Malachite’s Big Hole
Mountain Men generally preferred saddles for riding their horses, although when forced by necessity might ride with just a blanket, pad, or even bareback. Osborne Russell (Reference) in describing the equipment of a trapper refers several times to the saddle:
“A Trappers equipments in such cases is generally one Animal upon which is placed one or two Epishemores a riding Saddle and bridle a sack containing six Beaver traps a blanket with an extra pair of Mocasins his powder horn and bullet pouch with a belt to which is attached a butcher Knife a small wooden box containing bait for Beaver a Tobacco sack with a pipe and implements for making fire with sometimes a hatchet fastened to the Pommel of his saddle his personal dress is a flannel or cotton shirt (if he is fortunate enough to obtain one, if not Antelope skin answers the purpose of over and under shirt) a pair of leather breeches with Blanket or smoked Buffaloe skin, leggings, a coat made of Blanket or Buffaloe robe a hat or Cap of wool, Buffaloe or Otter skin his hose are pieces of Blanket lapped round his feet which are covered with a pair of Moccassins made of Dressed Deer Elk or Buffaloe skins with his long hair falling loosely over his shoulders complets his uniform. He then mounts and places his rifle before him on his Saddle.”
Although most journals make frequent mention of saddles, none describe a saddle in any detail. I suspect this is for the same reason none of us would go into a detailed description of the tires on our cars in our diary.
Most contemporary drawings or paintings of mountain men, if they show a saddle, generally do not show much detail. The drawing to the right is a self-image by Rudolph Friederich Kurz (reference) made while he was at Fort Union in the late 1840’s. The drawing shows a deep cantle and a horn. The seat is covered with a blanket. This may be a Hope-style saddle. Kurz has a number of drawings of what appears to be a similar style saddle. These all appear to be used by whites, or by fort employees, although in one drawing Indians appear to by riding horses with this style saddle.
In most instances Kurz shows Indians riding either bareback, or with only a blanket or pad. However, the style of saddle shown to the right only appears in association with Indians and in one drawing it appears an Indian is riding a horse with this style saddle.