Leddy’s Cowboy Boot Legacy
by Gene Fowler
“Legacy” is one of those words that when you look it up in the dictionary, the definition you get is underwhelming. “Something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor from the past.” Really? Come on, Webster! Get with it! It’s so much more than that. At its best, a legacy is a living entity. A force of nature. A jolt of ancestral energy that makes your whole being stand up and go whoa!
Married bootmakers Glenn and Debbie Meek of Abilene, Texas, know that well. It’s the reason they chose the name Leddy’s Legacy when they rechristened their boot and boot/shoe repair business in 2011. And in all of Texas—heck, in all the West—when it comes to boots, there’s no name that’s more deserving of the grand and glorious term legacy than L-e-d-d-y. Leddy.
The Leddy legacy goes all the way back to 1918, when M. L. Leddy, the youngest of eight brothers, got a job in a saddle shop in Brady, Texas. In time, M. L. learned the art of bootmaking and in more time, the Leddy family opened—and still operate—boot and saddle shops in San Angelo and Fort Worth. A whole passel of Leddys and in-laws have practiced the art of bootmaking in the century that established the Leddy legacy. Glenn and Debbie Meek’s branch of the Leddy family tree sprouted through the late James Leddy, M. L.’s nephew. James made his first pair of boots as a young teen, working at his father’s bootmaking shop in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
When Glenn Meeks, who grew up wearing boots in El Paso, “the Cowboy Boot Capital of the World,” first met James and his daughter, Debbie, James was working with Cowtown Boots in the City at the Pass. As Tyler Beard put it in Art of the Boot, Cowtown had “offered him a job designing their boots and running the show to boot!” The match-making hand of fate brought Glenn and Debbie together in an El Paso high school before James decided to move back to Abilene, where he could run the whole show after less than a year on the border.
The couple married in 1973. Glenn was in the Army, nurturing an intense desire to learn bootmaking. While Glenn was stationed in Germany, James asked him if he’d like to come work with him and after Glenn was transferred to Fort Hood in Central Texas, the Meeks started spending weekends at the shop in Abilene. “James was the best teacher in the world,” says Glenn. “He was my father-in-law, but he was also my mentor. And he was not only one of the best bootmakers, he was also a great man.”
After Glenn completed his service in 1977, the couple moved to Abilene to work full time at the shop.
“Dad worked very fast,” adds Debbie, who learned how to stitch boot tops from her mother. “So it was a challenge to keep up and not make mistakes. And I remember crying once, thinking my stitching would never look as good as my mom’s. But she did compliment my work.” Like a lot of Texas men, however, James could be a bit taciturn. “Dad would turn a boot over and look at the back. He wouldn’t say ‘good job,’ but he still managed to sound encouraging by the way he said, ‘keep practicing.’” Like all fine bootmakers, James knew there was no such thing as the perfect boot, that it was the bootmaker’s job to be constantly striving for improvement.
Most importantly, adds Debbie, “Dad instilled values in us, that the boots we make are made with pride, with quality and with love. That’s why we strive to continue his legacy.”
Going by the terrific looking boots they produce and more importantly, by the response from customers, it’s evident that those values stuck. “Shortly after we opened the shop, a customer who stopped by to order some boots and visit a bit called us after he got home and said that when he’d visited my dad’s shop 20 years earlier, he’d gotten a special feeling from the place, a feeling that he was at home. And he said he felt the same way at our shop. That made us cry.”
Customers also encounter creativity at Leddy’s Legacy, a sense that if they can dream it up, Glenn and Debbie—along with Gabe Hernandez, who’s been with the shop for decades, and daughter Shauna Meeks, who handles the cutting—can make it. The husband of one customer, for instance, is such a superfan of the heavy-metal band Iron Maiden that she requested a pair emblazoned with the design of the band’s album, Powerslave. Video footage on Leddy’s Legacy Facebook page shows him wearing the boots with shorts in Colorado. And he was probably wearing them when he once traveled all the way to Germany to see the band. Even though Iron Maiden has sold over 100 million records, the boots made by Leddy’s Legacy are probably unique in all the world.
Another customer requested a pair with an image of himself as the cartoon character Yosemite Sam. For the boots of a client named Bart, Glenn and Debbie created an image of Bart Simpson riding a bull. Boots depicting the Parisian skunk cartoon character Pepé Le Pew were made for Debbie’s mother. Another pair featured Tweety Bird and Tweety’s nemesis, Sylvester James Pussycat Sr.
Like all good bootmakers the Meeks have a lot of return customers. An Abilene ISD counselor has ordered an annual new pair for the last seven years or so, with one unusual request: each pair features at least one image of a scorpion. And like James Leddy’s customer base, the majority of Leddy’s Legacy boots are made for folks in the Abilene area, including working cowboys of the Big Sky Country. James also received lot of orders from classic country-western stars—
Mel Tillis is said to have owned some 60 pairs of James Leddy boots. Leddy’s Legacy is currently working on a pair for singer Larry Gatlin.
“One of our most popular inlays is the rose,” adds Debbie. “It involves a piece of cotton and folded-over leather, and it’s somewhat similar to the way Charlie Dunn did roses.” Another popular design features a Native American theme, with a howling wolf inset in a silhouette of an Indian head wearing a headdress. Leddy’s Legacy won the Shop Award at the 2018 Wichita Falls Boot & Saddle Makers Roundup for that pair of boots and again in 2020.
Glenn adds that the annual Wichita Falls get-together is a great place to keep up on the latest info on the best sources for hides.
Like all custom handmade leather goods, of course, boots imbued with the legacy of James Leddy cost a little more than your store-bought foot crunchers. But customers say they are oh so worth it. “As a child,” says San Angelo ranchwoman Brandy Lloyd, who runs Bad Rascal Leather with her husband Cory (“a repair shop for the working cowboys of west Texas! We also do custom leather work such as saddles, bible covers, anything leather”), “I always dreamed of having handmade boots like my dad and granddad! They always had the best of the best on their hardworking feet! My grandfather had the idea of putting vents in his to help keep his legs cool! The price tag of custom boots was not exactly realistic for me, but my dad made it happen!!! He came up one cow short during a gathering, but she finally surfaced a few weeks later with a baby. When I found her, he said that she was now mine as long as I used the money off of her calf to order my first-ever pair of handmade boots from Leddys’ Legacy in Abilene, Texas!”
With Leddy’s Legacy boots on their feet, customers like Brandy know that the real meaning of legacy is so much more than Webster’s measly phrasing. “My aunt recently brought me a set of papers that happened to be the partnership agreement between my Grandpa Leddy (James Wilson Leddy, Sr.) and his brother Clifford Leddy, dated July 7, 1955,” Debbie recently recalled. “One of the articles of partnership states this:”
Said partners are PROUD of the name LEDDY and the “good will” such name bears to the trade territory. Therefore, each agrees to do his utmost to keep the reputation of the same on as high a level as possible and at no time to do any act which will bring discredit upon said name or good will. Also that at all times said business will be operated on the highest principles of honesty, integrity and service to their customers seeking always to obtain a reasonable return on their investment of money and time.
“I know that my Grandpa and Uncle Clifford were very proud of my dad for his continuation of this legacy and I’m hoping that they are all smiling down on us and proud of us for continuing this legacy.”
And Debbie and Glenn, I’d bet the farm that they are.
Leddy’s Legacy, LLC
1120 N Treadaway Blvd
Abilene, TX 79601 (325) 673-2668