1830's-40's US Dragoon Saddle

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I was wondering what the general consensus is on exactly what the US Dragoons were riding prior to 1841? I've seen the information in Man Made Mobile regarding the letters between Grimsley and the army, I've seen the saddle Steffen illustrates for the '33. IOne thing I can't seem to get is a clear answer as to what was actually in use?! If anyone out there can shed some light on this subject it would be greatly appreciated. Look forwad to your responses.
Most Sincerely,
Scott McMahon


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Scott,

This is a link to a discussion in the old archives which discusses this in detail. The links are old, so not all, if any of them, contained within this thread are operable.

archive/reply.asp?message=522&replyid=&level=&all=True

On a related item, I recently saw a photo of Gen. Wool entering Saltillo during the Mexican War. The photograph I saw was very small, but I can convince myself that it appears he is riding a horned saddle. Perhaps somebody has a larger copy of this photo about. Of course, while I would argue that this for the Spanish tree, it could also be argued that, if there is a horn, he is riding a private purchase. Still, it is curious, and this certainly is an interesting topic.

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Scott:

There is no real consensus, as you will see in the old thread Pat linked. The missing correspondence and files leave us with one of those wonderful debatable but unprovable mysteries, like the one-or-two-gunnman-in-Dallas-on-the-grassy-knole-or-the-overpass debate about the JFK assassination.

I have personally examined the Ft. Riley Saddle several times, at least twice in the company of knowledgable members of this forum, and then seen heated debates break out as to whether of not Steffen's ID of that item as the missing link in Dragoon saddles is correct. Once we even had an original copy of the Dragoon manual to which Steffen referred sitting right on the table with us. No one's mind changed. The is's stayed is, the ain't's stayed ain't, and the who knows's like me are still mystified.

Joe
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I was there with Joe. It ain't!!! But we did not scream, just elevated our voices to the uninformed.

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Ron Smith
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just elevated our voices to the uninformed.
As gentlemen are wont to do - also,

"You here have a full description of the U.S. Dragoon Saddle as adopted by Lt Col. Kearney and contracted for by yourself. The tree is composed of four pieces of timber put together, and in shape is an exact model of the much admired spanish saddle tree. "

Doesn't get much clearer than that.

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To echo another esteemed gentleman -- can you provide an exact citation for that?

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Only for those who care to read them! <img src=icon_smile_big.gif border=0 align=middle>



(oops, try this link, third letter down)
http://www.militaryhorse.org/1833-drago ... equipments
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Oh,I do, I do.

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As gentlemen are wont to do - also,

"You here have a full description of the U.S. Dragoon Saddle as adopted by Lt Col. Kearney and contracted for by yourself. The tree is composed of four pieces of timber put together, and in shape is an exact model of the much admired spanish saddle tree. "

Doesn't get much clearer than that.
Well, well! Now that's highly revealing!

It is a shame for us students that photography was in its infancy then. Some photos do exist, and they are oh so tantalizing. The Wool photo, for example. It appears to be a Spanish tree, but is it? And is Wool on a private purchase? It would be interesting to put together all of the photos of the era and see what it reveals.

And then there is the painting mentioned in the thread that is linked in. It is such a clear, and detailed painting, but then it is the painting.

The documents, of course, speak for themselves.

But now this Kearny quote. That, indeed, is very revealing.

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As this topic has been debated for decades and no solid proof can be levied by anyone apparently, then opinions do have "some" merit based on educated assumptions (easy Joe).

Bruce Marshall did a very detailed research on the Republic of Texas Army and Navy. He wrote a book called "Uniforms of The Republic of Texas, and the men who wore them". His information was obtained from official documents and even a original photograph or two.

In his section on the Texas Dragoon's, his description of horse equipments is rather brief and the painting depicts the image from a frontal type view. But the Dragoon is uniformed and equipped "almost" identically to the US Dragoons of the period. The saddle is a horned type, "similar" to a Hope. Although the Hope design did not exactly exist then. ( I am just using that for some type of visualaztion). More of a Spanish tree actually. Leather is black and the stirrups were of metal, not wood.

Considering that US equipments had tremendous influence on Texas items, it is safe to develop some thought about the similarities to US gear. Especially in this case. The uniform of the Texas Dragoon was identical in design, only color/s and helmet plate were different. When you take into consideration the financial state of Texas it only seems natural to purchase common types of military equipment. Many if not all of the purchases were made in the US so that would lend more credence to my thoughts on style and type.

Although the type of saddle Steffen depicts was certainly common on the East coast and no doubt saw some usage privately by officers in the Army, it just doen't fit. We see many references by Cavalry officers about a preference to horned type saddles, Hope as an example,(yes it is later but that type was preference) and the usage of these "types" was common on into the early 20th century.

This was a subject we had before but I could not find the archive.

Regards,
Ron Smith



Edited by - Ron Smith on 05/30/2002 09:46:55
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I have ALWAYS been suspicious of the Steffans' research on the 1833 Dragoon saddle, since it really doesn't make much sense to me. Not that he was necessarily a poor researcher, but he was early enough that there wasn't the scope of scholarship available to him that we have today, plus he took what he could get and ran with it. With so little available, the apparent existence of one in a museum of note was a stroke of luck. there are other errors in his book due to a number of reasons, but again, pioneers always make mistakes that are brought forth when newer scholarship finds its way to the top.

The saddle may well be of military origin...but it really doesn't bear out being the '33, IMHO. I have ridden a fairly mediocre "copy" of the saddle, housed at Bent's Old Fort NHS, and it's a serviceable design for the most part, but from the more recent scholarship available, and quoted bove, I think that the likelyhood of there being an "English" type saddle as the model for the '33 is slight.

Gordon

"After God, we owe our Victory to our Horses"

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"The" saddle's origins will probably never be known. The fabled '33 will never be pinned down IMHO. However, an early cavalry manual, an original copy of which was available to a group of us during a visit to "the" saddle, does contain an illustration that is rather like "the" saddle, and identifies it as a military saddle. It does not identify it an a '33, and thereby is the fodder for generations of genteel discussion at high decibles. Steffen used this same early manual as the basis for his conjecture.

Joe
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As is clear, I'm in the Spanish Tree camp, which I should clearly state as a preface to my remarks.

On Steffens' depiction, I feel that Gordon may have hit the nail on the head, but that doesn't really amount to a criticism of his work, but rather, if pondered, a praise of it.

Steffens was frank in his own works that he was not a historian, and that he no doubt made errors. His task was a huge one, magnified no doubt by the fact that his final curtin was drawing as he was writing. Any pioneering work does include errors, no doubt, but Steffens did a remarkable job of it, all in all. Indeed, he is accurate far more often than he is wrong.

On the 1833 saddle, he was left with a mystery, and I'd submit he did a remarkable job of sluething it out. I disagree with his conclusion, but the way he went about it, considering what he had to work with, is remarkable. Indeed, the depiction in the manual, and the existance of the saddle in and of itself, are not unconvincing, as the opposite opinions in this thread amply demonstrate. At the time, viewing the saddle, and the manual, I feel his deduction was a supportable one.

Still, I feel the weight of the evidence is that it was a Spanish Tree saddle. the correspondence, it seems to me, outweighs the manual and the saddle. And what is known about what Grimsley was making supports the Spanish tree thesis.

And then there are the existing depictions. Now, it cannot be maintained that there is a huge body of accurate works on the topic, but Ron's citation to the Texas Dragoons is telling. Also, Walker's Seige at Charabusco shows more horned saddles by far than any other type, although at least one English saddle is also shown, and it is clearly accurate in demonstrable details. If Walker got so many other odds and ends correct, I would maintain, the inclusion of the wrong type saddle, and a Spanish Tree saddle at that, would be curious.

Finally, there's the teasing photographic evidence, slight though it is. Unfortunately photography was in its infancy at the time, but there is the photo of Wool at Saltillo, riding what appears to be a horned saddle. I suspect that this question may in fact be capable of definative resolution from photographic sources, but unfortunately I haven't seen the photo yet. The day, I suppose, that a group of Mexican War dragoons are shown on one saddle type or the other, if that day ever arises, will effectively answer the question.

In an odd sort of way, I feel that the lack of a good example suggest a Spanish Tree saddle. The overall number of saddles made to the 1833 pattern would have been fairly small. Destruction of the overwhelming majority of them would ultimately have been likely. Deterioration of the remainder would be probably. A deteriorated Spanish Tree saddle would probably just end up a Spanish Tree, which would probably be indistinguishable from any other number of Spanish Tree saddles or Hope saddles. Of course, a deteriorated English type saddle would just look like any number of beat up English saddles, I suspect.

One factor which I think comes into play here, although I do not believe that it does amongst the participants here, is that a person probably just doesn't tend to think of a horned US saddle of this era. This is particularly true of military saddles. When we think of the pre-Mexican War era, we normally think of the Revolution and the War of 1812, in which the saddles would clearly have been of a different type. Then we have the Grimsley and the McClellan. In this picture the horned saddle, notwithstanding tree simularities with the McClellan, sort of resembles one of those freakish entities that paleontologist do not quite know where to stick into an evolutionary chain. There you are proceeding along nicely, when the twenty toes aborial tree sloth shows up from nowhere, so to speak, with its closest taxonomic relative being the Preddles mouse. Not unexplainable, but sort of odd. However, I think this suggest something else about the state of saddlery post 1820.

I strongly suspect that the Spanish tree was much more common in some areas of North America by this time than is widely imagined. Indeed a photo of a saddle maker in some other part of the country was, I believe, posted in the article linked into above. If that was the case, than this may simply have been a fairly routine saddle at that time, not something unusual at all, and something which frontier soldiers, at a bare minimum, were fairly familiar with.

Stepping off topic for this thread, in part, for a moment, this causes me to recall that earlier thread we had on Hope saddles and the purpose of the horn. Watching cowhands secure their ropes to their horn yesterday, it dawned on me that a horn is a rough and ready thing to which attach all sorts of nifty crud, such as soldiers are always packing about. Much more useful, to some, in that fashion, than a standard English tree might be. Not that an English saddle cannot be made into a military saddle, that is obviously incorrect, but a horn would have some rough and ready utility. That may also explain why the Hope tree, or the Spanish tree, was such a popular frontier saddle, in spite of the fact that it hardly appears that a person would want to lash any substantial snorty beast to it.

Of couse, that does leave the manual and the saddle to explain. Those of us in the Spanish Tree camp point to the lack of clarity as to the saddles origin, and the militia nature of the manual. Conclusive? Obviously not.

It's a fun topic, however. At any rate, if you museum folk are secretly sitting on a vast hord of Dragoon photos, it'd be worthwhile taking a second look at them. Probably no such luck, however.

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Pat:

Where do you stand on the second gunman on the triple overpass theory?

The Ft. Riley saddle may or may not be a dragoon saddle. The '33 dragoon saddle may or may not have been horned. We have some hope of someday resolving the latter question, and nearly none of resolving the former. Pictures of officers on horned saddles mean nothing, as officers rode what they pleased. We know that spanish tree, Hope, etc., were popular saddles among officers. Even R.E. Lee had one.

I can show other period illustrations of english-style saddles in military use. Still doesn't sort things out. The pre-war period was a time of encounters between the United States and Spanish America. Many cultural and technological exchanges were in progress, some of which shaped the west. This just clouds the picture.

Bottom line, the only rational place to be is as an interested Dragoon saddle agnostic.

Joe
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Pat:

Where do you stand on the second gunman on the triple overpass theory?

The Ft. Riley saddle may or may not be a dragoon saddle. The '33 dragoon saddle may or may not have been horned. We have some hope of someday resolving the latter question, and nearly none of resolving the former. Pictures of officers on horned saddles mean nothing, as officers rode what they pleased. We know that spanish tree, Hope, etc., were popular saddles among officers. Even R.E. Lee had one.

I can show other period illustrations of english-style saddles in military use. Still doesn't sort things out. The pre-war period was a time of encounters between the United States and Spanish America. Many cultural and technological exchanges were in progress, some of which shaped the west. This just clouds the picture.

Bottom line, the only rational place to be is as an interested Dragoon saddle agnostic.

Joe
All quite true, and as you point out a photo of an officer really doesn't mean anything, as they had to purchase their saddles anyhow. Unfortunately, they're the ones who get photographed as a rule. Any photo would have to show actual enlisted men, and even then that might not really mean anything, as if it were a state outfit whatever saddle they were using may or may not mean anything at all.

Unfortunately, actual photo of cavalrymen in the field are extraordinarily rare. Too much motion. Even bonafide photos of cavalrymen in the field during the CW are very rare, and CSA cavalrymen are extremely rare. Ken Knopp has pointed that out well on his page. That being the case, any actual photo of a Mexican War dragoon is probably long gone.

Oh well, if these things were capable of easy resolution, they'd get dull. Resolution of all mystery is bad for the intellect, and this provides a fun topic for some mental PT.

Triple Overpass? I'm clueless as to what that actually is.. I accept the single shooter from the Book Depository, showing my lack of imagination on other topics.

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Even R.E. Lee had one.
As an addition, I know that to be true, but only because I've seen photos of the saddle. I've always wondered, and perhaps somebody here knows, how long did he use that? I presume he didn't use it during the Civil War, although I think some other Confederate officers used Hopes. It hardly fits my mental image of R. E. Lee, but than that image is probably pretty inaccurate.

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Just to muddy the waters a bit I'll add this. In 2001 I was in Houston at Stelzig's. (They got their start in the 1870's making harness and saddles for the Army and followed the Cavalry to Texas.) While there I was invited to the saddle makers room to view some antique saddles in for cleaning and annual care. Two were saddles of Empresario's of California ranches in the 1820's & 30's. I have never seen a more elaborate saddle in my life.

One of the saddlers there is orignally from Mexico and his family is of saddler's. He is quite knowledgeable about old Mexican saddlery and told me of how the Mexican Army used saddles like that as far back as the Alamo campaign. Now he was speaking of style, not the ornate tons of silver as was on this one.

Considering that many Mexican Lancer units were made from Vaquero's who had good skill at hunting pigs and such with a Lance from horseback while riding Mexican/Spanish tree saddles it causes some thoughts. It is a known fact that Mexican EM's and Officers used a horned saddle for many decades, granted some Hussar type saddles were sent in from Germany and France on advisors request but not in greart enough numbers to equip the Army.

Did not a US Cavalry Regiment have some companies mounted on Hopes in the ACW? This was not an overnight occurance, previous usage had to have some influence. At Ft. Sill in the saddle vault room there are a number of Mex war era saddles, mostly Grimsley's. There is one that belonged to a Lt.in Ringgold's Battery that looks very much like a modern English close contact saddle, except that it is "Red Suede" leather w/matching pommel holsters. The thing is in remarkable shape, it looks about 6 years old. Excluding Officers saddle from the concept needs some second thought. Granted they bought there own saddles, but the propensity of horned saddles used by Officers on both sides of the ACW makes you think again. Many of these men served in the Mex war and were influenced by Officers who did as well.

We have all proven to ourselves and others that the aspect of uniformity in the Army has never been "uniform", until well into the 20th century. The early 19th century has far too many examples of that in varous areas. It is quite possible that both type were as common to the companies/regimants as weapons were.

Regards,
Ron Smith



Edited by - Ron Smith on 05/30/2002 23:27:27
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Agree to disagree is probably the most enlightened way of looking at the whole thing.

That being said, I'll now turn and go the other direction! The crux of the matter seems to lie in the fact that the 1st Dragoon Regiment was equipped with material purchased by the U.S. Army and it's accounting practices were well defined at the time. Contract descriptions and other related items are the clearest indication of what was actually used, vs. the aristocratic stylings of a reprinted militia manual more concerned with apeing French flavor than practical utility. <img src=icon_smile_tongue.gif border=0 align=middle>

A study of Thornton Grimsley, which I am working on in fits and sputters, is showing a very influential and connected businessman who was THE primary supplier of 'transportation goods' to the explorers, trappers, settlers, etc., that passed through the "Gateway to the West". Salesmanship and more than just a little influence-peddling kept him in government contracts for years, even as army procurement officers tried to pull business away from him to other areas (such as Philadelphia).

And what purpose did those round holes in the seat section of many dragoon-period saddle holsters serve? Almost seems that they were meant to be placed over some part of the saddle.

It would also be a puzzle to see how the troops nailed the holsters to the insignificant english saddle (to keep them from flopping around and off - as noted in period accounts), where a Spanish tree would provide ample substance for that action.

But, it certainly is an enigma......<img src=icon_smile_big.gif border=0 align=middle>

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Despite my agnosticism on ths subject, if forced off the fence, I would climb down on the side of horned saddles. However and notwithstanding, in the spirit of exhaustive scholarly inquiry, one might ask why there was a need to nail holsters to a saddle if they were already fitted over a horn?

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one might ask why there was a need to nail holsters to a saddle if they were already fitted over a horn?
Aha! An EXCELLENT opportunity for empirical investigation - I volunteer Pat.



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