The Western Saddle: A Cowboy’s Most Prized Possession
For a working cowboy in the old American West, a saddle was his most prized possession. Without it, he couldn’t work. So a cowboy might wager away his gun, his spurs, or even his boots, but never his saddle.
In the old west, horses were plentiful and cheap. A good saddle was neither. The song, “The Old Chisholm Trail,” establishes that value with the lyric “On a $10 horse and a $40 saddle.” A good saddle would generally cost the equivalent of one to two months’ wages.
Cowboys took great pride in their saddles and so took good care of them. The saddle was a symbol of the job and lifestyle they loved. To be so hard up as to have to sell a saddle was a great humiliation for a cowboy.
A rich language developed around the western saddle
- Saddling was “slapping a tree on” or “putting your leather on”
- A cowboy never wanted to be told to “put his saddle in the wagon” as it meant he was being fired or sent on his way.
- When a man “sold his saddle” it meant that he was no longer a cowboy.
- A compliment for a good hand and rider was to be described as “settin’ deep in his tree.”
- When a cowboy retired it was said “he hung up his saddle.”
- And when he passed on from this world, he “sacked his saddle.”