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Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

A Cowboy’s Throne  

Reprinted with Permission of the Russell’s West Quarterly, a publication of the C.M. Russell Museum, Great Falls, Montana

 

September 2008 Issue

 

     Ramon Adams, a noted authority on Western life and a collector of Western stories, described a cowboy’s saddle as his workbench and his throne. Early photos of the young Charlie Russell show he may have envisioned himself enthroned on his horse as he wrangled cattle in the Judith Basin country.

     It is believed that Charlie purchased his first saddle in Helena , Montana Territory, in 1880 when he and Pike Miller outfitted themselves for the trip to Utica . (Pike Miller was a friend of Charlie’s father, C.S. Russell, who accompanied the 16-year-old youngster on his trip West.) Patrick T. “Tommy” Tucker recalled in his memoirs that Charlie’s rig was a poor one and that Charlie confided, “My mother gave me thirteen dollars to get a saddle, bridle, and lasso rope.”

     We do not know the fate of that first saddle, but after the fall roundup of 1882, Tucker relates that he and Charlie traveled to Fort Benton where Russell used part of his wages to purchase a good working saddle. This was likely a Sullivan saddle as Joseph Sullivan had opened his saddlery in the booming town the previous year. Photos of “Kid” Russell on horseback show his saddle to be double-rigged and square-skirted with a small, tooled border along the skirts and fenders. This was a typical Sullivan style saddle during that time period.

     “Kicking Bob” Kennon reported that his cowboy friend’s saddle was stolen in Fort Benton in the late 1880s and it had to be replaced. Charlie had saved his wages and in 1887 ordered a high-quality, working saddle from Frank Meanea. Russell used this saddle from 1887 to 1926, including six years of hard wear during his Montana cowboy days. (It is on view in the Museum in Gallery 2.)

     Frank Meanea was a respected saddle maker who had settled in Cheyenne , Wyoming Territory in 1868. He continued to make saddles until 1928 and is given credit for innovations that perfected the cowboy or Cheyenne saddle. His was also a pioneer in the mail-order business. His early sale catalogs were actually pressboard cards with a photo of the actual saddle on one side and the price list on the other side.

     Charlie’s saddle is a single three-quarter rigged, loop seat, with square skirts and jockeys, oval side jockeys, high straight cantle, fully stamped in a floral design. The horn is leather-covered and exposed rawhide. The stirrups are flat wooden oxbows with leather bottoms and brass binding. The stirrup fenders are laced old-style and the original cinch has been replaced by one made of strong twisted cord. In Meanea’s catalog this saddle is listed as a “full-stamped Visalia ,” and sold for $55. 

     Charlie Russell (1864-1926) was a well-known Western painter, sculptor, storyteller and author who lived most of his life in the Great Falls , Montana area.

     This story is reprinted with permission from the C.M. Russell Museum . Originally published in the Summer 2008 Russell’s West Quarterly and written by Sharon McGowan, Museum Librarian.

     The C.M. Russell Museum is located in Great Falls , Montana , at 400 13th Street North . It is open May through September daily from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Contact the museum at 406-727-8787 or visit www.cmrussell.org.

Copyright 2008 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor; editor@rockymountainrider.com.

 

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