Charlie Dunn’s Bootmaking Tradition Lives On At His Original Austin Shop

Lee Miller now runs Texas Traditions, but started as an apprentice for hot-tempered Dunn, who made boots for famous musicians and celebrities. 

By Brooke VincentOctober 11, 2018 12:36 pm, ,

You might be familiar with the name Charlie Dunn: his name is in the title of a Jerry Jeff Walker song, and if you listen closely to the lyrics,  you’ll learn that Charlie was a famous bootmaker in Austin.

“Cowboys care about their horse, their hat and their cowboy boots. That’s where we come in,” says Lee Miller, a boot maker at Texas Traditions boot shop in Austin.

The store opened in 1977 and Miller was one of Charlie Dunn’s apprentices.

“It was amazing to work for somebody who was part of history, who could tell you the way it was done many, many years ago. And so every word he would utter, I would hang on,” Miller says.

Charlie Dunn died in the early ’90s, but his bootmaking legacy lives on through Texas Traditions and people like Miller.  One thing that Miller remembers about him was his temper.

“He had a fiery temper. He was not a big man, he was a little guy. But, boy you didn’t mess with him. I was totally in awe of him,” Miller says.

Miller says he was fired and rehired “probably, I don’t know, ten times.” 

“I realized that he just had a hot temper and he said things he didn’t mean. But he was quick to apologize, so there was a pattern that developed and so I kept my job,” Miller says. 

Brooke Vincent/Texas Standard

Miller works on a custom boot in his Austin workshop. Texas Traditions has made boots for musicians like Guy Clark, Sting and Roseanne Cash.

Miller says when someone comes in for new boots, he talks to them to find out what they’re looking for and he measures their feet. He says custom boots are unlike any ready-to-wear boots.

“Once you’ve had a pair of boots made to fit your feet, you’ll be spoiled and you’ll never want to wear anything else because everything else just feels terrible,” Miller says.

Texas Traditions has made custom boots for iconic Texas songwriter Guy Clark, Lyle Lovett, Sting, Jackson Brown, Roseanne Cash and Tommy Lee Jones, among others.

“Cowboy boots represent Texas, just like a cowboy hat does. So, when people think of Texas, they naturally think of cowboy boots, and that’s what we do – we make cowboy boots. And I’m just proud to be a part of that,” Miller says.

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Written by Alvaro Céspedes.