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MODEL 1885 1ST PATTERN McCLELLAN CAVALRY SADDLE – EXCELLENT SPECIMEN OF A RARE AND VERY DESIRABLE INDIAN WAR SADDLE:  This is an excellent example of the very desirable and comparatively rare Indian Wars era Model 1885 First 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 First 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 First Pattern 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.  Adding to the scarcity of the First Pattern saddles, within a very few years of introducing this saddle the army adopted a series of modifications and introduced the Second  Pattern Model 1885 Saddles, and the application of these modifications eclipsed any further manufacture of the earlier pattern saddles.   

This specimen shows minimal evidence of use and has survived in very nice condition. The seat features smooth, bright shiny leather overall and all of the seams are intact.  With none of the surface crazing or flaking of the surface of the leather that is so commonly seen on these Indian War era veterans, this saddle presents as an outstanding specimen.  There is some flexing on the extreme rear extensions of the side bars, but not significant enough to detract from the appearance of the saddle.  The undersides of the sidebars show the most significant evidence of use in the field.  The leather is scarred from wear and from being hung on fence railings, stable racks and likely brush or logs in the field.  The only notable evidence of service wear on this saddle presents on the rear ends of the underside of the sidebars where the black leather covering the rawhide covered tree has been worn away.  The extent of the wear and the wear pattern are identical, indicating that the wear occurred during the same period as the result of the same amount of activity, such as wearing against a dirt impregnated saddle blanket or perhaps abrading against the protruding hip bones of a horse which had lost flesh during a prolonged patrol.  The leather around the wear points is otherwise tight and lies flat, and the adjacent seams are still intact.  The wear is not noticeable when the saddle is on display, and even viewed when the saddle is inverted, the wear is not particularly unattractive, rather it serves as a testament to severe service to which these saddles were subjected.   

The rear face of the cantle is stamped with large characters “HF 83”.  The top surface of the rear projection of the right sidebar is stamped “TP C  NG W  50”.    

The original quarterstraps are all intact and unbroken, connecting at the original girth safes on both sides.  The pommel quarterstraps were shortened an equal amount on both sides during the saddle’s period of use, a common method of fitting the saddle to a particular horse, as this model of saddle did not provide for adjustable quarterstraps as later patterns of the McClellan featured.  Both safes are full form with only minor surface crazing, but otherwise retaining a shiny surface.    

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.   

Showing minimal evidence of use, the stirrups are both full form, have complete solid leather hoods, and full form unbroken wooden frames.  The leather hoods retain a very nice appearance, both featuring a legible “US” embossed on the front center, and the off side (right) stirrup still retains the remnants of the typically barely legible “ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL” stamp.  The stirrups are a matched pair and have been together forever.  The stirrup straps are full length originals with the correct iron buckles, with no weak points and retaining a very nice finish.  

While considering this saddle, it is worth keeping in mind that 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 First Pattern Model 1885 Saddle in any condition is worthy of note.  That this saddle has survived in the condition that it has is nothing shy of remarkable and without doubt, it is a rare offering – one that is seldom encountered.    

As one of the primary saddles in use at the height of the Western Indian Wars, these First Pattern 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 a complete high grade specimen of the First Pattern Model 1885 McClellan Saddle in excellent condition - one that is very difficult to find available on the market, and seldom is found in even the most advanced Indian War collections. It is unlikely that you would ever have the opportunity to upgrade this one.  SOLD   



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