GUERNSEY—As rugged as the country they ranched and lived on, the Wyoming cowboys of the early 1900s had few possessions more dear to them than their brand, horses and saddles. Each tools of their trade, they were the foundational pieces needed to turn a profit in a venture that was more than a livelihood, it was a lifestyle.
Charles Herman Frederick was just such a man. Born and raised in the Guernsey area, he and his wife Estella ranched all of their lives, a leg of the Frederick family descended from Gottlieb Frederick, who came to America from Germany and was a soldier at the frontier outpost Fort William, now known as Fort Laramie. He established a ranching tradition that carries on today through the family in several locales.
Many of these early ranchers spent hours and hours on horseback, working their cattle and getting from place to place. A saddle had to be comfortable and well-made to withstand the punishment of the workload.
In 1924, it seems Charles Frederick special ordered a saddle from the well-known maker Hamley in Pendleton, Oregon, a business that remains in operation today. The saddle was hand-tooled with Frederick’s brand “747” and a registration number carved into the back of the cantle. Bearing the mark of Hamley as the saddle maker, it was shipped to Charles in Guernsey and he then owned a very nice, quality saddle that would stand up to the rigors of ranch work. It was a process likely done on many a ranch in those days.
Years passed, lives were lived, the family grew several generations and the ranch has remained in the family.
In August of this year, Charles Frederick’s granddaughter, Winnie Prewitt, who now owns and lives on the family ranch with her husband Dave, received a call from a saddle and boot shop owner and craftsman in the small town of Burke, South Dakota. Scott Bartlett believed he had something that Winnie just might like to have and he wanted her to have the chance to say so. The Hamley saddle that Charles Frederick ordered in 1924 had shown up in Bartlett's shop, brought in by a older man who wanted to sell a couple of old saddles. When Bartlett saw that both saddles were marked with registration numbers, he knew he could likely trace the ownership and bought the two saddles. After finding the owner to the second saddle, he got word that the Hamley saddle had been ordered and purchased by Charles Frederick in Guernsey, Wyoming in 1924. After a phone call to Kate Farmer at Guernsey City Hall, who forwarded him on to Chuck Frederick (another leg of the family), Bartlett was directed to call Winnie and did so. She was astounded and so happy that the saddle had been discovered and saved. Despite the fact that by that time, Bartlett actually had a potential customer for the saddle back in South Dakota, he told Winnie it was important to him that the saddle be returned to the family if at all possible. “I will be forever grateful to Scott Bartlett”, said Winnie in an interview this week. “He didn’t have to do any of that but he saw how much potential meaning that could have to family members and we really appreciate it.”
Last week, Winnie and Dave made the 800 mile round trip to Bartlett’s shop in South Dakota to pick the saddle up and bring it back home to Guernsey.
It is worn and missing the fenders and the stirrups, but the basic upper body of the saddle is intact and in relatively good shape, considering it is now 95 years old. Bartlette told Winnie that he could fix the missing pieces and distress them to match the original but Winnie has opted to leave the saddle as is. “I just like it the way it is. This is truly Grandpa’s saddle.”
Winnie doesn’t recall anyone talking about the saddle when she was a young girl, but would love to know the stories it could tell.
But the Hamley saddle isn’t the first one of her grandad’s saddles that Winnie now owns. She has a saddle that did stay on the ranch in the barns over the years and has now been moved into the house on a saddle stand made by Winnie’s grandson Justin. That saddle was made in Lusk by Kirwan and sold through the Modern-Shoe-Shop. The Kirwan saddle is very similar to the Hamley in style and also has the “747” brand tooled into the back of the cantle so it was also a specially-ordered saddle. Winnie wonders if the Hamley saddle was traded for the Kirwan at some point, but as of now, no research has been done on the Kirwan to see if there are any records of the order and purchase date.
For now, she is just happy to have both of them—a very real way to actually touch her past, something anyone who appreciates their family heritage can understand.
Defying some very long odds, the Hamley saddle is back home in Wyoming, mostly because Scott Bartlett knows these kind of finds are few and far between. For Winnie, it is a testament to the work of ranching that has been the backbone of her family for well over 100 years. “I think it was just meant to be.”