Whether you call them chaps, leggings, bat wings, woolies, or chinks, the different styles of leather leg coverings are an important part of a cowboy’s gear. Derived from the Spanish chaparreras, they protect a rider’s legs from brush, thorns and the elements. Different leathers cut in various styles have been used but the basic purpose remains the same. This is the second part of a history of chaps written by my friend and tack historian, Phil Livingston.
Part Two: Late 1800s to Present Day
By the 1870s cattleman were settling in Wyoming and establishing ranches. Thousands of cattle populated the Plains with numerous cowboys tending them. Cheyenne became a “Cowboy Capital”. Saddle maker Frank Meanea opened a shop there in 1873 and had a booming business. He redesigned the old Texas trail saddle, making it stronger and more comfortable and improved the Texas wing chap by cutting the wings narrower and straighter to reduce weight. He put the bottom snap just below the knee, giving much more leg freedom. The “Cheyenne Leg” gained instant favor and became a style still worn today.
When rodeos became popular in the early 20th Century, extra-wide-wing “woolies” came into style. Not content with the natural white of curly Angora fleece, show hands had it “spotted” in different colors or dyed the entire wings black, red or orange.
Since chaps are no longer worn for just protection from the brush and weather, different variations of styles have appeared. Modified to meet the demands of rodeo or the horse show world, lighter leathers, both roughout and slick and in a wide range of colors have appeared.
Bronc and bull riders usually wear bat wings with Cheyenne leg cut high to fasten above the knee. This allows the chaps to flap wildly during an 8 second ride. When bronc chaps first appeared, they were made from natural colored deer or elk hide and were plain. Today, they come in all colors with contrasting overlays and extra-long fringe.
Contestants in trail, pleasure and reining classes usually wear shotguns. These are closely fitted, have a full-length zipper closure and may or may not be fringed. The color is often chosen to compliment or contrast the mount. The majority of cutting horse riders favor the bat wing chap with a Cheyenne leg. The wings are cut extra wide at the bottom and long enough to cover the boots. Leather may be slick or rough out and it’s heavy enough to stay down as the mount ducks and dives. They’re normally earth colored with no overlays. Sometimes silver conchos decorate the buckle panels on each leg.
Our old friend the chink is still around and more popular than ever. Chinks have spread to wherever western saddles are ridden and have a wide appeal to trail riders. They come in many variations, leathers and colors. Often contrasting fringe is sewn along the outer edge and bottom.
This is the second part of Phil Livingston’s history of chaps. Click here to read the first part. Dennis Moreland Tack is a full line manufacturer of handmade tack, and we know how important it is to have safe, high quality, durable tack on the ranch or in the backwoods. We make hard-working tack for these purposes. If you have any questions, please feel free to call us at 817-312-5305 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.