The Saddle

The Saddle In order to save weight, saddles of a special design were made. These were mostly turned out at Israel Landis' famous saddlery in St. Joseph. They were a modified design of the regular stock saddle generally in use in the West. The "California tree" was lighter than the heavy model which has come down from the vaqueros and which has been found most comfortable for man and horse in roundup work or in day-to-day riding on the ranch. The leather "skirt" was cut down to a minimum, and the stirrups, used with or without tapaderas, or leather coverings, were lighter than those ordinarily used. The saddle horn-a necessary part of the equipment, as will be shown -was short and broad. The cantle was low and sloping. The finished product was something between a jockey saddle and a stock saddle. It did not weigh more than a third as much as any of the types of saddles in ordinary use in the frontier West, yet it was strong and roomy enough to afford the rider some necessary degree of comfort in the course of a long ride at top speed..

There is a saddle at the Union Pacific Historical Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, which is claimed to be a Pony Express saddle. Also, the Elks Lodge of Denver, Colorado, has or had (if they have not donated it elsewhere) a heavy, carved leather mochila once owned by rider William Cates. It appears to be fashioned for parade and display purposes. However, some claim that part of an original mochila is in it. There is also a replica mochila that Buffalo Bill Cody used in his Wild West Show around the turn of the century. It is on display at the Buffalo Bill Memorial Museum in Golden, Colorado.

There are no known original saddles or mochilas in existence.

Source: Jackie Lewin, Curator of History, St. Joseph Museum

Recently J. C. and Candace Kilgrow of Wendell, Idaho, sent the following email:

Landis saddle "I read on your web site that there are no known pony express saddles in existance. I think I have one. It is in pretty rough shape, but it is signed, or rather stamped "Landis" St. Joseph, Mo. It is a perfect description of the one on your web site."

Upon further research, Jackie Lewin, provided the following:

I have talked to saddlemaker Russ Mooney. Russ has researched the Pony Express saddle and mochila. He has made a number of replicas which are in museums, including the U.S. Postal Museum. His background is this: Israel Landis is credited with making the mochilas on the eastern end. After the Pony Express, Landis worked for the Wyeth Hardware and Saddlemaking Company. Around the turn of the century Harry Sunderland worked for Wyeth's and learned saddlemaking from Landis. Russ' father, Bill Mooney, later worked at Wyeth's with Harry Sunderland. When the Wyeth saddle factory closed, Bill started his own saddle shop in St. Joseph and used many of the antique tools from Wyeths - some may have been used by Landis. Today, Bill is retired, but Russ carries on the tradition in his saddle shop. He is familiar with the stamps used by Landis.

Russ looked at the photos and felt the saddle was a Landis saddle of the Santa Fe style. This style was more common at the time of the Pony Express and is characterized by the A shape when looking at it from the front. It has the same horn shape, bars and center fire rigging.

Landis saddle Landis saddle Landis saddle
There were two Landis saddle makers - father Israel and son John. Israel began making saddles and harnesses in the 1840s. Although the Landis family lived in St. Joseph, Israel had a profitable harness business in Leavenworth for the freighters. This is probably how he became acquainted with Russell, Majors and Waddell.

In 1860, John was in Denver making saddles and trees along with a man named Gallatin. It could be surmised that John made some of the Pony Express saddles for his father in Denver to supply the western end of the trail. It is also possible that he used his father's St. Joe stamp. Or, the saddle could have been made in the St. Joe Landis shop. John was also back in St. Joe by 1876. Both John and Israel were out of the business by 1900.

Russ has never seen a Pony Express saddle since none are known to exist. He has studied the drawings and descriptions of riders. Also, the Wyeth Company in St. Joe was said to have made a replica saddle and mochila from a disassembled original in the 1920s and 1930s. Our museum has one of those replicas. Russ said upon seeing the photos that "this was the closest he had come to a Pony Express saddle." Of course, without a history of where the saddle had come from, it is impossible to verify that it was actually used by the Pony Express riders. It does, however, appear to be a saddle made by Landis and of the style used by the Pony Express.

Russ felt that the photos showed that the saddle had been cobbled or repaired in the seat and that the large lacing was probably not original. The brass military ring may have been added later and possibly some of the rigging may have been changed as it wore out. He said the saddle was valuable to collectors and dismantling it would destroy its antique value. He recommended putting some Lexol Leather Conditioner (or something similar) on it. After it was soft, it could be cleaned.

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