Magazine article Sunset

The Best Seat in the West

Magazine article Sunset

The Best Seat in the West

Article excerpt

To be at home on the range, a cowboy needed a good saddle

"The leathern thrones from which the cowboy ruled his realm" is how cowboy chronicler Philip Ashton Rollins described saddles in 1922. Constructed by a master craftsman, a saddle was the cowboy's workbench and tool kit by day, his pillow beneath the stars at night. A well-built saddle could-and still can-last a lifetime or more.

Not surprising, then, that many saddles endure in Western museums. They amply reward careful scrutiny.

The saddle is a magnifying glass through which you can view the West, says James H. Nottage, chief curator of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles. At any given time, the Autry displays dozens of its 300 saddles. Each tells its own historic tale: the ornate floral tooling of a proud California vaquero's saddle from 1850; an 1884 Montana rancher's saddle, blackened by decades of dust and sweat; one of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show saddles, still clearly embellished with Cody's romantic visage.

The saddle was the single most important expression of the cowboy's station in life, says Paul Fees, senior curator of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, home to 67 saddles. The key to doing his job, the saddle was the badge of a cowboy's professional skills. …

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