Aside World Magazine
Spring 2020 Issue
Rail Side Saddle
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By Mary Beth Walker
While engaging in my favorite pastime beside riding, namely perusing Ebay for doll items ( for my collection) or hats (for my extensive collection) or anything aside, I came across a unique looking side saddle. It harkened back to the 1890's and appeared to be in very good condition from the pictures. I decided at once that I had to have it if only to preserve it for posterity. After negotiating the price with the seller, it was mine!
While awaiting its arrival I did some research and uncovered some interesting information.
This saddle is a side rail side saddle also known as a hoop saddle. It is classified as an American side saddle and was manufactured in the United States on a Ruwart or Morgan tree in the latter half of the 19th century. They were the first side saddles built on Western style bars rather than the standard tree with points. These saddles apparently became so popular that companies such as Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward began assembly line production of them and thus they became known as "catalog" saddles. They were made in only one tree size and one seat size which measures 18 inches, as this one does.
My saddle is a variation on the basic American side saddle as it sports a metal rail on the right edge and rear part of the seat. Some references maintain this is a modification of the historical ladies saddle dating back to the 15th century we have all seen drawings of. That was constructed so that a lady literally rode facing sideways on the horse in a chair-like saddle with a rail behind her and a board or planchette to rest her feet. Another curious observation is that no side rail saddle has ever been found with a leaping head perhaps implying that the rail gave enough security (!) Many were decorated with colorful fringe hanging from the rail. Mine is fringeless and upon examining it I am still unsure if it ever had one.
Although my side rail saddle looks particularly western with tooling and a western stirrup, all citations I could find stated that it is technically not classified as a Western side saddle and could never be used in a Western show class.
The seat covering seems in excellent condition considering its age and feels velvet-like, however it may be made of carpet which was a typical material employed.
One mystery I have yet to solve is that of the offside stirrup. I can not imagine a groom trying to ride astride with the side rail blocking his leg and the rail does not appear to be removable. As I am certainly no side saddle expert, I welcome all readers of this article to submit their commentaries and ideas!
One reference I found stated that most side rail saddles were produced mainly in Kentucky however this one was manufactured in Cookeville, Tennessee by Jere Whitson Hardware Co as the stamp shows. Further research uncovered a fair amount of information about Mr. Jeremiah "Jere" Whitson. He lived from 1853 to 1928 and was apparently a pillar of his community. He founded Dixie College and ran a successful lumber mill and hardware company. During his lifetime he also owned and operated several dry good stores, a grocery store, a gristmill, a livery stable, a bank and a funeral home. While accomplished in business he was also civic minded serving for two years as mayor of Cookeville.
Additionally he owned several farms on which he employed the latest modern farming techniques of his time. He and his wife raised three sons and two daughters. Perhaps my well preserved ladies side rail side saddle once belonged to one of them?
Friddle-Bowlby, The Sidesaddle Legacy - How to Ride Aside the American Way; The World Wide Sidesaddle Federation 1994
Watts Hettinger, Rhonda C, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Sidesaddle; Sidesaddle Source, Wilton, NH 2009
Fleitmann Bloodgood, Lida, The Saddle of Queens, The Story of the Side-saddle; J.A.Allen & Co. Great Britain 1959
Herald-Citizen Davis, Amy; History Museum celebrates Jere Whitson; undated
Find A Grave Memorial Cookeville City Cemetery, Putnam County Tennessee, USA 2009