Around 1905, the M1896 saddle changed in a significant way with a move from black leather to russet, which was an Army wide phenomenon for all leather equipment. The saddletree and it’s construction remained essentially the same. With the first model 1904 [hereafter referred to as M1904(I)] , there were only very minor changes.
The rigging safes were also doubled in the same manner, although this was done with later M1896’s as well. All metal hardware was also finished in brown jappan for enlisted men, and bronze for officer equipments. This only lasted for a few years until it was replaced by a more durable dark bronze chemical finish.
The stirrup straps continued to be constructed with reversed buckles and reinforced sections where the stirrup transom would rest (same as M1896) . The reversed buckle allowed the stirrup strap to be twisted when assembled. Depending on the direction of the twist, the openings of the stirrups on both sides could be made to naturally face the rear, reducing the stress on the rider’s legs. A reason for this can be seen in the increasingly heavy weight of strap leather that was being used for stirrup straps. The stiff 14-15 oz. leather used in the earlier models tended to turn the stirrup foot openings outward. The rider, if they dropped their foot from the stirrup, would have difficulty in returning it to a outward facing stirrup, especially in the flurry of mounted action.
Many of the M1904(I)’s were later converted to the new M1904(II) specification, when the Godfrey-style rigging was replaced with the adjustable quarter-strap assembly of the M1904(II), and the stirrup hangers were moved forward.
In mid- to late-1907, the key design changes that characterized the M1904 McClellan were finally put into place for production saddles. The M1904 McClellan represents the last of the McClellans to use the “centerfire” rigging. In this model, it was again altered to provide even more adjustability, as well as increasing the bulk of harness between the rider’s leg and the horse. The quarter straps were terminated near the edges of the saddletree, and had halter squares sewn into the ends. The cantle square hung slightly below the edge of the saddletree, while the pommel square rested just above the edge. A long strap (‘quarter strap, side’), with a roller buckle and several loops, was run through these squares and the rigging ring in such a way as to duplicate the arrangement of the M1896. Adjusting the length of the strap could raise or lower the rigging ring, which could not be done with the M1896 Godfrey-style rigging. The rigging ring safe was now cut in a circle slightly larger than the ring, held to the ring by the usual riveted loops.
There were a number of other notable changes made as well. The stirrup loop was moved forward on the tree by 1 1/4″, much closer to the pommel. The entire undersurface of the saddle was covered with one-half inch thickness sheepskin. This was first sewn to the bottom covers, after which the outer lower edge was sewn into the cover seam when that was closed. This is by the regulation description of the saddle – actual specimens show that many were made without this sheepskin. The rigging ring safes were universally lined with sheepskin.
A key identifier for early M1904(II) saddles was the use of jappaned iron tubular rivets and caps for certain very defined locations. On the seat, these were used for reinforcing the folded and stitched laps that held the rigging squares. The stirrup hoods were also attached with these same types of rivets and caps. The iron tubular rivets and caps were highly prone to rusting, and the limited locations where these were used are rather puzzling – they were clearly inferior to standard brass rivets and burrs. All jappanning of brass/bronze parts was replaced with chemical bronze/black finish – somewhere between June 1908 and February 1909.
Stirrup hanger loops were iron, and this characteristic will clearly id a M1904(II) to late 1907 to early 1912.