Cowboy-Era Maker: Cotton Elliot Bit and Spurs

Texas bit and spur maker Cotton Elliott learned the old ways of the craft but embraces both the challenges and the opportunities of doing business in this modern world.

Cotton Elliott was born and raised on the iconic Waggoner Ranch and, in the true way of the working cowboy, he eventually suffered a wreck that kept him out of the saddle for a bit.

“Back years ago, I had helped a spur maker at Clarendon, Texas, named Melton McCowan,” Elliott explained. “I couldn’t ride for a while, so he offered me a job working with him in his first shop. I’d been anxious to do it because it had been something I’d been interested in for a long time.”

For Elliott, the opportunity granted him a unique and valuable skill.

“At that time, Melton was one of the few guys that still forged his work. Most contemporary makers don’t use a forge at all in the bit and spur world. Some do. There’s a still a few old guys that do and there’s getting to be a renewal of interest in it from some of the young fellows, which is real exciting to see.”

Today, the internet allows anyone with an interest the ability to learn a trade and makers, too, are using the space to share their works, but also their techniques. It’s quite a changeup from earlier days.

“When I first got interested in doing this kind of work, there were hardly any other makers, to start with, and they really didn’t have time and they weren’t particularly interested in teaching. In part, it was just an old school mentality—they didn’t want the competition. That’s the way it was back then. Now, it’s just entirely different and it needs to be because there are so many talented young men that are really doing some nice, nice work.”

The change is a bit of a double-edged sword for Elliott, who was the King County Sheriff from 2009 to 2016.

“I was Sheriff for eight years,” he said, “so I didn’t do any shop work or engraving at all for [those] years. You wouldn’t believe how far behind you get when you take a hiatus like that. It just takes a while to come back, especially with silver work. But also, in that time, there’s also been a huge increase and a lot of guys interested coming into it, so it’s much more competitive. There’s a tremendous amount of talent out there.”

Elliott embraced the challenge of working his way back into the fold and shares his work on his Facebook page, with hopes that his daughters can teach him about Instagram, too. Otherwise, his orders come word-of-mouth—arguably the best advertisement, regardless of era.

At times, Elliott travels and shares his knowledge in the same way McCowan did. Through a connection his wife, Ginger, made, he has joined up to teach at an annual clinic for the veterans of the Semper Fi & America’s Fund’s Apprenticeship Program, hosted by fellow craftsman Lance Williams in April this year. Then in May, he’s giving a demonstration at the 2022 Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America Conference in Denton, Texas.

“One of the regional directors, he’d been following my work on social media, so he knew what I did and what kind of work I was turning out and that it was forged and, since they’re blacksmiths, they invited me to come and give a demo on how I forge bits and spurs.”

For Elliott, though, regardless of the venue, platform or decade, there’s a part of his business that will likely never change.

“I’m from North Central Texas and, when I was a youngster growing up, there was a man named Adolph Bayers and he was a wonderful bit and spur maker. My work is greatly influenced by his. As a working cowboy, that’s the kind of equipment I wanted. It appealed to me. Still does.” TRJ

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