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19TH CENTURY AMERICAN SADDLER MADE “SPANISH SADDLE” OF THE TYPE USED ca. CIVIL WAR AND ON THE EARLY WESTERN FRONTIER – HIGH GRADE EXAMPLE IN VERY GOOD CONDITION:  This 19TH Century “Spanish Saddle” has survived in very nice condition, and is a striking example of the saddle maker’s art.  This was an enduring style, having emerged in the lower Missouri River region during the 1840’s in the saddle shops of St. Louis, St. Joseph, and Independence, Missouri – the trail heads and supply depots of the early western exploration and expansion.  The style spread in popularity down the Mississippi and up the western trade routes and was dubbed the “Spanish Saddle” by those Missouri makers in recognition of many of the features which had been adopted from saddles that originated from California, the Santa Fe trade route, and the interior of Mexico.  These “Hybrid” saddles incorporated the horn and general style of the Mexican influenced saddles, coupled with the quilted seats and hair stuffed pads of the saddles in use along the Eastern seaboard.   

Popular with the early frontiersmen, expansion era settlers and more than a few army officers, these saddles retained this unique pattern through the years, seeing considerable use during both the Mexican War and the Civil War, and continuing to be offered with little change well into the last half of the 19th Century, being offered in the DeCamp Levoy, & Co. 1876 catalog and the McConnell 1893 catalog.  

An oral history accompanied this saddle when first acquired from the original family, which identified this saddle as one owned by a Southern ancestor who had ridden the saddle during the Civil War.  The family legend related that the ancestor carried messages and information secreted in the stuffed under pads of the saddle.  Unfortunately, no other information such as the identity of the family, the ancestor, or his Civil War record of service has survived with the saddle.   

As a point of fact, saddles of this style were indeed used by soldiers, and in the case of saddles decorated to the degree seen on this specimen, by officers of some financial means, during the Civil War on both sides of the conflict.  The saddles were particularly evident among those soldiers and officers who had served in the West, originated in the Trans-Mississippi region, or joined the war from Texas.   

This saddle features a fully covered black leather seat quilted in the acanthus leaf pattern which has been noted on many officer saddles popular in the antebellum era and during the Civil War.  The seat is in excellent condition with no tears and no open seams.  Surviving examples of saddles showing this degree of stitched decoration are fairly rare – particularly in this excellent condition.  The very nature of decorative stitching created lines of closely spaced perforations which weakened the leather, and as the leather aged and was subjected to hard use, these lines of stitching facilitated the deterioration and tearing of the seats, and eventually the saddles either required recovering – most likely with a much plainer seat - or they were discarded.  Finding a saddle with a seat decorated in this manner which has survived in such remarkable condition is quite notable, and equally unusual.  

Across the rear crest of the seat is a padded cantle roll covered in black enameled leather.  Accenting the roll is a narrow roll of red enameled leather set into the top seam of the cantle, and another strip of scalloped edged red enameled leather is set into the seam between the quilted seat and the cantle roll.  These embellishments all added to the cost of the saddle, and they suggest the original owner was a man of some means.  The use of red leather may also suggest the owner was in a military organization.  While the color red is readily associated with the artillery, in the mid-19Th Century, the use of red leather and red leather trim on horse equipment and furniture seems to have been popular with senior officers regardless of their branch of service, as seen in Gen. J. L. Donaldson’s red leather saddle in the Ft. Sill Museum collection (pages 9-10, The American Military Saddle, 1776-1945).  The use of red leather trim has also been noted on 19TH Century bridles, martingales, breast straps, saddlebags, saddle cloths, and pommel holsters.   

In addition to the high quality quilted and decorated seat, and in eye catching contrast to the seat’s black leather, the brown leather pommel panels, side jockeys, cantle shelf coverings, and skirts are decorated with an attractive pattern of tooling and stamping, all of which is still bold with clear distinct edges, and the leather surfaces retain a bright shiny finish.  The rear edge of both skirts has suffered some wear and loss of leather – almost to an identical degree on both skirts as if something heavy was carried across the back of the saddle and hung down to the same level on both sides.  The only explanation that makes sense is that the man who rode this saddle regularly carried the same set of fairly large and heavy saddlebags, and that over a considerable amount of time, and miles, the forward edge of the bags chaffed against the rear edge of the skirts.  This sort of constant wear suggests the man was traveling away from his home for extended periods where saddlebags would be necessary to carry his personal effects and supplies.  Such use of the saddlebags and the obvious weight they carried is consistent with a soldier, frontiersman, or explorer.   

The saddle is decorated with conchos bearing a filigreed pattern and are finished with what was once a bright silver plating, now tarnished and showing some wear.  The one concho on the pommel holds an equipment ring, likely for a reatta.   There are also two equipment rings – on the rear extension of the cantle, another feature that suggests this saddle was used by someone requiring anchor points for accessories necessary to sustain life away from home.  

Under the tooled skirts are integral quilted pads, constructed like a pillow with a single ply of light weight russet leather backed with light weight cotton canvas.  Each pad is stuffed with animal hair and then quilted with large basting stitches to keep the stuffing evenly in place.  This style of quilted pad dates from at least the early 19TH Century, and it continued well into the Civil War years – especially on officers’ private purchase saddles.  The use of this cloth covering on the underside of the saddle is a characteristic consistent in saddles associated with the Confederacy due to the shortage of leather during the war, and a very similar padding arrangement can be seen on the Confederate General Officer’s Saddle pictured on page 71 of The American Military Saddle, 1776-1945.  The pads both show evidence of use and wear, but they still retain their form and padding.  Most notably on the off-side pad there are limited sections of leather that were worn away and these missing sections have been replaced with matching leather in order to restore the integrity of the pad.  This restoration is not visible when the saddle is on display and in no way detracts from the saddle.   

Original stirrup straps, fitted with iron roller buckles, are present and from them depend iron stirrups which are of a pattern in use from the early 19TH Century, and are very appropriate for this saddle.   

The original girth is present and was attached to the saddle at the time it was acquired.  The girth body is fashioned from a narrow strap of natural colored corded cotton webbing which is fitted with iron roller buckles on each end that are attached with leather chapes.  Girths made of this corded cotton webbing are known to have been used during the Civil War, particularly by the Confederacy, and it is very likely this material was in use prior to, and well after, the war as well.  This girth is certainly consistent with the saddle’s period of use.   

Overall, this “Spanish” Saddle is one of the most attractive specimens I have ever seen available on the market.  As noted above, if subjected to extended use and poor storage, these saddles simply did not survive in this high condition.  This saddle presents very well and would be a dramatic addition to any collection.  (0902)  $1850

 

 
 
 
 
 

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