When I was a horse-crazy kid, I had an imaginary life as a cowgirl. In my dreams, I had a fast black horse. I rode him everywhere. When we went on trips, after I buckled into the car, I saddled my pony and we rode alongside the car. He was FAST – I mean, he could keep up with the car mile after mile!
We made the trip across Texas many times, between Colorado and Louisiana. We never went through Dallas, which was good because my horse didn’t like freeway overpasses. Instead, We took Hwy 82 out of Wichita Falls to Sherman where we headed south out Hwy 11.
Hwy 82 runs through Nocona, Texas. Nocona is important to me because that is where the Nocona Boot factory is. When we went through Nocona, my imaginary self always stopped for a new pair of boots. I mean, really, who could resist those cool ads in Western Horseman???
So we would stop so I could get boots and then ran fast to catch up with the car before Sherman. Told you my pony was fast!
The last time I went through Nocona, Texas in the daylight was in 1982, heading back to Colorado after a year in Alabama. I graduated high school in 1983 and moved on with my life. Three children and two divorces later, I made my first long-distance solo road trip to Louisiana at New Years. I was disappointed to see the boot factory abandoned.
So I started wondering what happened. What I found was a story of an amazing woman, Enid Justin, who despite losing her child and two marriages, managed to create and run Nocona Boots for more than a half century.
Enid Mae Justin (1894-1990)
Herman Joseph Justin was a boot maker who settled in Nocona, TX in 1889. He and his wife Annie had seven children who grew up learning the boot making business. In 1910, the named the company H.J Justin & Sons. They sold boots in 26 states and several countries with production increasing up to “Daddy Joe’s” death in 1918.
In 1925, John and Earl Justin decided to move the company to Fort Worth. Enid knew her father would have wanted the company to stay in Nocona, so she started Nocona Boots. Her brothers told her she would be broke in 6 months. The discovery of oil in 1926 brought business to Nocona and the company prospered despite the Depression and World War II.
One of the more interesting things Enid Justin did was to organize a re-enactment of the Pony Express. This competition would involve riders starting in Nocona and following the Overland Mail Trail through El Paso, Tucson, Phoenix, Yuma, Los Angeles and then up the coast to San Francisco. This was a distance of over 2000 miles. Each rider would have 2 horses and a truck and trailer. Horses were exchanged every 25 miles. The participant had to finish with the same horses they started with.
Forty-two people signed up for the race, but on race day, only seventeen riders lined up. There were sixteen men and a sixteen year old girl from Nocona, Vennie Greenwood. Miss Greenwood dropped out of the race on the second day, but continued in one of the trucks to the finish. On March 24, 1939, Shannon Davidson, a 22 year old cowboy from Matador, TX won the race. He finished the race is 23 days. Enid Justin traveled to San Francisco to award the prize of 750 silver dollars to him. Shannon Davidson acted in a few western movies after the race. He died a few years later in a farming accident.
In 1945, sales were close to a half million dollars and it was decided to build a new factory. They chose a location on Hwy 82. The 30,000 square foot plant opened in 1948.
Enid Justin was known as an honest businesswoman and a character. She fought to keep her company running, even going as far as suing her brothers and Justin Industries. They became one of the top five boot companies in the country. In 1981, she merged Nocona with Justin Industries in order to keep it in the family. She passed away in 1990 at the age of 96. In 1999, Justin Industries consolidated all boot making operations to El Paso, TX and Cassville, MO. They closed the Nocona factory as well as the Ft. Worth factory.