My husband gave me the idea for this post. He asked me how cowboys got their saddles in the old days. Where were they made? I replied that there must have been saddle makers located in frontier towns, but I didn’t really know because I’d never investigated the subject. How could I neglect such an important matter? I’m a western historical author, for gosh sakes!
|Photo from Wikipedia commons|
The three boys came to Texas from Tennessee with their family in 1853. They first settled in Houston, where their father and older brother Bob died of yellow fever in 1854. Their mother succumbed to the same disease four years later, leaving twelve-year-old Tom to provide for his two younger brothers and sister. They managed to survive until a few months later when their uncle, Tom Bond arrived. An experienced saddle maker, he opened a shop in Houston, and in 1859, he put Tom and Clint to work as apprentices.
During the Civil War, the Padgitts crafted saddles and harnesses at the Confederate arsenal in Houston. Younger brother Jesse earned money as a newsboy on the Houston streets. Years later, he recalled seeing the paper roll off a press powered by a horse walking on a treadmill.
After the war, the South was bankrupt. Texas railroads didn’t resume building for five years, all except the Houston and Texas Central. In July 1867 Tom Padgitt headed for the end of the line of the H and TC, where he opened a shop to supply harness for teamsters hauling supplies for the railroad. In 1869 Clint joined Tom’s business in Bryan, Texas. Now the home of Texas A & M University, Bryan was a rowdy railroad camp back then. The Padgitts’ shop was located next to a saloon.
As the railroad progressed northward, Tom moved with it, opening a shop at each town along the way. When the Waco and Northwestern Railroad, a branch of the H and TC, reached Waco, Tom decided to settle in that growing city with his wife and family. (He married three times, losing his first wife in childbirth and his second to apoplexy – a stroke.)
Tom’s business flourished and he contributed greatly to Waco’s development. The Tom Padgitt Company became famous across the U.S., Canada and Mexico, supplying saddles for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show and to celebrities such as Will Rogers. Eventually, Tom even traded in South America.
RT Dennis & Co. and Tom Padgitt Inc. Buildings, Waco, Texas (Destroyed in Waco tornado of 1953) Courtesy Baylor University Texas Collection
Meanwhile, Clint and Jesse were making saddles in Bryan, Corsicana and other wide open towns along the H and TC tracks. Jesse, who lived to the ripe old age of 97, recalled having to sleep on the floor of his shop in Grosebeck with kegs of trace chains protecting him from bullets whizzing through the flimsy walls from the gambling house next door.
Courtesy Southwest Museum of the American Indian Collection
Courtesy Dallas Public Library Digital CollectionDallas was a hub of trade, supplying freighters and ranchers across the vast Texas prairie and beyond. Soon, Padgitt Brothers moved into larger quarters, again and again expanding until finally settling in the five story Padgitt Bros. building. But they weren’t done growing yet. In 1900 they built a six story factory and spread out to show their line of buggies and carriages.
There were other pioneer saddle makers in Dallas, and by 1908 it was the saddle market capital of the world. For further history of the Padgitt brothers and the saddle trade, refer to these sites:
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