboys and ranchers traveling through on cattle drives. What started as a shoe repair shop soon evolved into a bootmaking business, and Justin quickly earned a reputation for his attention to detail and fine craftsmanship.

Justin took cattlemen's measurements on their way through Spanish Fort, and by the time they made their way back, their custom-made boots would be ready.

When the railroad came through nearby Nocona in 1877, Justin saw an opportunity for growth and moved his family and business there. Once in Nocona, Justin began teaching his trade to each of his seven children, including Miss Enid. At 12, Miss Enid was working in her father's shop, helping to insert catalogs in order forms.

After dropping out of school in the 8th grade, Miss Enid began working full-time for her father and was promoted from clerical work to boot-stitching. She would later admit regret for having dropped out of school, and she always encouraged young people to finish school.

By the early 1900s, the H.J. Justin Boot Company was growing, employing a staff of nearly 20, and gaining popularity due to Justin's standards for high quality craftsmanship. When Daddy Joe passed away in 1918, his children had acquired the training needed to take on his business successfully.

In 1925, the lure of the big city and new opportunities caused the Justin brothers to relocate H.J. Justin and Sons to Fort Worth. Miss Enid did not support the decision. She remained in Nocona and organized the Nocona Boot Co. as a co-partnership with her husband Julius Steltzer and two others.

As Miss Enid put it, "Daddy Joe would have wanted it that way." She borrowed $5,000 from the bank to start the small shop with seven employees.

During the first years of Nocona Boot Company, Miss Enid converted her home into a boarding house to earn extra money and also did odd jobs such as managing credit and selling coal. This extra income kept the business afloat. Though some of her father's existing customers were skeptical at first, they soon decided Enid's craftsmanship was as good as Daddy Joe's.

In 1926, an oil boom nearby increased demand for high-laced work boots. That year, Miss Enid and her sister made their first road trip through West Texas as saleswomen.

"Despite the hazards of the road, the trip was successful. We came back with a book full of orders and a new market for boots," she said.

The Great Depression delivered a setback, but it proved only temporary. Nocona Boot Company quickly recovered and surpassed pre-Depression sales. Miss Enid became president of the company in 1934 and began sales outside of Texas. She eventually opened additional plants, one east of Nocona on a site nicknamed "Nocona's Boot Hill," and another in Vernon, Texas. She would later boast that her long line of customers included Harry Truman, Henry Ford II, and George Burns.

Though profits soared, Miss Enid's work ethic never faltered. Even in old age, Miss Enid kept a strict routine, waking up at 5 a.m. and driving her white Fleetwood Cadillac with custom plates, "EJ Boot," to the office. When her health deteriorated in the 1980s, Miss Enid agreed to merge Nocona Boot Co. with Justin Industries to keep it a family business.

On Oct. 14, 1990, Miss Enid passed away in Nocona at the age of 96.

Miss Enid had no doubts when asked late in life about the secret to her success.

"Hard work and treating your fellow man right, making good boots. I am no angel, but I have treated people right," she said.

Staying true to her principles, Miss Enid not only carried on her Daddy Joe's tradition, but managed to build up one of the most successful bootmaking operations in the country and paved the way for generations of female entrepreneurs.

Sources: Nocona.com; Texas Monthly, September 1976, "Texas on my Feet;" Texas State Historical Association; North Texas State University Oral History Interview, November 13, 1981; University of North Texas Archives.

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