Saturday, July 20, 2013

Saddle Up, Cowpokes!

Cowgirl hat banner
 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
Donning my researcher’s hat, I went hunting for a definite answer on the net and quickly confirmed my assumption. There were indeed many saddle makers in the Old West. Today, I’d like to tell you about three brothers who became famous in the trade here in Texas. They were Tom, Clint and Jesse Padgitt.

 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
In 1873, Clint and Jesse joined forces to open Padgitt Brothers in Dallas, at that time a wild west town of wooden shacks, board walkways and muddy streets surrounding the courthouse square. The Padgitts set up shop in a two story brick building on the west side of the square with a sign over their door reading “Manufacturers and Wholesalers of Horse Collars, Harness and Saddlery Goods." Padgitt saddles were already in great demand, and like their older brother in Waco, Clint and Jesse prospered. Their trademark was the “Bronco Brand”, depicting a cowboy riding a bucking horse in a Padgitt saddle.

Courtesy Dallas Public Library Digital Collection
Dallas 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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  1. Great post, Lyn! It's the "stories behind the story" like this one that really bring history alive. Thank for sharing this one with us. :-)

  2. Wonderful post, Lyn. We have a famous saddle maker in the town in which I currently life (we're moving in twelve days). I am happy to learn about the Padgitt brothers. I need that for my WIP as a tidbit to sprinkle in when my hero acquires a second saddle. Thanks.

  3. This brings back memories from another uncle--my daddy's "baby" brother (remember my blind uncle was one of Daddy's brothers.)This brother moved from one job to the other. I look back now and realize he most likely was ADD. He went to the Army first, to Korea, then learned how to tool leather. He worked in a saddle shop that also made hand-tooled purses and wallets. I have a billfold he made and decorated with nice tooling that he gave to his daddy--my grandfather. My grandfather carried that until the day he died, and to keep it from going into the burn pile, I grabbed it. It's pure leather, but worn thin and faded. The binding is falling off and the tooled roses are quite faded. There are four small photos in it--four of my cousins.
    My family visited him more than once and we were allowed to watch him help make saddles--one for his own horse--and purses and bags. He made a purse for Mother, and that things was heavy as lead.
    I loved this story about the brothers! Thanks.

  4. Kathleen, you're right, these stories bring the Old West to life and help us draw our readers into that legendary era. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. Caroline, I'm glad I could help. Can't wait to see how you incorporate saddle makers into your WIP.

    Best wishes with your move. I hope it goes smoothly.

  6. Celia, you're so lucky to have the wallet your uncle made for your grandfather. That's a real keepsake! Thank for dropping in today.

  7. Very interesting. I feel like a dolt - never even gave a thought before as to makers of saddles and all my heroes and most of my heroines ride them. :)

  8. Ha! Same here, Paisley. We takes these things for granted, don't we.

  9. It's hard to imagine dallas as a town of wooden shacks.
    What an interesting article about who made saddles in the old west. I never knew much of what you presented, Lyn. I liked that the saddles for Wild Bill's show was bought from these two brothers. How loyal to buy saddles from western saddle makers.
    I'm glad your husband asked where cowboys got their saddles in the old west. Great article.

  10. What a fascinating topic. I love history, especially the westward expansion. Why on earth have I never even thought about how saddles are made and how cowboys got them? Seems like one of those "duh" moments. I do know that the smell of new leather is one of the best this side of the moon and only made better with the addition of horse sweat!

  11. What a fascinating topic. I love history, especially the westward expansion. Why on earth have I never even thought about how saddles are made and how cowboys got them? Seems like one of those "duh" moments. I do know that the smell of new leather is one of the best this side of the moon and only made better with the addition of horse sweat!

  12. Great post, Lyn. Thanks for bringing this bit of history to our attention.

  13. Good info, Lyn. I love watching an expert tool leather. Love the smell, too. When I go to a fair, the first place I head for is the saddle maker's booth.

  14. Sarah, I'm glad he asked that question too. It roused my curiosity.

    Buffalo Bill was more or less forced to contract with Tom Padgitt for the saddles. His cast of Indian entertainers loved the red saddle blankets that Padgitt supplied and clamored to have them. Buffalo gave in.

  15. Winona, hubby and I recently bought a new car with leather seats. I love the smell! Haven't experienced it combined with horse sweat, though. Wish I could.

  16. My pleasure, Carra. Thanks for stopping by. I love your post too.

  17. Jacquie, I'd love to watch a saddle being tooled. I don't recall ever seeing such a demonstration at the Texas state fair in Dallas. If I get there this fall I'll look for one.

  18. Thanks, Paty. Nice to see you here.


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