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MODEL 1844 RINGGOLD DRAGOON SADDLE – AN EXCELLENT SPECIMEN OF AN EXTREMELY RARE EARLY 19TH CENTURY US ARMY SADDLE:  Major of Artillery Samuel Ringgold, US Army, was granted Patent No. 3779 on October 7, 1844 for his saddle design which was the first major departure from the European style suspended seat saddles used by the US Army since the post American Revolution era.  Ringgold intended that his new saddle be issued to the dragoons, artillery, and as a pack saddle (probably minus the quilted seat featured on the riding saddles).   


To place this Model 1844 Ringgold Saddle in historical context, in all likelihood this is the saddle ridden by the 1ST Regiment of U.S. Dragoons when they accompanied General Phillip Kearny’s expedition to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1846.  In fact, the Ringgold was the U.S. Army saddle on the pre-Mexican War Western Frontier, and no doubt, any surviving stocks of this saddle continued to be issued and used to destruction through the Mexican War and possibly in the years after, especially on the frontier, explaining why so few survive today. 

According to surviving records, 261 of Major Ringgold’s saddle were field tested in 1841, well before his patent was granted.  Maj. Ringgold was killed during the Mexican War, and an accounting, provided to his heirs showing the number of his saddles which were produced for the army, recorded that a total of 1,147 Model 1844 Ringgold Saddles were produced by three private saddle makers – the firms of John Fairbairn and Magee Tabor & Co, both of Philadelphia, and Isaac Young (location unknown).  Even though the patent was granted in 1844, the limited production information indicates that less than 500 Ringgold Saddles were made for the army after 1844. 

There are no known surviving specimens of the early US Army saddles which predate the 1830’s.  Only one Model 1833 Dragoon Saddle is known to exist – held in the Ft. Riley Museum – and there are no known surviving examples of the Model 1841 Dragoon Saddle.  The Model 1844 Ringgold Dragoon Saddle is the first of this lineage which survives in any number, and while there are known examples, those held in private hands - in any condition - are so few as to be beyond rare.  By means of an informal accounting based on known museum holdings, recorded sales over the last 40 years, and reports from private collections, it is generally believed that there exist fewer than a dozen Ringgold saddles, and far less than half of that number are in private hands.  As is to be expected, with a few notable exceptions such as this particular saddle, the majority of the surviving examples present with a varying degrees of condition issues from minor to severe wear, damage or deterioration. 

One final note on the fate of surviving Dragoon Saddles is worth telling here, if for no other reason that it be recorded somewhere.  Just prior to the condemnation of Bannerman’s Island by the State of New York, a small group of collectors had arranged to have access to the island and castle to do some last minute scrounging.  They found that the top floor of the tower had been used to store the “less desirable” saddles which in the early 20TH Century market were slow sellers, and they had been exposed to the elements for years due to a collapsed roof.  It was on this top floor the collectors found stacks of Ringgold and Grimsley Dragoon saddles, however time, Mother Nature and the resident crows and buzzards had combined to affect the perfect tragedy – these valuable relics had been rendered into so much historic wreckage.  The collectors had limited time and resources to glean what they could from the island, so that they chose to leave the Dragoon Saddles behind is understandable, but a shame nonetheless.  Given that same opportunity today, knowing how rare these saddles are, and how much they are appreciated and valued by today’s collectors, it would be worth the almost Herculean effort required to remove all of those saddles, regardless of their individual condition, and using the components that could be salvaged from each saddle, restore as many of them as possible.  In fairness - as we all know, hindsight is always 20-20 and only time reveals the significance of a lost opportunity.  

As documented on page 16 of The American Military Saddle, 1776-1945 (AMS), there were apparently at least three different styles of Ringgold Saddles produced during its short service life, each differing slightly in the pattern of stitching of the ribbed seats and in the size and shape of the skirts.  These differences may have resulted from improvements recommended after field testing or may have been nothing more than dissimilar renderings by the saddlers who produced the saddles.  The specimen offered here is of the style believed to incorporate some of the later design features such as the style of the ribbed seat, and the shape and size of the skirts.   

This Model 1844 Ringgold Dragoon Saddle presents in remarkably spectacular condition.  It is quite possibly the finest example of this saddle that exists in private hands, and is certainly the equal of any example held in any museum collection.  Obtained from an old estate where it was protected from the effects of age and the elements, this saddle is complete with all of the black leather components which are all in excellent condition with no breaks or tears, are still supple with no weak points, and generally retain a bright shiny surface.     

Probably the feature of this saddle most susceptible to aging, wear or damage, the ribbed or quilted seat presents in amazingly beautiful condition.  This seat is in as fine a condition as any I have seen, if not considerably better.  The surface of the soft, pliable leather still retains a bright shiny surface, has no significant wear, and it retains the original even black color which shows no fading or discoloration.  All of the seams are complete with no splits or separations, and all of the leather binding along the side edges is intact. The only evidence of aging present on the seat area are two small (1/4” in diameter) points of wear on the thin leather that covers the crests of the pommel and cantle above the quilted seat, and there is some wear around the large iron nail heads which anchor the quilted seat to the tree.   The top edges of the pommel and cantle are covered with the original brass moulding, which has retained its smooth contours with no significant dents and no misshaping.  The brass slot mortise plates – one each on the pommel and cantle – are present, in full form and are solidly attached.   

Ringgold was certainly aware of, and sensitive to, the need for a sturdy saddle for use on the ever expanding frontier, particularly as the frontier moved further and further from Ordnance depots where repairs could be affected and replacement equipment obtained.  To that end, this saddle incorporated horse shoe-shaped iron plates screwed into the faces of the pommel and cantle which reinforced the mortise joints of the wooden tree.  All of these plates are intact and are still solidly attached, and after all these years the tree is just as solid as the day it was assembled.  The exposed wood of the pommel and cantle faces has a pleasing aged patina with no cracks, splits or other damage.     

All of the equipment rings and staples are present and in full form.  Equipped with far more of these attachment points than would be seen on later US military saddles, Ringgold included each one with a specific requirement in mind.  Of the four rings on the rear extensions of the side bars, two were for attaching the straps of the crupper and the two horseshoe pouches issued to each trooper, and the other two for hanging the nose bag and forage cord (lariat) respectively.  Of the three rings on the front extensions of the side bars, two were for attaching the breast strap and the third on the right side was for attaching the carbine socket.  The two staples on the rear face of the cantle were for attaching the valise and the two on the face of the pommel were for mounting the dragoon’s rolled overcoat and as anchor points for his pommel holsters.   

All of the iron reinforcement plates and the equipment staples and rings show some degree of corrosion as is expected, but all of them are intact with no loss of form nor are they showing any weakness.   

Ringgold’s innovative design extended to the inclusion of double skirts on each side of the saddle – the inner skirt which protected the horse’s side from the girth buckles, and the larger outer skirts which protected the dragoon’s leg from wear and soiling.  Both sets of skirts are full form with no tearing or separation.  The exposed  surface of the outer skirts show some wear from the swinging motion of the stirrup straps and some minor crazing, but they are otherwise very solid and retain an attractive appearance.  There are two small straps sewn to the outer skirts, parallel to the side bars and positioned just below the stirrup strap hanging point.  The stirrup straps were intended to pass under these small straps to keep the stirrup straps from hanging out of position.  Both straps are present – unusual as this is the sort of feature that is easily lost through time – one strap is still sewn securely on each end.  The other strap is still attached with the original stitching on one end, while the other line of stitching has separated along the line of stitch holes.  The full form of that strap is still present and could be secured, but I will leave that decision to the new owner.    

The two proper girth straps are present on each side, attached to the tree between the outer and inner skirts.  All four straps are full form with all the attachment holes intact and all four straps appear to be full length.   

The seat area underneath the quilted leather seat, and between the side bars of the tree, is spanned with a piece of tightly stretched webbing cloth.  This webbing, shown in the photographs below, is in absolutely “like new” condition.  Given that it was consistently exposed to the heat and sweat of the horse, it is truly remarkable that this feature has survived as clean and as intact as it has.   

There are many details regarding how the Model 1844 Ringgold Saddle was dressed out which have not survived the passage of time, and the few surviving examples of the saddle did not retain the auxiliary pieces such as stirrup straps, stirrups, girths or surcingles, leaving modern researchers and collectors to glean bits and pieces of information from documents of that period.  Randy Stephen cites “records of returns” (the paper abstracts used by the Ordnance Department and the units to account for issues of equipment) for the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen who reported that the stirrups in use with the Ringgold Saddle were made of brass.  It is documented that the Model 1833 Dragoon Saddle was fitted with brass stirrups, and the Ordnance Board of 1847 simply identified the stirrup to be issued with the newly adopted Model 1847 Grimsley Dragoon Saddle as “Brass, and of the same pattern as those furnished the 1ST Dragoons in 1834”.  The army was always concerned about cost of new equipment, and as it had retained the Model 1833 Stirrup with the subsequent Model 1847 Grimsley Saddle, it makes perfect sense that the brass stirrup reported used on the Ringgold Saddle was also the Model 1833 Stirrup.     

This matched pair of original Model 1833 Dragoon Stirrups is identical to the stirrup recovered at Ft. Union, an early Dragoon Era site, which is pictured on page 267 of AMS.   As noted in the description of the excavated stirrup, this pair also features the unique scroll pattern stippling on the tread, which suggests these stirrups so marked were manufactured in the early Dragoon period when the production was limited and the makers had time for this sort of decorative embellishment.  In contrast, the similarly designed Model 1863 Artillery Stirrups, produced during the more industrialized and frantic environment of the Civil War, featured the heavier and coarser applied chisel cuts used to roughen the treads. 

Having seen one other pair of these Model 1833 Dragoon Stirrups with the same stippling since the publication of the book, I have come to the conclusion that the stippling pattern was a standard feature of this particular stirrup and was likely unique to the work of one particular, and yet unknown, foundry. 

No doubt the correct stirrups for this saddle, this is definitely a matched pair, having the identical shape and same degree of patina, and they show little if any wear, being in “like new” condition with no damage or defects.  These solid brass stirrups feature slotted treads which provided for a firm positive rest for the soldier’s boot, even when wet or muddy.  The stirrup strap loop on these stirrups measures 1.35”, the correct width to accommodate the 1 ¼” stirrup straps used on all the Dragoon saddles from 1833 through 1847.  The stirrups stand 6 ¼” tall, are 5 ½” wide and the treads are 1 ¾” deep.   

The stirrups depend from a pair of stirrup straps which were recreated following the detailed description found in the 1841 Ordnance Manual of the stirrup strap used on the Model 1841 Dragoon Saddle.  The straps were fashioned using the proper original tin plated iron roller buckles which are correct for these early stirrup straps, and the leather was aged in order that it matches the condition of the balance of the saddle. 

Ridden to Santa Fe and then on to San Diego with Kearny, to Chapultepec with Scott, and on untold miles of frontier exploration and patrols, the Model 1844 Ringgold Dragoon Saddle carried the Dragoons, the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen, and the Artillerymen through the pages of history which recorded one of the most notable periods of American expansionism.  It proved to be one of the most sturdy and innovative saddle designs to date, and it introduced a number of features which would endure long after its time had passed.   

As stated above, this is an exceptional specimen of the rarest of all of the attainable US Army saddles, and one which would be THE key addition to any United States cavalry display – whether in a private or public collection.  This is likely the only opportunity you will have to acquire such a fine example of this saddle.   SOLD



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