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INDIAN WAR PERIOD FRONTIER SADDLER MADE SADDLE ON A GRIMSLEY SADDLE TREE – EXTREMELY RARE SOLDIER MADE SADDLE:  Every once in a great while a previously unknown piece of Indian War soldier modified equipment surfaces that is truly unique and such a find is very exciting to those collectors who can appreciate the rarity and significance of such an artifact.  Collectors of Indian War period arms and accoutrements are generally familiar with such pieces as the “cut loop” Dyer Cartridge Pouches that were modified to be carried on the looped cartridge belts.  However, very few truly unique, one-of-a-kind artifacts have survived as evidence of the frontier soldier’s creativity and his efforts to adapt the available equipment to meet his needs at the remote posts throughout the West.   

When considered from the viewpoint of the Ordnance and Quartermaster Departments, the rarity of these modified pieces of equipment is not surprising.  While modifications generally were not authorized by the Chiefs of these departments, and in some cases they were specifically prohibited via general orders issued from the headquarters, with the amount of field modified equipment that has survived one has to conclude that the company and regimental officers must have understood the reason for the alterations and turned a blind eye in many cases to the soldier’s efforts.  Despite the modifications, the equipment still remained US Government property and most of it was probably turned in along with other standard pattern equipment during regularly scheduled equipment exchanges or as new patterns of equipment were issued.  As the older equipment transferred back East to central depots to be stored or disposed of through the surplus sales, such modified pieces were identified by the inspectors as no longer retaining the original form, were condemned, and destroyed or disposed of in trash pits.  Hence, these gems of true frontier used and soldier modified equipment simply do not exist in great numbers in collections today.   

This Indian War Era Saddle features all the character of having been produced by a company or regimental saddler who drew on the available materials at hand.  Noting the pattern of the saddle parts used to assemble this saddle I am inclined to believe this saddle was made after 1876 and before the end of the 1880’s.  This saddle was obtained some time ago from an old collection in southern Arizona, and given the period of history it was made as defined by the materials used, this saddle might well have been one of the saddles assembled for use by a scout, packer or possibly the infantry soldiers who were mounted on mules to pursue the Hostiles during the final years of the Apache Wars.   

The rawhide covered seat is a replacement tree for the Grimsley Artillery Driver’s Saddle.  A standard item of issue to refurbish the Driver’s saddles at the local unit level, the bulk of these trees are believed to have been manufactured during the Civil War, with such quantity on hand in 1865 that further production was unnecessary after the end of the war.  The majority of these trees appear to have been manufactured by E. Waters of Troy, New York and bear the maker’s brass tag on the rear surface of the cantle as does this saddle.  The right side bar is legibly stenciled in black ink “P.V. HAGNER, Lt. Col. Ordn”.  Lt.Col. Peter V. Hagner was in command of the Watervliet Arsenal during the War and as directed in the Ordnance regulations, his inspection ink stamp was applied to each tree prior to being covered in leather.  

As it is known that the civilian contracts for saddle manufacturing were terminated after the end of the Civil War, and Hagner was promoted to full Colonel in 1867, dating this replacement tree as being made during the Civil War is fairly certain.  The Light Artillery, the branch of service which would have been issued the Grimsley Drivers Saddles, was present in force on the frontier, with at least one battery of artillery assigned to each cavalry regiment and some infantry regiments, and their stores of replacement saddles and related equipment would have accompanied them into the West.  By the mid-1880’s the army had begun to replace the Grimsley Artillery Driver’s saddle with the current patterns of the McClellan Saddle, making these Grimsley replacement trees surplus to the needs of the units and they would have been available for other uses such as the saddle presented here.   

This standard Grimsley tree has been rigged with a set of 1st Pattern Model 1874 quarter straps, featuring the spaded “D” rings and heart shaped leather girth safes on both the near and off sides, with the girthing straps present on both sides.  The rarity of this set of straps strongly argues for this modification having been done during the Indian War period, as the M1874 quarterstraps did not survive in the surplus market in great numbers after that period.  The Grimsley tree does not have the full arc shelves in front of the pommel and behind the cantle as are found on the McClellan saddle, so the quarter straps on this saddle were trimmed at the  top edge of the front and rear extensions of the side bars.  A second set of the M1874 heart shaped girth safes were placed over the iron stirrup strap loops – perhaps to reinforce the rawhide or protect the soldier’s legs – and the edges were anchored with small iron tacks.  The foot loops and equipment rings on the ends of the side bars are all black japanned iron fittings, and were salvaged from one of the earlier pattern 1859-1872 McClellan saddles.  All four sets of the foot loops and rings are present and intact. There are sets of original “coat straps” still attached to the pommel and cantle rings, albeit not of the regulation pattern, but obviously original to this saddle and evidence that this saddle was indeed used in the field by someone who needed to secure equipment to the saddle.  The saddle was completed with two full length, original 1859-1874 pattern stirrup straps and a pair of civilian style bent wood stirrups.   

The overall condition of this saddle is solid, with no structural weakness in the tree and all the straps present and unbroken.  The leather overall shows the same level of age and wear, indicating the components have been together as an integral piece with no replacement pieces added through the years – this saddle was used as it exists today.  The rawhide covering the seat is complete with no pieces missing, but there are some splits in the seat surface as is shown in the photographs below.  These splits do not affect the integrity of the seat, and do not detract from the saddle in view of its significance as an artifact.  The quarter straps, stirrup straps, and coat straps all show the same level of wear, but all are intact and will display well.  An application of a quality leather dressing would improve the appearance, but I will leave that to the next owner’s discretion.  The stirrups are solid with no severe wear or structural damage.   

This saddle is a unique piece in many different ways, not the least of which is its testimony to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the Frontier Soldier.  I think it is worth mentioning that during the research we conducted for The American Military Saddle, and in all the museums and private collections we examined, we found only the one Indian War era saddler made pack saddle shown in that text.  Nothing of the type of saddle offered here was found, suggesting this is a rare example and worthy of display in an advanced Indian War collection.  Given this saddle was discovered in southern Arizona, it would display particularly well among a collection of Apache War artifacts.  $1995

NOTE:  Since posting this listing I have learned this saddle was one in a group of ten saddles that was obtained from the descendants of C.S. Fly, the famous photographer who lived in Tombstone, Arizona Territory from 1880-1901.  This group of saddles remained in the Fly family collection until the family moved from the Los Angeles, California area around the end of the 20th Century, when the saddles were transferred to an antique dealer in Arizona.  The connection of the Fly family to California is well documented, as Fly's parents resided in Napa Valley.  Fly's wife, Mary, or "Mollie" as she was known, continued to operate their combination boarding house and photography studio in Tombstone after C.S's death in 1901, eventually retiring to Los Angeles in 1912 after the boarding house burned.  Mary died in Los Angeles 1925.  C.S. Fly is known to have amassed a considerable collection of artifacts related to the Arizona Territory, and it stands to reason that Mary retained some or all of that collection after C.S. passed away.   This additional connection to the period of the Apache Wars in the Arizona Territory strengthens my suspicion that this saddle is associated with that historic period. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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