Cheyenne’s Big Boots are quirky, and they’re fun.
The giant 8-foot-tall boots full of color and legend yank in hundreds of tourists for a fun little scavenger hunt that sends them traipsing all over the Cowboy State’s Capitol. And that fun is chronicled in countless delighted selfies of people standing alongside iconic reminders of Cheyenne and Wyoming history.
The boots started as a fundraiser for the historic Union Pacific Depot, but have since taken on life of their own, growing each year. Now, with more than 30 theme-painted boots in the collection, there are plenty of uniquely Wyoming stories to be seen and heard on the Cheyenne boot trail.
But until now, there’s been a huge hole in the boot trail of Cowboy State culture — the military at F.E. Warren Air Force Base and the Wyoming Air National Guard.
That story is missing no more.
Both have joined in on the fun with 8-foot-tall boots of their own at each entrance of their respective bases. The boots are ready and waiting to tell a bit of the long and storied tale of Cheyenne’s deep military roots.
Cheyenne grew up with its military heritage, and both have 150-plus-year histories. Both also began with more-or-less ramshackle structures — shanties and tents — as well as uncertain futures for the soldiers and workers who had come to build and protect the Transcontinental Railroad. The line was approved by President Abraham Lincoln and the northern Congress during the Civil War.
Fort Russell, as the base was known then, became a permanent outpost in 1884 thanks to its strategic location. Handsome red brick buildings, costing $100,000 at the time, eventually came to replace the older wood-frame structures on the base, up through the 1920s.
The fort eventually became the largest calvary post in the United States, and some of the former stables are still there.
Over time, the fort continued to grow in size and importance. Today, it’s known as the F.E. Warren Air Force Base, and it’s a vital part of the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile operations.
Making An Impression From Afar
The two military Big Boots were a project of Leadership Cheyenne’s 2021 class. But that’s where the similarities for these two new Big Boots ends. Each boot’s artist took completely different approaches.
The F.E. Warren boot, designed by Jordan Dean, offers an almost abstract approach, yet is distinctly USAF.
“At first I had some ideas that were a little more common,” Dean told Cowboy State Daily. “I’ve done two boots before this one though, and the thing I learned is that there’s a lot of real estate where not everybody is up close.”
The location of the F.E. Warren boot in particular means that most people won’t see the boot up close at all. They’ll be seeing it from about 30 feet away.
“So, I kind of pivoted partway through, and I wanted it to then feel more like the energy of the Air Force,” Dean said. “Something that evokes more of the mood, and less physical things. So, I took an abstract approach.”
Advanced technology has become very much a part of today’s modern Air Force, and that became a thread Dean wanted to weave into the boot’s design. He used some wing elements, as well as some of the Air Force camo patterns kind of “swirled and mixed together,” Dean said.
“I tried to make it something that was a little bit more cool and bold,” he said.
Air National Guard Went For Iconic
The Wyoming Air National Guard’s Big Boot, painted by Denise Patton and designed by Master Sgt. Jon Alderman, draws heavily on symbols that are taken directly from the aircraft flown by Wyoming’s Air National Guard.
The overall backdrop of the Air Guard’s boot is painted grey, with realistic sheet metal rivets that closely resemble those on the Wyoming Air Guard’s aircraft.
“One of the most important is the mobile air firefighting mission,” Patton told Cowboy State Daily. “So, they have that represented on the boot, as well as the year the Air Guard was formed here in Wyoming.”
Two aircraft are reserved for the firefighting mission, Alderman told Cowboy State Daily. Those are marked by the fluorescent orange numerals 1 and 3 on the aircraft itself. The neon orange color ensures the aircraft remain visible during any operation, whether at low altitude or low visibility. Those numerals were placed on the boot as well, to represent the firefighting mission.
The boot also includes landscape imagery to represent some of the iconic landmarks Wyoming National Air Guard pilots see as they’re flying over the Cowboy State, Patton and Alderman told Cowboy State Daily.
“The bison on one side, as well as Devils Tower, are elements we have painted on our actual aircraft tail areas,” Alderman added. “The band across the boot is yellow, because the tails of our aircraft have a yellow stripe with the word ‘Wyoming’ within it.”
The year 1946 is painted within the stripe, highlighting the year when Wyoming’s Air National Guard was formed.
“We also have the Steamboat bucking horse on the boot itself, and that goes without saying, but it’s to pay heritage to the Western culture of Wyoming,” Alderman said. “This icon is also painted on the yellow stripe tail portion of our aircraft.”
Wyoming Air National Guard aircraft are often referred to as “Yellowtails,” Alderman said, and the Wyoming Air National Guard as the “Home of the Yellowtails.”
Yanking The Tourists In
Cheyenne’s two newest Big Boots join a boot trail that has grown to 35 or so in all, all of them depicting aspects of both Cheyenne and Wyoming history.
The first boots were part of a 2004 fundraising campaign to restore the Union Pacific Depot, but have since taken on a life of their own. More boots are added every year by businesses and organizations, and there have been a few touchup campaigns along the way to keep the boots looking fresh and new.
The boots are highly effective at convincing tourists they simply must visit Cheyenne — even when it might not have been part of their original itinerary.
Rodney Wilson of Missouri, for example, and his pal Juan Carlos Gutierrez Perez, were seeing some of the sites on their way to the Grand Canyon this past summer, as part of a goal to eventually see all 50 states.
Wyoming wasn’t on their itinerary. Their trip was more about other sites — Horseshoe Bend, Mesa Verde, Red Rocks and the Four Corners, in addition to the Grand Canyon. But when Perez spotted Cheyenne’s Big Boots art project during a Google search, he was instantly charmed.
That pushed the two a little further north than planned, even though it added several hours onto their drive trip.
Soon they were taking a steady stream of delighted selfies next to the giant boots to share on social media, finding about 20 of the boots in all, as well as the occasional shot of a tumbleweed drifting by.
“Cheyenne is a beautiful city,” Perez told Cowboy State Daily in a Facebook message. “Full of tradition and culture with a strong Western background that is evident on every corner — murals, statutes, Big Boots, commemorations of early advancements in women’s rights in America — which is why it’s called the Equality State.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.