Programs & Services

Saddle Makers of the Southwest

At the Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum

Saddle makers and other workers in the S.D. Myres workshop in Sweetwater, Texas. Myres also had a shop in El Paso, near New Mexico and mentored many of New Mexico’s top saddle makers. Photograph courtesy of NM Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.

For generations, their handmade creations have connected horse and rider. As both artists and craftsmen, saddle makers designed and built a valuable tool that included a unique artistic touch.

Inside the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum’s towering Horse & Cattle Barn on the southern edge of the 47-acre campus in Las Cruces is an exhibit that gives visitors a look at the importance and art of saddle making. Saddle Makers of the Southwest features a leather-stamping activity for children, dozens of tools, and saddles in various stages of creation.

Saddle making begins with the design. And while making the saddle is a craft, decorating it is an art. So, they were the master of two trades, in effect.

Mostly anonymous to history as individuals, the earliest makers of Spanish and Mexican saddles were local craftsmen, the talabateros, who fashioned simple saddles on wooden trees. As saddles became more complex, makers developed additional skills furthering the profession. By the 1800s, individual craftsmen were stamping their names on saddles and creating regional styles. Saddleries established their reputations based on the quality and craftsmanship of the goods they produced. In the late 1800s, some saddle makers added decorative designs to the leather to make their saddles distinct. Soon, leather carving became an art form in itself.

The saddle was the most critical tool of the cowboy. It was one of the most expensive purchases he would make, so he wanted a good, durable saddle that was specific to the work he was doing — whether it was riding the range on a cattle drive, roping, branding calves, or competing at the rodeo. Cowboys sought out particular saddle makers for their custom orders and based their selections on the makers’ reputations for making exactly what the cowboy needed and used.

Four of the region’s top saddle makers are featured in the exhibit: Austin “Slim” Green (1916–2007), S.D. Myres (1871–1953), E.T. Amonett (1868–1950), and James Morris, who was born in Carrizozo, N.M. in 1943. Morris still builds custom saddles, chaps, purses, belts, and other leather goods at his shop just west of Caballo, N.M.

Monday–Saturday 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Sunday, Noon–5 p.m.?The barns close at 4 p.m. each day, but visitors may still walk to see the livestock until 5 p.m.?Adults $5; seniors (60+) $4; children (4–17) $3; active US military and veterans $2; children 3 and under and museum members with card, free.

 $3; active US military and veterans $2; children 3 and under and museum members with card, free.

New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum visitors can enjoy watching wool spinning on Tuesdays, sewing and weaving on Wednesday mornings, quilting on Thursday and Friday mornings, blacksmithing on the weekends, and milking every day.

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