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Western Saddles

As an artifact useful in describing and symbolizing our western history, the American stock saddle can take its place beside F.J. Turner's frontier trio of plough, axe, and gun and W.P. Webb's revolver, barbed wire, and windmill. Looking back more than a century, historians are aware that America's story owes something of significance to the "western saddle," even before the Anglo cowboy appeared in large numbers. The western stock saddle of Hispanic-Mexican origin, along with parallel innovations within American Indian societies, can be used as a device to describe and illustrate aspects of 19th-century American culture.

The analysis of a saddle's structure and decoration, in conjunction with paper documents and documented examples of other saddles, reveals its origins in terms of time, place, and purpose, and of subsequent cultural choices in taste and usage. The function of a saddle, whether for daily life or special occasion, can be read in its shape, ornament, and wear. The documentary history of a saddle's repair, inheritance, evaluation, and disposal can be interpreted as a cultural history of material supplies, available craft skills, family structure, and of economic and social value systems. In short, the biology and biography of a saddle are tools for a wider interpretation of American history from frontier life to modern functions of work and leisure.

From "Horizons of the Western Saddle," by Richard E. Ahlborn, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology, 1980

 

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