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AN 1880’s JOHN H. LIVINGSTON STOCK SADDLE - SADDLE MAKER IN FORT SMITH, ARKANSAS – A VERY SCARCE EXAMPLE OF LIVINGSTON’S SADDLES IN EXCELLENT CONDITION:  This is a scarce example of  an 1880’s Stock Saddle made by John H. Livingston who maintained a saddle making business in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  Very well made and having survived in excellent condition, this saddle is an attractive example of the saddle maker’s art available on the 1880’s frontier, and representative of the true stock saddles ridden throughout the Western Frontier.  This saddle still retains four maker’s cartouches reading, “J.H. LIVINGSTON – MAKER – FT. SMITH ARK”. 


Ft. Smith is situated at the confluence of the Arkansas and Poteau Rivers on the western border of Arkansas where it abuts Oklahoma.  From its earliest days it was recognized as a well situated settlement which through the years served as a military post, a trading center for the western fur trade, and a natural jumping off point for the immigrants who followed the Western Expansion.  This type of activity certainly included people who required a saddle, so it is no surprise Livingston established his saddle shop in Ft. Smith.  

One of the city’s most famous historic associations grew from the U.S. District Court convened there and that court’s most famous jurist – perhaps the most famous legal personality of the post Civil War West – none other than Judge Isaac Parker.  Located just across the river from the violent lawless “Indian Territories” - what would later become the state of Oklahoma - Ft. Smith and Judge Parker’s term in the Federal Court wrote an interesting chapter in the history of the American Frontier.  Parker served on the bench from 1875 to 1896 – the period in which this saddle was made, quite possibly just down the street from the courthouse, and there is little doubt that Livingston witnessed many of the hangings ordered by Parker, and in turn benefited from the business that was attracted to the town by those events.   

Born in 1865, John W. H. Livingston was in the saddle making business in Ft. Smith by 1883, evidenced by an advertisement in the September 21, 1883 edition of the Ft. Smith Elevator Newspaper, “Saddlery hardware at wholesale or retail – Call on J. H. Livingston”.  At this time, very little is known about Livingston’s business history.  William J. Murphy arrived in Ft. Smith in 1885 and formed a short-lived partnership with Livingston, which ended when Livingston sold his share of the business, presumably to Murphy.  After considerable searching, I was able to find only one other surviving Livingston made saddle.  Despite his young age, the quality of work exhibited on this saddle indicates he was an accomplished maker and produced a solid, durable, well finished saddle, and based on this specimen one would be led to believe his work was in demand.  It is easy to imagine that at least some of the U.S. Marshals employed by Judge Parker’s court rode Livingston’s saddles, and more than a few cattlemen and immigrants rode his saddles into the western frontier.     

This saddle bears four maker’s cartouches - “J.H. LIVINGSTON – MAKER – FT. SMITH ARK”.  One on each of the short jockeys behind the cantle, just above the silver metal conchos, and one in the center of each of the sweat leathers (fenders).  So marked, its apparent that Livingston was rightfully proud of his work. 

This saddle includes features that identify it as having been made during the period of transition as saddle makers began to incorporate design advancements which developed into stock saddle of the 1880’s. 

This saddle retains the half seat, however the horn and slick fork pommel are fully covered with finished leather rather than the exposed rawhide of earlier saddles.  Likewise, the horn has a short profile with the “button-top” cap, considerably shorter than the higher slender roping horns which would appear in the 1890’s.  The leather covering the slick fork and side bars in front of the half seat are decorated with intersecting pairs of hand tooled lines, forming a delicate cross hatching decoration in the surface of the leather.  Similarly, the straps of the Samstag rigging are decorated with hand applied tooled parallel lines.  These additional touches speak well of Livingston’s skill and attention to detail in producing a quality saddle.

The leather half seat is formed of two layers of leather, with the top layer having a nicely embossed parallel line design that follows the perimeter of the seat.  The seat is in excellent condition - fully intact with no splits, tears or weak points, and it retains a bright shiny smooth surface. 

The saddle is fitted with the Samstag rigging with the straps looped around the horn – a rigging style which had become popular by the mid-1860’s.  This saddle is “double rigged” with two sets of girth rings –– a development which became more common on stock saddles after the Civil War.  The “double rigging” provided the additional flank cinch which served to stabilize the saddle and prevent it from tipping forward when roping cattle.  The rigging is fully intact, with strong, pliable straps and they depend down to the large iron girthing rings on both sides.  The straps are decorated with leather discs from which depend full length saddle strings. 

Mounted over the two side bars, the original laced stirrup straps are intact and full length with no damage or weak points.  The straps are fitted with the original sliding sweat leathers (fenders), and from the straps depend the original wood frame stirrups. 

The original full square-cornered skirts are attached to the underside of the tree, protecting the horse from the two large girth rings on each side.  There are smaller square-cornered jockeys set over the larger underskirts.  The front jockeys extend back to cover the lower edge of the seat and serve to protect the rider’s legs from rubbing against the stirrup straps.  The jockeys are held in place with multi-layer leather buttons from which saddle strings depend.  Each of the rear jockeys have a silver colored metal concho backed with a leather button.  The undersides of the full skirts are lined with sheepskin with the wool intact.  This lining appears to have been replaced at some point in the saddle’s life as it is in excellent condition.  The original lining was prone to deterioration as the saddle was used and exposed to the horse’s sweat, so finding this lining replaced is not unusual, and in no way does it detract from the appearance or value of the saddle.

Of special note, the saddle strings through the buttons securing the rigging and jockeys on the near (left) side of the saddle are fitted with small iron rings for attaching the rider’s equipment such as a rifle scabbard, canteen, or rope – an unusual feature.  

The edges of the jockeys, skirts, and sweat leathers are stamped with a very effective multi-lined design which highlights the lines of the saddle.  All of these trimmings are original to the saddle and have survived in remarkable condition.  While showing the expected evidence of use that comes with having been ridden over countless miles, the surfaces of the leather all still hold a nice shine, the stamped designs are still legible, and the leather is pliable.  The foundation tree is strong with no movement or loosening, and all of the seams are intact. 

This J. H. Livingston Saddle is a very attractive specimen in its own right, and as noted above, this saddle is not only an accurate representative specimen of the saddles in use when the West was still being tamed, but it has the added value of having been made in historically significant Ft. Smith.  If subjected to extended use and poor storage, saddles of this vintage simply did not survive in significant numbers, and that this one exists in such high condition is not only remarkable, but it is a rare opportunity to add a genuine early Western Frontier saddle to your collection. (1205)  $1950 



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