As spring and soon summer descend on the valley of the Bighorns, the town of Sheridan becomes a hot spot for cowboys and cowgirls from Alaska to Texas. What are they looking for... King’s Saddlery and King’s Ropes!
And where do I go when the cowboy in my current work in progress needs a top of the line saddle...well he just moseys on over to King’s Saddlery!
Born in Douglas, Wyoming, in 1923, Don King was the son of an itinerant ranch hand, Archie King. By the age of 14, Don learned to tool leather as he supported himself with odd jobs at ranches and rodeos. He sold and traded wallets, belts and other small gear. “I traded for pants, shirts, hats, spurs, anything. Sometimes I ended up with nothing.”
King worked on ranches throughout the West, finally settling down in Sheridan, Wyoming in 1946. There he became an apprentice to expert saddle maker Rudy Mudra. King assisted in the building of saddles and created piecework for local cowboys.
After acquiring his own ranch he committed his time to that enterprise until in 1957, when he devoted himself full-time to saddlemaking and leather tooling. King preferred to focus on highly ornamental trophy saddles like those given as prizes in rodeo competitions. During this time, he developed his own style of tooling. A style characterized by wild roses “with a distinctive shape, as though they were viewed from a 45-degree angle.”
By 1961, when King opened his own business on Main Street in Sheridan, he was well-known among ranchers and rodeo stars for his impeccable craftsmanship. This artistry and precision is best demonstrated in the making of the saddle type he created, the Sheridan-style saddle. The Sheridan-style saddle is “in its general form, a classic high plains roping saddle: short, square skirts; a low cantle with a broad Cheyenne roll…” But the most distinctive element is the wild rose (Sheridan Rose) tooling. King also used unusually deep stamping to give “greater three-dimensional depth to his tooling…”
Through the years King’s saddles have been acquired by everyone from local Wyoming cowboys to celebrities and dignitaries such as: Queen Elizabeth, Ronald Reagan, and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
King wasn't just satisfied with turning out the finest saddles and turned his talents to rope making. A few years ago I had the honor of interviewing Mrs. King and was given a tour of the field outside of town where ropes are still stretched in the traditional manner. Also, I was given a tour of the rope making area of the store. King created the first (and only) rope making technique and machine for manufacturing a rope for left-handed cowboys. Because of this, championship ropers turn their rigs to King's for their ropes, as well as their saddle. There's no lack of selection in colors either.
King’s Saddlery & King’s Ropes is a must stop in Sheridan. Not only can you walk back to the rope shop and pick out your very own custom rope, but there is a Museum off the rope shop filled with saddles of any style along with Old West collectibles. But beware it is extremely easy to walk in empty-handed and walk out with empty pockets…I speak from experience! But guess where I'll be next week...?
**Photos are mine except the one of the Sheridan style saddle it is property of www.sheridanwyoming.org**
Interesting post, Kirsten. Sure wish I was close enough to visit Sheridan and shop there!ReplyDelete
Thanks, Cheri! It is a fascinating place. I love going, but try to avoid for my pocketbook's sake. :) You'll have to plan a trip.Delete
And don't you love the fragrance in a saddle shop? My Uncle Raymond tooled leather and worked for a saddle-maker in far West Texas. He did not make the saddle, but tooled the leather in whatever fashion the owner wanted. Later he began to make leather purses and wallets. He made a purse for my mother--a little big with a flap opening, and tooled with roses--some parts died red. It was a work of art, and she used it for years. The drawback? I was as heavy as a bucket of lead!ReplyDelete
I've never had a thing to do with horses in my life, but I admire any horse I see--just love them. And I like saddles,
too. Thanks for the lesson...and a trip down memory lane.
P.S. I love your new haircut.
Oh, I love the smell in a saddle shop, too, Celia. Those leather purses are beautiful, but you're correct they usually weigh as much as a saddle. :) What a treasure though for your mother to have. The talent of those who tool leather and create such beautiful art never fails to astonish. Thanks for sharing your memory, I always love hearing people's histories.Delete
Thanks so much, I'm really enjoying shorter hair.
Kirsten, I so enjoyed this account of King and how he became the great saddle and rope maker. It shows such an American spirit, to come from next to nothing and build a respected empire from hard work and a vision.ReplyDelete
The pictures certainly helped to show his distinguished and exceptional work.
I'm feeling like a real Easterner right now because this is the first I've ever heard of King.