1830's-40's US Dragoon Saddle

A forum for general topics and questions.
User avatar
Todd
Website Admin
Posts: 2631
Joined: Tue Nov 28, 2000 4:10 pm
Last Name: Holmes
Location: USA

Society Member

Donor Palm Leaf

With all possible respect to your saddler friend(s), these reproductions/replicas are more accurately a reflection of our collective ignorance and modern production expediency. It's made all the more difficult by the elusive meanings of labels over time.

The popularity of the spanish tree saddle in the 19th century holds a complementary 'problem' for the student of the subject, and that is the purely utilitarian nature of the item. It was so ubiquitous that it held little or no particular aesthetic interest for their users. By that term I mean that it held no particular visual novelty to the end user - other than the occasional journal entry by a bored tourist adding flavor to their first entries describing the wild lands they visited. It would be as if someone in a future century was wildly interested in the designs of late 20th century electrical outlets. A contemporary user of either article would scratch their heads in puzzlement as to why someone would have any interest at all. "It's a saddle", "It's an outlet"...

The 'Spanish' tree saddle was a wildly variable 'standard' and while it was a long-lived design "name", it morphed considerably over it's century-long reign. The only consistent identifying elements over time were a rather slim pommel (slimmer than the modern 'slick forks'), a tall wooden or wood-capped horn with a smallish knob, a metallic stirrup hanger of some sort, and a highback cantle. Beyond those characteristics, it's a crapshoot.

There are a LOT of suppositions and 'educated guesses' where certain evidence is used to draw attractive conclusions, which would not win any dispute in a court of law. Indeed, while I personally like the one that concerns the likely connection between the dragoon spanish saddle (1833/34) and the later Attakapas wagon saddle - I know deep down that's just a pipe dream.


User avatar
Todd
Website Admin
Posts: 2631
Joined: Tue Nov 28, 2000 4:10 pm
Last Name: Holmes
Location: USA

Society Member

Donor Palm Leaf

I found this on the Cowan's auction website some time ago, and found it an interesting example of a late 1850s/early 1860s spanish saddle. The tree/seat portion is a reasonable 'type' showing pre-civil war construction and workmanship. Note that the overall impression is one of light construction and smooth transitions from one surface to another. This isn't a cobbled together mix of off-the-shelf components, but a single unified design - a work of utilitarian art.
cowans_auction_rangersaddle.png
cowans_auction_rangersaddle.png (668.68 KiB) Viewed 2295 times
cowans_auction_rangersaddle_back.png
cowans_auction_rangersaddle_back.png (739.76 KiB) Viewed 2295 times
I believe I've circulated this one before - a cropped enlargement of a saddletree included in a 1850s ambrotype of a master tree maker. Very similar to that decades "spanish" style, and very much like the above ranger saddle.
saddlemaker2.jpg
saddlemaker2.jpg (21.56 KiB) Viewed 2295 times
Short seats were quite normal - although by the late 1850s, the sidebars were being extended behind the cantle to a greater degree. Earlier ones show very limited sidebar extension beyond the rear cantle face. The pommel forks make one wonder what modern tree makers mean by 'slick fork'... :)
Standtohorse
Posts: 23
Joined: Fri Sep 14, 2007 9:44 am
Last Name: James
Location: COLORADO, USA

Very respectfully. My interest in recent documentation and photo provenance for the 1933 Dragoon Saddle being made by Grimsley as an offshoot of his 1826 Ashley Contract Spanish tree saddle has three "Major" points of interest. First, it contradicts "St. Steffens". Who said the 1833 was a flat english skirted style. My friend and fellow living historian Doug Kidd apprenticed himself to Colonial Williamsburg in order to produce Steffens' 1833 Dragoon.
Second, anyone who has ever ridden a slick fork, skeleton rigged Spanish Style saddle and a "Colonial" postage stamp English style will tell you which one offer's the secure comfortable seat in all terrains and activities. So if your interest is doing "mounted living history" vs. esoteric saddlery discussion and examination of museum artifacts, finding out that Dodges 1st. Dragoon Regt. went up the Platte R. over what would become the Oregon Trail down the Front Range.* and returned to MO via the Sante Fe Trail and the Arkansas R. while riding a militarized version of Grimsley's Spanish tree saddle he had provided to the St. Louis Fur Brigades that first pushed through the West, is very exciting. Three, as a Living Historian, something from an earlier era/time will work for a later period because it was probably still in use, just not what regulations called for as latest greatest. Learning that the 1833 was in service in 1849 and probably considerably later lets you purchase one saddle and use it for quite a long period. So if this particular "Light Socket" is a major budget expenditure then I don't mind making the information of it's provenance know to forum members with similar interests. I rode Union Cavalry with the 7th Ill. Vol. Cavalry out of Riverton IL from. North South II to Far and Away. The money's made as extra in those productions paid for my horse, my uniforms, my weapons and my Saddles. To use during time periods and allegences of these Living H,istory events I purchased 2-, 1859's, one modified 04 McClellen, and one Spanish tree slick fork Skeleton Drover, plus a British UP to do Colonial Dragoons. I could have used One 1826 Ashley. One 1833 Grimsley and the UP if I had the information disclosed in these posts.
K.L. James
User avatar
Todd
Website Admin
Posts: 2631
Joined: Tue Nov 28, 2000 4:10 pm
Last Name: Holmes
Location: USA

Society Member

Donor Palm Leaf

With all this respect floating around, we're bound to have an excellent discussion! :)

It sounds as though you still battle with the Defenders of the 1833 Steffens - more power to ya. Unfortunately for those folks, that 'fight' was lost back in the mid-1970s, with the publication of 'Man Made Mobile' and the 1834 contract letters. But since the University of Oklahoma Press will keep pounding out those books until the trumpet sounds, I suppose the flat-saddle legions will continue to form. The 'fault' lies not with Steffens, but with those that choose to believe an 'easy' source - but that's a whole 'nuther topic.

Steffens supposition isn't supported by his own evidence - and to be truthful, it wasn't even his own assumption! He was trying to find an artifact that was similar to the 1834 drawing example discussed by Stanley J. Olsen, in 1955. [https://www.militaryhorse.org/1833-drag ... ns-dragoon]

If we can move beyond Steffens dragoon saddle, then we find that we know... not much.

We are ignorant - in the truest form of that word. We do not have any definitive example or photographic evidence. Therefore, we can only have scraps and details from letters, fragments of edges of a very few photographs. We can SAY that we have enough information to make an 'educated guess', and the discussion becomes an interesting one of what it might look like, based on similar examples, standards of workmanship, etc. But in the end, the final result is just supposition.


We must recognize that most 'replicas' and 'reproductions' are mostly the results of expediency of modern production techniques and standards. While what I say may sound insulting to your saddler friends, that is not the intent. A skeleton-rigged rawhide-covered saddle is probably the most difficult to expect good results from, especially if they did not make the actual tree. The tree is the key to the overall look and 'impression'.

I've heard of NO ONE that makes an accurate reproduction of this genre of saddle design. It's not easy, and the level of craftsmanship that is needed to do so is not to be found - at least when we're talking about actual 'production sources'. I recalled seeing discussions of the back and forth efforts of some enthusiasts and a saddlemaker to try and make a decent reproduction of a confederate-manufactured Jenifer saddletree. It was painful to read, and probably more painful to the participants. In the end, they managed to make a handful of extremely expensive, excellent replica examples of what was an 'ersatz' wartime tree.

To be honest, the two photos you showed are good examples of the problem - the trees are cobbled up from off-the-shelf modern components, roughly adapted to give the 'impression' of some of our rough photo fragments, questionable provenanced drawings, and ancient letters. With an exposed rawhide saddle, the tree and it's shape is critical. That last one looks like a former Georgia-based treemaker's "Hope" style.

So, what can we do to come up with a 'reasonable' representation of a Grimsley Spanish saddle (whichever flavor is required, be it fur-trade or the military version)?
User avatar
Todd
Website Admin
Posts: 2631
Joined: Tue Nov 28, 2000 4:10 pm
Last Name: Holmes
Location: USA

Society Member

Donor Palm Leaf

Final evidence to confirm the Grimsley contract letters as found by Dr. James S. Hutchins back in the late '60s/early '70s. This was published approved payments made, as reported to Congress.


United States congressional serial set. 256 (1833/34), page 39

Major J.B. Brant, q. master, with T. Grimsley
St. Louis, Missouri, June 27, 1833

Dragoon saddles -- For furnishing and delivering at St Louis, seven hundred and fifteen saddles for dragoons, for the sum of $10 for each saddle.

Other interesting details on these 1833 purchases - nearly every other component of the horse equipments was made in Philadelphia and shipped out to Jefferson Barracks. Odd, but there it was.


1833 Dragoon article has been updated with much of this new information.

Congressional_record_1833.PNG
Congressional_record_1833.PNG (228.71 KiB) Viewed 1340 times
User avatar
Pat Holscher
Website Admin
Posts: 26843
Joined: Thu Nov 30, 2000 6:51 pm
Last Name: Holscher
Location: USA
Contact:

Society Member

Donor Palm Leaf

Todd wrote: Fri Nov 23, 2018 8:18 pm Final evidence to confirm the Grimsley contract letters as found by Dr. James S. Hutchins back in the late '60s/early '70s. This was published approved payments made, as reported to Congress.


United States congressional serial set. 256 (1833/34), page 39

Major J.B. Brant, q. master, with T. Grimsley
St. Louis, Missouri, June 27, 1833

Dragoon saddles -- For furnishing and delivering at St Louis, seven hundred and fifteen saddles for dragoons, for the sum of $10 for each saddle.

Other interesting details on these 1833 purchases - nearly every other component of the horse equipments was made in Philadelphia and shipped out to Jefferson Barracks. Odd, but there it was.

1833 Dragoon article has been updated with much of this new information.
Great stuff!
Pat

Animadvertistine, ubicumque stes, fumum recta in faciem ferri?
User avatar
Couvi
Society Member
Posts: 3867
Joined: Tue Oct 30, 2001 9:30 am
Location: Marlow, OK

Society Member

Donation 5th

Todd,

How close is the saddle in the Cowan’s Auction photograph to the Federal ranger saddle?
Couvi

"Equi non rapui"
User avatar
Todd
Website Admin
Posts: 2631
Joined: Tue Nov 28, 2000 4:10 pm
Last Name: Holmes
Location: USA

Society Member

Donor Palm Leaf

Couvi wrote: Sat Dec 08, 2018 9:43 pm Todd,

How close is the saddle in the Cowan’s Auction photograph to the Federal ranger saddle?
You're referring to this one, I believe - which is what the clipped images above come from:

http://orig.cowanauctions.com/auctions/ ... ?id=180285

The tree is a wonderful Spanish type, of that 1850s/60s vintage. It was identified in the auction listing as a 'Attakapas wagon saddle', but I think it is more accurate to say it is the same style of tree used for wagon saddles. The stirrup loop and rigging are completely wrong for a wagon saddle - as well as the McClellan stirrup transplants, round wire staples holding cheap rings, etc. The kicker would be to get the ol' studfinder out and find out if there is any 'ironing', or reinforcing iron straps in the gullet, across the top of the pommel (not horn), or running over the cantle. Not a wagon saddle without the ironing.

Note the rectangular loop that they're using to hang the stirrups on - here's another example of this tree type, D.H. Hill's relic saddle that's in the Museum of Civil War in Richmond (I won't be able to post this image on forum - copyright issues, you can search on their site to find it, or use this link https://moconfederacy.pastperfectonline ... 7845882235 )

The D.H. Hill saddle is really close to the Cowan auction piece in terms of shape and the matching stirrup hanger loop location. The horn on the Cowan example is very good for visualizing what the damaged horns on the other two would have appeared like in earlier days.
User avatar
Todd
Website Admin
Posts: 2631
Joined: Tue Nov 28, 2000 4:10 pm
Last Name: Holmes
Location: USA

Society Member

Donor Palm Leaf

Todd wrote: Sun Mar 12, 2017 12:27 pm
Steffens supposition isn't supported by his own evidence - and to be truthful, it wasn't even his own assumption! He was trying to find an artifact that was similar to the 1834 drawing example discussed by Stanley J. Olsen, in 1955. [https://www.militaryhorse.org/1833-drag ... ns-dragoon]
Curious update - some additional digging turned up something peculiar. This Stanley J. Olsen was an interesting character, that became very involved in the discovery and acquisition of paleo-biology samples (specifically vertebrate species) from Florida springs. After nearly 20 years of very productive and innovative work in this area (such as being the first to use scuba in these environments), he was granted a Professorship at the FSU Dept of Anthropology in the mid-60s. One of the very (perhaps only) such professorship in the history of that institution that went to someone with only a high school diploma.
User avatar
Couvi
Society Member
Posts: 3867
Joined: Tue Oct 30, 2001 9:30 am
Location: Marlow, OK

Society Member

Donation 5th

"One of the very (perhaps only) such professorship in the history of that institution that went to someone with only a high school diploma."

Does that mean I still have a chance? :lol:
Couvi

"Equi non rapui"
Post Reply