Jones and Hope Saddles – The Also-Rans

Hopes and Jones saddles – those saddle names became more frequently included in Ordnance Department reports after 1855.  These names were given substantial prominence in the lists of equipment types tested, inferring a more complete methodology than close inspection might conclude.  The total number of both types actually purchased/tested are very likely to have been less than 500 – they were “The Also-Rans”.

R.E. Lee saddle, near side. [4]

The Hope Saddle –

In early December 1856, letters were received from R.W. Brahan, a San Antonio resident, recommended saddles made by Rice & Childress, of that city.  Included with his recommendation were letters of recommendation by 2nd Cavalry Regiment commander,  Col Albert Sidney Johnston, and former quartermaster George T. Howard. [1]  Samuel Childress apparently delivered these, with quite a multitude of other letters of recommendation to the War Dept. [2]

Saddle of Jefferson Davis, used while commanding the Mississippi Rifles regiment during Mexican War, and for some time afterwards.[4]

On January 10th, 1857, Chief of Ordnance Henry Knox Craig recommended to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, to give “Mr. Childers” an order for 170 “Texas saddles” at $22.50 each for testing. [3] This purchase was quickly approved by Secty Davis the very same day, being quite familiar with the Texas-style saddle – as he had ridden one while commanding the Mississippi Rifles regiment during the Mexican War (seen to the left).  [4]

Col. Craig dutifully accomplished the purchase of the Hope saddles, and included them into the ‘trial’ with this initial purchase of 170 sets – the first and last Hope saddles purchased for testing.   Reviews were mostly mixed on the Hopes, with most opinions trending negative overall. [5] Letters from 2nd Cavalry officers reporting on the Hopes saddle issued for trial speak of mexican stirrup/sweat leathers, latigo strings for tying gear, and mexican hair/cord cinch[6].  Additional letters of recommendation were received by other parties later in April 1858, including a note from the now former Secretary of War Davis, forwarded to the new Secretary, John Floyd.  These were not ultimately acted upon, however.

R.E. Lee saddle, off side. [4]

No existing examples of a Hopes trial saddle exist*, but it would probably be impossible to tell from any other made by Rice & Childress in this time period.  The Texas saddle used by Robert E. Lee, acquired while commanding the 2nd Cavalry in Texas at this time, is made with a typical ‘Hope’ tree, with a maker’s name mark on leather of “E. L. Hopkins.”.  From that example, we can see it is one of the Texas variants that has the sidebar protruding slightly forward of the front edge of the pommel.  The cantle is extremely low, and has a top edge with a near circular profile.

Note that the construction of Jefferson Davis’ saddle from the mid-1840s and the R.E. Lee specimen from a dozen years later are nearly identical, with exception of the horn ‘platter’ size.   This may be an illusion from the leather covering. 

Joseph Johnston's Hope saddle

Joseph E. Johnston, while Lt. Col. of the 2nd Cavalry Regiment before the Civil War, acquired a Hope saddle attributed to Rice & Childress [4] (shown here).  It has been preserved and maintained at the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Va.  Given that he was with the regiment in the vicinity of San Antonio when the lot of trial saddles was purchased from Rice & Childress, it’s reasonable to assume that this particular example has the closest form to the ones used in the trial, albeit with certain officer-grade embellishments.  He may have acquired this one prior to the trial saddle buy, as he wrote one of the letters of recommendation for it that were delivered to the War Department in early 1857.

The Jones Saddle –

Patent drawing from Jones second patent – US Patent 11068

The saddest of the ‘also-rans’ in all this was an adjustable tree type invented by Lt. William E. ‘Grumble’ Jones of the US Mounted Rifles Regiment.  First tried in microscopic numbers in 1855 (approximately 26, distributed in the grand total of 2 per company [7] ),  it was approved for a large scale trial in the following year.  The few early reports were favorable (‘courteous’ might be a better description), if somewhat skeptical about durability.   The innovation of the design was a basic metal frame fitted on sidebars, with hinges at the tops of cantle and pommel, with the width adjusted by turnbuckle-type fittings, and swiveling sidebar attachment points. [8]  The design would have demanded that the pommel and cantle have a hinged, or split, top in order for the turnbuckle adjusters to function.  

No real images of a complete saddle appear to exist, other than skeleton drawings from Jones’ patents.   Purest speculation, but the earliest 1855 pieces may have sported Grimsley-style hussar pommel and cantle pieces attached to the metal framework.  The later saddles purchased were a few years after the 1855 cavalry board design specification for an oval/semi-circular profile cantle, so it’s likely the later trial versions looked much like the Campbell and 1857 McClellan pattern – at least in their basic shape.

Excellent new insights on the Jones equipments recently discovered show that at least 300 were made by the well known firm of Lacey & Phillips, of Philadelphia, Pa., in early 1858.  Delivered in two lots of 150 each, in the months of January and February, with a per equipment set cost of approximately $39.00 each. [9]  That bit of information alone is suggestive as to why the Jones was not selected, barring any probable weaknesses with the patented gimmicks – it was nearly double the cost of its competitors.


[1] Letters, National Archives, Record Group 156, Special File, Experiments
[2]  Many letters of recommendation in Man Made Mobile.
[3]  National Archives, Record Group 156, Letters Received, WD-8
[4]  American Civil War Museum (formerly MOC), Richmond, VA

[5] ‘Cavalry Equipment — Past and Present‘, Capt. Edward Davis, Journal of the United States Cavalry Association. v.26 Jul-Jun 1915/16, pp. 222-3.
[6] ibid.
[7] ibid. pg. 227.
[8] US Patent 11068/11068A ( link )
[9] Letters, National Archives, Record Group 156, Entry 3 Vol. 48 p.496., February 11th. 1858 &  Entry 3 Vol 49 pp. 37-38., March 8th 1858. – many thanks to Dusan Farrington for sharing this valuable find! – TH

A Texas saddle was identified by Randy Steffen as a Hope trial saddle, in both his Military Saddles and Horse Soldier books.  This was a highly flawed identification and should not be considered. 

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