Man Made Mobile

Reviews and commentary on books, films, etc.
Society Member
Posts: 758
Joined: Tue Nov 28, 2000 4:10 pm
Last Name: Holmes

Simply put, “Man Made Mobile” is probably the most important work regarding North American saddlery of the 19th century to have been published in the past twenty-five years. If you have any interest in the subject, you must obtain a copy. Which might be difficult as it has been out of print and generally unavailable for a number of years.

This book is essentially a compilation of several monographs covering the wide range of saddlery types that were commonly found in the early nineteenth century. The geographic areas covered are referred to as North American, but are essentially the western frontier and Mexico.

The monographs included in this book are:

Horizons of the Western Saddle, by Richard E. Ahlborn: A perfect beginning to assist in explaining the development of the horned saddles of the frontier and their lineage from the equipment of the Mexican vaqueros and landholders, and from the imported equipment and riding styles of the Iberian peninsula.

Origins of Mexican Horsemanship and Saddlery, by Daniel F. Rubin de la Borbolla: Further expansion of the topic of horsemanship in Mexico from the time of the conquistador to that of the early 19th century vaquero and landowning classes, with insightful discussion of the natural evolution of the relevant saddlery.

Western Saddles Before the Cowboy, by James S. Hutchins: In all likelihood, this monograph alone is worth the price of the book. James Hutchins is probably the least recognized authority on early western saddlery and horse equipment, which is a crying shame. Had any number of individuals read this particular study when it was first published, a great deal of far better known subject references would not be so gravely in error. This section primarily examines the nearly universal presence of the Spanish saddle, and the common variations of the same in the early frontier, including the Texas/Hope saddle, and the hybrid “American” saddle.

Saddles of the Plains Indians, by John C. Ewers: What examination of 19th century North American saddlery would be complete without a look at the equipment of the Plains Indian horse cultures? As these equipments tended to be quite simple and straightforward, this is a fairly short section of the overall work, but it is as enlightening and useful as all the others.

Description of the Saddlery in the Renwick Exhibition, by Ann Nelson: A very significant part of this book is this section that is essentially a catalog of an exhibition of exceedingly rare early saddles, many of which are used for illustrative purposes in other areas of the book. This exhibition was the result of a collaborative effort on the part of Ahlborn, Ewers, and Hutchins, beginning in 1973, to present an exhibition of early saddlery of the pre-1865, Transmississippi west. The exhibit opened in July, 1974, and was on display for two years. Included in this display were some of the most significant specimens of saddlery, including several stunning examples of the high art of early Mexican saddles, the beautiful saddle presented to Col J.H. Leavenworth of the 2nd Colorado Vol. Cav. Reg., made by Edward Gallatin in 1862, as well as a number of typical non-presentation specimens.

The one clearly lacking piece in the scope of this work is the absence of discussion of the variety of equipment in use in the “civilized east” of the United States. The closest mention tends to be of hybridized “American” saddle, which is not developed beyond being caricatured as a sickly cousin of the more robust frontier types. This is expected when the primary reason for this book’s existence was the theme of the Renwick Exhibition (saddles of the Transmississippi west). This area of research has yet to have a similar examination and publication.

For those of us with that peculiar sickness that masks itself as an appreciation of the workmanship, design, and functionality of antiquated horse equipment, “Man Made Mobile” remains as the ultimate source of information and inspiration for the continued study of this area of material culture.
Past Society Member
Past Society Member
Posts: 19
Joined: Sat Aug 11, 2001 12:16 am

Dear Pat:

Is this book still in print? Where is the best place to purchase it. Thanks.

Anita L. Henderson
Pat Holscher
Society Member
Posts: 7553
Joined: Thu Nov 30, 2000 6:51 pm
Last Name: Holscher

Anita, unfortunately the book is no longer in print.

I've found, however, that it is still readily available. It is frequently a book that is held by one of the various used book dealers that trade over the internet. It also occasionally shows up on ebay, although I'd make sure I had a handle on the price it trades for before purchasing one there. At any rate, I'd take a look at the used book dealers stores and see if they have it.

It is really an excellent book. With all the various texts that are out there on saddles which remain in print, it is sad that this one, put out by the Smithsonian Institute Press, is not. I suspect it may be too scholarly to be a book that remains in print, or perhaps the fact that it wasn't picked up by one of the big private or university publishers may explain it.