Nevada Saddlery Since 1870

With the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1868, vast areas of natural pasture in the Great Basin became attractive to California stockmen. The spectacular growth of the cattle industry in the early 1870s resulted in an expansion of the market for "riders' outfits" to supply stockmen and vaqueros, the overwhelming majority of whom had come from California and carried that state's Hispanic equestrian tradition into the Great Basin.

Shops were established in the towns created by the railroad to meet the demand for vaquero gear as well as the harness needed by teamsters, mines, and mills. Reno, Winnemucca, and Elko became important shipping and supply points, and each developed saddleries to meet the need. Most of these were established by craftsmen who had spent enough time in California to have absorbed the state's decorative style.

Although he arrived in Elko in the mid 1890s—a third of a century after the beginning of the cattle boom—Guadalupe S. Garcia was in the right place at the right time. Because the demand for California-style horse gear was undiminished, Garcia's saddlery grew steadily. He knew what his customers wanted, and he put together an impressive group of craftsmen to produce "Everything for the Vaquero," as his early catalog covers proclaimed. Garcia was himself an accomplished craftsman, and he had grown up and learned his trade in San Luis Obispo, an area where the legacy of California's Hispanic ranching past remained strong.

By the early 1900s, Garcia was a successful and respected member of the Elko business community. His stature was substantially enhanced by his successful participation in the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair. He was able to present his work to a vastly wider customer base, including a budding showman named Will Rogers. Garcia returned to Elko at the close of the fair with a gold medal for saddles, bits, and spurs. He promptly began an advertising campaign featuring "The Saddle That Made Elko Famous." Garcia used its image, and those of the medals it won, prodigiously on catalog covers, calendars, and postcards. The outfit—saddle, bridle, and martingale—is a superb example of vaquero-inspired design and craftsmanship. It resides today at the Nevada State Museum in Carson City.

Garcia was an innovator as well. He pioneered the development and use of embossing plates to duplicate the time-consuming hand stamping of leather items, and he operated his own tannery in Elko where he experimented with the use of tannin produced from sagebrush. Garcia died in 1933 and his Elko shop closed in 1938. Items produced in his shop continue to be highly prized by horsemen and collectors alike.

A second Nevada-produced saddle gained nationwide fame in 1945. The Reno Chamber of Commerce commissioned the firm of Bools & Butler to create an outfit for Admiral William F. "Bull" Halsey to use on Emperor Hirohito's horse after the fall of Japan. Veteran saddle maker Fred Lohlein produced the saddle, bridle, and martingale, and some 116 decorative silver pieces were fashioned by M. H. "Hoot" Newman of Newman's Silver Shop. Members of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe contributed a pair of beaded gauntlet gloves made of their famed brain-tanned, smoke-cured buckskin. The outfit is on display at the United States Naval Academy Museum at Annapolis.

The tradition of fine saddlery lives on in Nevada. Individual saddle makers and shops continue to produce fine saddlery and leather goods. Two of their number, Eddie Brooks of Elko and Bill Maloy of Washoe Valley, have been recognized for their achievement, having received the Governor's Arts Award for Excellence in Folk Arts.

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