If You See a Boot on a Fence, This Is What It Means

Updated: Mar. 18, 2024

Have you ever seen a boot on a fence post? Ranchers hang their boots up because it carries a special symbolism.

Whether in the city or the countryside, customs vary between subcultures, and one that’s still alive and well is cowboy culture on ranches. According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, there are over 2 million U.S. farms, and of those, 98% are family farms. (Of course, these numbers represent all U.S. farms, including those that are not ranches).

About 90% of U.S. family-owned farms are small operations, so you’ll likely see some time-honored traditions on many small-town ranches. But if you’re unfamiliar with ranch culture, you may encounter some practices you aren’t familiar with, like seeing a boot on a fence.
And while we are discussing fences, don’t forget to find out if coyotes jump fences.

Why Do Ranchers Put a Boot on a Fence?

According to Texas-based radio station 100.9 The Eagle, Missouri is one such state that observes the tradition of putting a boot on a fence post. But what’s the meaning behind this custom? Educational resource website The Classroom gives some common reasons why a farmer, or a rancher, would put a boot on a fence post. A couple of these reasons are somber, but whatever the case, it’s important not to disturb a boot when you see it on a farm fence post.

  • A rancher is honoring their deceased horse. When a cowboy has a strong bond with his horse, it may become his daily workhorse. Per The Classroom, when a special horse like this is sold or dies, a cowboy will hang a pair of his boots on the fence to symbolize respect for the animal.
  • Another rancher has passed away. When a comrade passes away, a cowboy may hang a boot on a fence post as a memorial.
  • The boots have worn out and represent hard work. Because a rancher grows attached to his boots and wears them daily, it’s a tradition to hang them on a fence whenever they have worn out. This represents the hard work the boots made possible.
  • The rancher is home. This older tradition was to hang boots up to let others know they were home before telephones and electricity made it easier to contact them.

Here’s What Other Unusual Home Traditions Mean

Abandoned boot on fencepostMatt Hoover Photo/Getty Images

Little-known traditions exist in other homes across America, whether on a ranch or off. Here are what some unusual home customs mean:

  • When someone paints a porch’s ceiling blue, it may be due to a southern tradition. Often referred to as “haint blue,” this superstitious tradition is meant to keep away evil spirits. It’s also thought to scare off mosquitos, according to The Porch.
  • If you see a painted purple fence, it means you’re about to trespass. The purple paint serves as a “No Trespassing” sign with staying power. Because signs often get lost, damaged or stolen, purple paint is a more permanent warning to people about entering private property.
  • An iron horseshoe above a door is meant to bring luck. The lucky horseshoe bit stems back to Irish folklore, according to Wide Open Country, but has since become synonymous with western cowboy culture. Yet again, its backstory involves warding off evil and, perhaps, the devil himself.

Other hidden meanings you may encounter? For starters, there’s meaning behind painted trees in the city or the forest, green porch lights and dryer sheets in mailboxes. For now, remember not to disturb boots hanging from fence posts if you’re ever near a ranch.