Nevada Rawhide Since 1870

The most important and widely practiced craft tradition introduced to the Great Basin by California stockmen was rawhide braiding. Much of the distinctive horse gear associated with Nevada buckaroos is made of this material (reatas, hobbles, hackamores, reins, and quirts). Unlike saddle making, rawhide braiding did not require an extensive tool kit or materials ordered from suppliers at a distance. The tools and raw materials for this craft were readily available on any ranch that butchered its own beef. The fundamentals could be learned from braiders found in most ranching communities, and the incentive to acquire the skill was fairly strong for poorly paid ranch hands who could produce their own equipment and supplement their incomes by producing for others.

While rawhide braiding was widely practiced as a bunkhouse craft, the demand for such goods was also supplied commercially. Most saddleries that catered to the ranching community sold braided rawhide gear. Braider Jose Sainora was employed in G. S. Garcia's shop in 1900. The extraordinary braided calfskin headstall and reins included in Garcia's World's Fair outfit was braided by Elko County rancher Domingo Aguilar. It is very likely Aguilar's talents were called upon by Garcia on other occasions when fine braiding was required.

Another source of braided horse gear for both individuals and shops was provided by the leathercraft program at the Nevada State Prison. Inmate braiders produced enough good quality work to be an important source of "using" rawhide for some Bay Area saddleries, as well as for Nevada stockmen during the first half of the twentieth century.

Rawhide braiding as an art form is in no danger of dying out. In fact, the number of fine braiders in Nevada and the Great Basin are too numerous to list. This is due in part to the efforts of individuals who continue the tradition of sharing their skills with others. Bill Budd of Spring Creek has developed a series of instructional materials and string cutters which he offers to braiders both novice and experienced. Doug Groves, longtime cowboss on the TS Ranch out of Battle Mountain, has probably done as much as any individual to spread the word about rawhide braiding. With the encouragement of the Nevada Arts Council, he developed a slide presentation on the art form for the general public. Groves has also instructed a new generation of braiders both informally and at workshops held at the Western Folklife Center in Elko.

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