Category Archives: Books

Jesse James and the bawdy bootjack

I am currently reading The assassination of Jesse James by the coward Robert Ford and on page 144 of the paperback edition the following passage grabbed my attention:

Jesse ripped off the paper and the box flap and with childish astonishment withdrew a black, ironworked model of a salacious naked woman, her arms crossed beneath her head, her legs lewdly cloven and lifted.”It’s a bawdy bootjack,” Bob said.
“I wished I owned one a thousand times.”

“Well. Now you do.”

Jesse stroked the woman’s round breasts with his thumb and blushed as he smiled. “I love Christmas.”

“I can see that.”

He imitated shame. “But I don’t have anything for you! I never dreamed-”

“Your friendship is plenty.”

Charley slunk in from the kitchen and then warily approached Jesse to examine the articulation of the ironwork. He asked his brother, “What is it?”

“It’s a bawdy bootjack,” he said.

“It’s something I’ll cherish always,” said Jesse.

“Then we both have something to cherish,” said Bob.

I understand what “bawdy” means and I know what a “bootjack” is, yet the association of both words stroke me as funny and funny it was because a Google search turned up nothing. After doing a little research, a friend of mine, James, pointed me in the direction of Naughty Nellie and although the item seemed to perfectly match the description from the book there was only one problem, she wasn’t naked.

Now call me crazy, but I was really obsessing on the problem and decided to email the author Ron Hansen:

This might come out of left field but on page 144 of the paperback edition of “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” you are referring to a bawdy bootjack and how Jesse wished he “owned one a thousand times”

Your description looks very similar to a Naughty Nellie so my question is this, and I know it might seem a little strange and I feel weird asking but do you mean a bootjack that’s like a Naughty Nellie but actually naked or is it one of those iron cast Naughty Nellie without paint that could possibly pass as naked?

A day later I received the following:

Dear Vince,

I saw it in a museum ages ago. An iron, naked, female figurine with her legs spread and painted black that was used to grip the heels of boots and was in fact called by the museum a “bawdy bootjack.” Naughty Nellie sounds like a variation on same.

Good reading!

Ron Hansen

Now, I’ve been doing some further research and a little bit of thinking. Naughty Nellie was extremely popular throughout the 19 century and I was even able to find a photo of a nude version on an auction site:

Which leads me to believe that one, the expression “bawdy bootjack” was “made up” by the museum Ron Hansen visited and two that it was indeed a naked version of Naughty Nellie.If you stumbled on this post, the odds are you’ve been reading The Assassination of Jesse James and were wondering the same thing. Then I don’t feel so crazy.