Boots Reynolds got cowboys right. That’s how he made them laugh.
Over decades as a cartoonist and painter, he became famous among horse people for his comic spirit and colorful images. But his artwork thrived on a deep, lived sense of Western authenticity – from the droopy brim of a cowboy hat, to the drag and drape of chaps, to the sometimes cantankerous bond between horse and rider, to the effects of time and gravity on a face or a body. Boots got it right.
On the KSPS show “Northwest Profiles” several years ago, he said his greatest satisfaction came when cowboys approached him and said – as they often did – “I’ve been there. I’ve done that. This is real.”
Roy “Boots” Reynolds Jr. died recently in his Bonner County home at age 78. One of the country’s most well-known and prolific cartoonists in the Western vein, his visual style is likely even more familiar than his name. His cartoons have appeared in magazines like Western Horseman, Horse and Horseman, and many others for years. His artwork has adorned postcards and been gathered in books. His original paintings could sell for thousands and thousands of dollars.
“Boots could have done any kind of fine art,” said author Patrick McManus, a longtime friend. “He was that good.”
In his field, Boots was peerless. He started Cowboy Cartoonists International and is one of just a few emeritus members. His sense of humor – usually gentle, sometimes ribald – often targeted the hapless, and sometimes the toothless, cowboy. It was a subject he knew well, having grown up the son of an Oklahoma cowhand and spent much of his youth around horses.
McManus, the famous humorist and Northwest writer, was friends with Reynolds for 50 years. They first met when McManus wrote for Field and Stream magazine, on a magazine staff pack trip into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Boots worked for the outfitter. They hit it off and became lifelong friends and fishing buddies.
McManus said that when Boots was a boy, his father would take him into town on Saturday nights and deposit him in the movie theater. He would instruct his son to go to the jail when the movies were over, where they’d give him a bed.
“ ‘Sooner or later,’ he’d tell his son, ‘I’ll make it down to the jail myself.’ ”
In his KSPS profile, Boots talked about going to cowboy movies as a boy. He and his friends thought that those on-screen cowboys were the “real cowboys,” he said – even though he and his friends and their families had the actual claim to authenticity.
Born in Oklahoma in 1935, Boots “was on, over, under and around horses all his life,” according to a lively, funny obituary written by his wife, Becky. He was riding as a jockey by age 8 and continued until he got too big for the job. He served in Korea in the Marine Corps, and rodeoed and ranched upon his return, from California to Texas. He met Becky while working in St. Maries for the Forest Service, and they married and moved to Bonner County in 1974, where they lived ever since.
In Idaho, he decided to pursue his lifelong interest in art, starting with pen-and-ink cartooning and eventually moving on to painting. His cartoons were widely published in Western and outdoor magazines for decades, and became a staple of greeting cards. He also illustrated many books – including a calendar he and McManus produced in 1993.
Marianne Love, a Sandpoint author and a friend, wrote about his mischievous sense of humor in a blog post the day after his death. She called him a “talented goof-off” and a generous friend to all, even the checkers at his local grocery store.
“He loved animals and took good care of any that wandered his way,” she wrote. “He loved fishing. He loved being out in the woods – we laughed through an afternoon of huckleberry picking one day up above Trestle Creek. … I don’t know how many women squealed with delight when Boots would lightheartedly dub them as ‘his other wife.’ My mother was one of them. Oh how she loved Bootsie!”
Boots was ill with cancer over the past couple of years. He died at his home near Hope on July 12.
“He was very funny, but he gave off the pretense of being this dumb old cowboy,” McManus said. “But he was in fact very smart, very talented, very well read – totally different from the impression he tried to give people.”