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MODEL 1885 2ND PATTERN McCLELLAN CAVALRY SADDLE – EXCELLENT AND VERY DESIRABLE INDIAN WAR SPECIMEN:  This is an excellent example of the very desirable and comparatively scarce Indian Wars era Model 1885 Second Pattern McClellan Saddle.  Well documented in Ordnance Memoranda No. 29, and one of the most familiar of the series of McClellan Saddles issued during the Western Indian Wars period, the Second Pattern Model 1885 McClellan is closely associated with the historic Apache campaigns in the American Southwest.   

Manufactured at the Rock Island Arsenal for a relatively short period of time, these Model 1885 McClellans saw extensive service on the frontier and eventually in the Spanish American War, and both conflicts accounted for a high rate of consumption with few decent specimens surviving to enter the surplus and eventual collector’s market.  This specimen, although showing the expected evidence of use, has survived in excellent condition.    

The seat is very solid, featuring smooth, bright shiny leather overall, with only minor flexing and isolated crazing to the surfaces.  So many of these Indian War era saddles are found in states of extreme wear with open seams and worn or broken edges.  All of the seams on this saddle are intact throughout with clean smooth edges, save for a very minor chip out of the trailing edge of the right rear side bar on the underside of the saddle – something that would not be apparent when the saddle is on display.  There are the traces of some numerals stamped into the upper surface of the left side bar behind the cantle, likely unit applied inventory numbers. 

The quarterstraps are all intact and unbroken, connecting at the full form safes on both sides and both safes are complete with the girthing straps.  The near side (left) quarterstraps have been reinforced where they wrap around the girthing ring - well executed saddler work which was done during the period of use.   This unit saddler work is further evidence of this saddle’s use on the frontier.  Both of the original girthing safes are full form and consistent with the use and wear of the saddle.  The near side safe still bears legible portions of the Rock Island Arsenal stamp – that this stamp survives is a distinct added value.  Typically, only one safe and one side of one stirrup were stamped with the arsenal’s identification during the manufacturing process, and it did not take much wear or time in the field for these stamps to fade away completely.   

All of the brass hardware to include the coat strap mortise plates, foot loops, staples and rings are present and intact.   It is noteworthy that the brass rings on the front of the off side sidebar and on the near side cantle foot loop both show the characteristic elongating where they were pulled out of round by the suspension of the heavy equipment carried by the soldiers – testimony of this saddle’s use on campaign.   

The stirrups are both full form, have complete solid leather hoods with bright shiny, smooth surfaces, and full form unbroken wooden frames.  The stirrups show some wear, as all true Model 1885 Stirrups do, but one still retains a legible trace of the “ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL” stamp.  The "US" in the oval is stamped on face of both of the hoods, however both are very faint and for the most part only the oval border is discernable.  Both stirrups bear the traces of unit applied inventory numbers along the front center lower edge of the hoods.  More importantly, these stirrups are a matched pair, have been together forever, and, for all appearances, they are original to this saddle.  The stirrup straps are full length originals with the correct iron buckles, with no weak points and retaining a very nice finish.   

Of particularly valuable note, this saddle still retains all six, original full length coat straps, each held in place with the original riveted leather stop on each strap that captures the strap in the slots or foot loops to keep them from being removed.  This feature alone sets this saddle apart from most surviving examples, as these coat straps were subject to wear and tear, and to being lost, and original replacements are almost impossible to find on the loose.   

Completing this saddle is a correct Model 1885 McClellan Saddle Girth.  In very good condition, this girth shows minimal use, with full form leather safes, all the stitching intact, and all of the main twisted horsehair strands fully intact and showing minimal wear.  There is some separation to the smaller cross woven stabilizing horsehair strands which kept the main strands from tangling, but this does not affect the integrity of the girth.  This is common evidence of wear and apparently in this limited extent did not disqualify the girth for continued service, otherwise this girth would have been condemned and the parts would have been salvaged out by the unit saddler.  These Indian Wars production girths, like any of the early pattern equipment, were subject to the longest exposure to use, wear and tear, and poor storage, and they are quite scarce.  This girth is a definite added value to this saddle. 

While considering this saddle, it is worth keeping in mind examples of Indian War era saddles are quite scarce in any condition.  The combination of the relatively short periods of manufacture, the limited quantities of saddles originally produced, the severe terrain and conditions to which they were exposed during their service life, subsequent modifications at the hands of company level saddlers, arsenal employees, and later civilian owners, and finally the poor conditions in which they were stored after the relatively few survivors passed into the surplus market all contributed to a very low survival rate and very limited numbers in the collector market today.  To find an example of a Model 1885 Saddle in any condition is worthy of note.  That this saddle has survived in the condition that it has – complete with all six coat straps and the correct girth - is nothing shy of remarkable and without doubt, it is a rare offering – one that is seldom encountered.    

As the final saddle of the Western Indian Wars, the Model 1885 McClellan Saddles have an air of historical magic all their own, and are still one of the most sought after pieces of cavalry equipment by serious Indian War collectors.  Overall this is an excellent and complete specimen of the Second Pattern Model 1885 McClellan Saddle, one that is difficult to find available on the market, and seldom found in even the most advanced Indian War collections. It is unlikely that you would ever have the opportunity to upgrade this one. (0204) $7500 

 

 
 
 
 

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