Appalachia Through My Eyes Appalachian Dialect

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Brogans

My life in appalachia Brogans

This time of the year, most folks around here throw their flip-flops to the back of the closet and pull out their boots, or brogans as Pap calls them.

As long as I can remember Pap has called what most folks call work boots brogans.

According to this site the history of the word brogan can be traced back to brog which is the Irish Gaelic word for shoe. Another website, wiseGEEK, says brogans were a popular type of working class boot in the 17 and 1800s and that many soldiers of the Civil War wore brogans as part of their standard uniform.

The entry for Brogan in The Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English shows the word usage was documented in the Smoky Mountain region in 1937, 1939, 1942, 1943, 1956, 1967, 1969, 1991, and 1997.

Ever wear a pair of brogans?


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.


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  • Reply
    Willie Miller
    October 27, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Hi I’v been wonderin what ever happened to the pickled corn under your sink.
    Great site, thanks.

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    October 27, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    Oh yes brogans was the word..we got one pair when school started and had to wear them all school year if they lasted that long.. My dad always called his boots brogans.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Haven’t heard of brogans, but have heard of brogues. It is a style of wingtip shoe.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    I grew up with brogans. I usually got a new pair when we sold the tobacco unless it got too cold to go barefoot. In that case dad would sell a calf or pig to get the money for shoes. I wore my new ones to school and the old ones for farm work and hunting. If my old ones were too worn out I wore dad’s old ones with an extra pair of socks.
    Jim Casada can come here and get all the ground hogs he wants. They are a real pest for my garden. I caught a skunk a couple weeks ago in my ground hog trap. I released it and it seemed grateful. At least it didn’t spray me.
    Tell Chitter I ate my last watermelon today. It was ok – not as good as those during the Summer.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    October 26, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    yep, we had brogans! My husband’s cousin in Colorado called them “soil samplers” – which is pretty descriptive.
    I’m still exciting over winning Granny’s Hat!!! Can’t wait.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    Used to hear work boots being called brogans but not so much anymore.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    I’ve heard the word here in New England, but not widely used. Meaning a heavy shoe or low boot. I always associated it with the history of local Irish (and probably Scottish and English) immigration, but don’t know if that’s really the case.
    Seems like now there’s a specialized work boot for every purpose. I always look for made in the USA, and after slim pickins for a while, it seems to be getting a little bit easier!

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    October 26, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    I have worn brogans and when I am out in the woods, I kinda like them. They provide good protection and support and the right brogans give good traction on wet surfaces. A pain to clean, though, if you get into the mud.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    As a teenager we sometimes called
    our boots brogans. I prefer boots.
    I have a big ole groundhog right
    here close to the creek running
    behind my shop. I feed that ole
    guy lettuce, carrots, cabbage
    stalks, etc. He loves the kudsu
    on his bank and keeps it pretty
    much at bay. But if I wasn’t
    sentimental over him, he’d be in
    a pot in notime. The meat is more
    course, like bear meat, but as
    my friend Jim says, when they’re
    fixed right, its as good as a
    Thanksgiving Turkey…Ken

  • Reply
    October 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Any old boot was called brogans at our house. I still call them that, except when I don’t have time to explain the meaning to my cityslicker friends.
    The place I worked for years was big on safety and proper footwear. Twenty years ago the girls came to work wearing shorts and brogans(those popular camel-colored boots). In recent years the brogans of choice at work are ankle-high Timberland, Eastland and etc…still worn with shorts.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 26, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Jim-Do you remember when a certain Mr. Willis shot and killed Billy McHan claiming he thought he was a ground hog? Every time I see a groundhog I think about that incident. I’m sure I couldn’t eat one no matter how highly recommended they are. Billy was born in 1943 so he would have been near your age. Did you know him?

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    October 26, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Tipper, I wrote the following a few years ago in a piece called “Conversations”:
    Jake, “Ah swear they is wantin’ ta buy somethin’ ever day. Ah tells ya, the reason men is pore is cause a women. Shoes, youda thank that one pair would be ‘nough. Theys all the time lookin at shoes. Ah been wearin’ this same pair a brogans fer leben years. Theys still good. Got to git heels and haf soles purty soon.”
    Hank, “That’s whats wrong wit yer foot. Probly them old shoes. You didn’t even buy em. Ya found em long side tha road. They done wrecked yer feet. And stink! When you take yer shoes off, ever body in Fasyth county holds they nose.”
    Jake, “’Nother set a heels and haf soles they’ll be like new. They’s got a lot a years left in ‘em. Iffen they’s tha cause a my heel hurtin’, how come it jist now started. Ah’s been wearin’ ‘em for nigh on leben years an they ain’t never hurt ‘cept fer a little right after Ah found ‘em. Had to git ‘em broke in. An my feet don’t smell no worse than yorn. You took yer shoe off at tha ‘bakker barn tother day an squirrels was passin’ out and fallen out the trees “
    Hank, “If that’s so, then you could a had a squirrel stew fer supper.”
    Jake, “Smell was so bad that it ruint tha meat.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    October 26, 2012 at 11:45 am

    My daddy had a “shoe last,” and he often put new soles (from cured leather) on brogans–his own and neighbors’ shoes. Mainly the men wore brogans in Choestoe. They were tough shoes undergoing rough wear, especially as newgrounds were cleared and all the other heavy work of a mountain farm. Come to think of it, Daddy was a sort of “jack of all trades.” He mended shoes for people, cut hair (the community barber), had a blacksmith shop where he sharpened farm tools for neighbors, and at the same time found time to work his own farm! I guess the old brogans kept him trekking on!

  • Reply
    October 26, 2012 at 11:27 am

    Heard it all my time in West Tennessee but not here in Middle Tn. Mostly called work boots here.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2012 at 11:22 am

    I don’t think “brogan” made it up this far north. I have never used it or heard it, though I have read it in books.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 26, 2012 at 10:45 am

    Tipper (and Miss Cindy)–It would be a mistake to dismiss groundhogs as a culinary delight. Properly prepared, they are scrumptious. They eat a vegetarian diet, invariably have enough fat to cook up nice and tender, and taste mighty fine. Like much wild game, it’s all about cleaning, preparation, and cooking. I’ve eaten everything from cougar backstrap (looks like pork tenderloin) to muskrat, rattlesnake to armadillo. I’ll pass on ‘possum, thank ye kindly, because I’ve seen them dining in places which destroys the appetite of even the greediest got.
    As for groundhog, it’s at least as good as venison (of course, lots of folks won’t touch deer meat, but two of the best-selling books I’ve ever done were venison cookbooks). I guess it’s mainly a matter of perspective and experience.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    John R
    October 26, 2012 at 10:08 am

    My Granny called boots clodhoppers which you wore with your hogwashers (overalls).

  • Reply
    Sharon Schuster
    October 26, 2012 at 10:00 am

    Daddy (from NC) always called boots (and sometimes shoes in general) ‘brogans’ for as long as I can remember. Every fall, after deer hunting, he would apply a layer of deer tallow to make them waterproof.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    October 26, 2012 at 9:44 am

    I’ve never heard of brogans. I only wear loafers and wingtips. I am as picky about my shoes as I am my automobiles. I always inquire about all the previous owners.

  • Reply
    Ron Bennett
    October 26, 2012 at 9:22 am

    Good ones are still made .I purchased a pair last week wolverine 1000 boots . They are costly but will last a lifetime

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    October 26, 2012 at 9:18 am

    Grew up wearing ’em. Sorry to see that now the old simple designs are not available. What passes for brogans now have a lot of stuff inherited from tennis or running shoes and set you back about $150 a pair.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2012 at 9:12 am

    When I was growing up, us country kids wore brogans, city kids wore shoes. Similar to Big Smith vs. Levis. To this day, I will not wear Levis.

  • Reply
    October 26, 2012 at 8:37 am

    I wouldn’t be caught without mine for the garden and the woods. They came from the farm supply. While we were building the shop/barn 2 years ago I thought they were going to wear me out first, but I love them now and wish that I had bought 2 pairs so that the back-ups would be broken in too. I guess that I am an official mountain woman now. Flip flops to brogans is the program here! :)Wonder how you could get a pair of those shoestrings of Uncle Wes Underwood’s.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    October 26, 2012 at 8:31 am

    I wear boots when the weather requires them. I am a sneaker person. I haven’t heard the use of brogans, but I am going to see a friend this weekend who is a native here in the foothills, and I will ask him. I’m still learning. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    October 26, 2012 at 8:13 am

    As I was growing up one sign that it was time for school to start back after the the summer break was a trip to the basement of Belks in Bryson City for a couple of shirts, a couple of pairs or Overhauls and a pair of Red Camel Brogans. Each of these were expected to last for the duration of that school year.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    October 26, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Haven’t heard that in a long, long time. My mother called boots and any heavy shoe a brogan. Tipper, you do have a way of bringing up old memories.
    I’ve never heard of tanning groundhog skin, but that sure would fit in with making use of everything. I love Uncle Wes Underwood’s expression …wore like a pig’s nose. I spect that means they were tough and lasted a long time.
    Tipper, don’t tell it but I used to go groundhog hunting with the Deer Hunter’s dad. We’d usually give them to someone who would cook and eat them. You know Papaw’s famous weak stomach. There was no cooking and eating a groundhog around him. Of course truth to tell I wasn’t very interested in eating it either.
    Papaw hunted so much when we married but he was a picky eater. I told him I’d cook anything he killed and cleaned but he’d better eat it once it was cooked. He didn’t bring much in besides deer. lol

  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    October 26, 2012 at 7:54 am

    When I went to the two room school, I first heard the term brogans, most of the boys wore them, along with bib ‘overhauls’. After school, they all had work to do and mostly no time to change clothes.
    The girls wore oxfords, and some of them brought socks to darh at recess.
    That of course was 50 some years ago. Times have surely changed!

  • Reply
    Hardy Soles
    October 26, 2012 at 7:42 am

    Course I wear brogans. I call them brogans too. But they have other names depending on my mood and the reason I am having to put them on, they might be clodhoppers, [email protected]*tkickers, snakestompers, etc. I even have a pair of steal toad brogans for work.
    I find the best brogans for general use are smooth or have minimal tread on the bottom. Those with the heavy lugs are heck to clean when you step in something.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    October 26, 2012 at 7:33 am

    Tipper–I’ve always thought of brogans as being sort of semi-boots that were ankle high rather than true boots. My most vivid image of brogans, and at least a few of the folks who visit here regularly will have seen the same sight, was an old-timer in Bryson City by the name of Al Dorsey wearing brogans. Al, whom I’ve mentioned here before, had spent some years in the state pen for shooting and killing a man, but when I knew him he was a harmless and exceptionally dirty fellow who idled away the days by fishing in the Tuckasegee River. He wore brogans without socks, and since he was pretty much a stranger to soap and water, his exposed upper ankles and lower legs carried a visible crust. Mention brogans and that’s what comes to mind for me.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Uncle Wes Underwood
    October 26, 2012 at 7:18 am

    When I was growing up, all the country kids wore brogans…plain toed, smooth soled, rough brown leather. It took a couple of months to break them in, the leather was that stiff and thick. The best thing about them was that they were cheap, and the brown cotton shoelaces usually broke within a short time. We replaced those with laces made from a tanned groundhog skin, and they wore like a pig’s nose.
    The brogans originally had no left or right shoes, they were made straight and could be worn on either foot, but that was before my time.

  • Reply
    Tim Mc
    October 26, 2012 at 7:03 am

    Yep, every morning.. for the past 25yrs,but mine have steel toe in them, I hate that…especially in cold weather.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    October 26, 2012 at 6:34 am

    My grampa used to call his boots brogans too. I think his family originated in England.

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