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Tracking the elusive Western Shoe Tree

May 1, 2001
Outside Magazine
WHEN A PERSON pokes around the shoe-tree world, he learns of many not-quite shoe trees. For example, the handsome live oak near Chico, California, freckled with bright twists of yarn at Christmas; pie-size paper hearts on Valentine's Day; shamrocks and clay pipes on St. Patrick's Day; flags on the Fourth; and pumpkins and cornucopias on Thanksgiving.

Cottonwoods, used in sun-dance ceremonies, thick with bright-cloth prayer bundles of tobacco.

Hard-hat trees.

The bra-and-bead trees along Crested Butte's Keystone, East River, and Painter Boy lifts.

The bra tree at Vail's China Bowl, which some people believe to be the granddaddy of them all.

The bra tree at Bob's Biker Bar, 20 miles east of Marlow, Oklahoma, which many of Bob's customers believe to be the granddaddy of them all.

The eucalyptus that once stood at the corner of Orange and Rosemont in La Crescenta, California, and held a pair of white low-top Jack Purcells owned by a seventh-grader and thrown there by Kilmer Sheehy, an eighth-grader, over the seventh-grader's protests, one autumn Friday in 1960, about 3:45 p.m.

All those shoes draped over urban power lines. Some believe these mark gang turf, drug bazaars, or all-purpose diabolic vortices. In truth, they are the handiwork of Kilmer Sheehy copycats.

THE LESS PEOPLE know about something, the more adamant their opinions. Shoe trees? No one knows squat.

Sidney, a guy in a café east of Sacramento, says his father remembered one tree as a kid. Sidney's 40; his father's dead.

Hell, it was always there.

It was planted by road builders in the thirties for fun.

It was a primitive rest area.

It was planted in 1937.

A tow-truck driver planted it in the 1940s for no particular reason. He kept a jug with him, watered the tree whenever he passed by on a job.

The Civilian Conservation Corps planted a half-dozen trees along a long hot stretch, for shade and variety. All but the one died of disease and thirst.

It just grew, the seeds blown in on God's breath.

It was six feet tall in 1955.

It was yea tall when Pete was ten. Pete is older than ice. Yea is slightly taller than whoever is speaking's head.

It was yea wide in 1960. Yea is slightly wider than whoever is speaking's shoulders.

A young boy feeling impish during a roadside stop with his family threw the first shoes.

A tramp, in the 1950s, got angry at his pinching, worn-out boots and threw them.

Lightning struck a biker. People had to restart his heart three times, and the last one took. The biker threw his boots into the tree to honor the gods.

Once, a couple, driving somewhere to get married, fought. She pitched a fit, threw his shoes in the tree.

They were already married.

He threw her shoes.

The couple was from Oregon.

They were from Colorado.

They were headed to California.

They were headed to Oregon.

They were married in Nevada.

They were married in Oregon.


Nevada, for the love of Mike!

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