In the final Made in South Dakota series this May, KSFY news reporter Bridget Bennett is featuring a locally made product with a long history out west.
Wolsey is home to one of the last full-time leather goods producers in our region.
“As a boot maker I can make quite a few mistakes, but if the leathers very good, it makes up for it, it makes all the difference,” said owner Mark Schumacher.
Schumacher has been making boots, saddles and other leather goods for the past 27 years.
“I learned how to build the boots from another boot maker, and older feller from out in Utah. Then basically after that it was the school of hard knocks, you keep doing it till you perfect it,” said Schumacher.
It’s quite the process to perfect.
“There's over 290 hand operations in building a pair of boots...I've never really sat down and counted them, but there's a lot of hand work involved,” said Schumacher.
It may be one reason why the craft has died down over the years.
“It’s hard to find right now; most of your footwear is made in China anymore. About 95% of your footwear is made in China, hard to find an American made boot anymore, let alone one made in South Dakota,” said Schumacher.
That’s why word of his handicraft has spread far and wide.
“Its one of the few places left in the country...its hard to find someone to repair these things, so you get asked all the time where you got the saddle, or where you got the boots,” said long time customer Bill Hupp.
“We've got boots and saddles everywhere from California back to New York and Vermont and on into Canada and down into Texas,” said Schumacher.
Once they’re a customer, they generally keep coming back for life.
“You can't beat them, my feet are real narrow and I've got different sizes so they're the only boots I've ever found that fit and they just last forever and he can repair anything. I have stuff he built 15, 20 years ago and it’s still good, we’re still using it today,” said Hupp.
All of Schumacher’s work is built to suit.
“We start out with a last and we build from there....you can see on this last here, we built this up a bit. That's because this feller's foot is a little bit wider than the other foot,” said Schumacher.
“A lot of the stuff Mark builds, is just one of a kind, no one else has probably got one because he never builds two things the same way each time. Mark will always put a little bit extra design on it; he'll put my brand on it,” said Hupp.
Schumacher is working to pass on his unique skill to future generations.
“I teach a few people every now and then, I've got a kid over in De Smet who came over and learned how to build boots from me,” said Schumacher.
“I'm a kind of a history freak, I like history and I think this has to do with a lot of the old west,” said Alison Brakke, one of Schumacher’s pupils.
But some of his craftsmanship is not easy to duplicate.
“We've acquired four more of his saddles, there the best I've ever seen or used,” said Hupp.
Schumacher says part of his secret to success is his tried and true equipment.
“That one there the patents on it are 1915, so it’s right at 100 years old,” said Schumacher of one of his sewing machines.
While his craft may be antiquated, there are plenty of people who appreciate this South Dakota made product.
“Right now I've got about 35 pair of boots on order. It takes me about 20 to 30 man hours to build a pair of them, so I stay pretty busy,” said Schumacher.
Several South Dakota politicians have been big fans of Schumacher’s work. He’s built boots for former Governors Mickelson and Rounds. His work is also very well known in rodeo circuits throughout the Midwest.