Pioneer Town exhibit takes Amarillo saddle maker down memory lane

If you feel like taking a trip back in time, the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum's new Pioneer Town is a place you'll want to visit. From old-fashioned banks and photography studios, to saddlery shops and classrooms -- tourists have the chance to see the what life was life back between the years of 1890-1910.

The Rutherfood Brothers Harness Shop and Saddlery exhibit was modeled after the real Rutherford Brothers shop that operated out of Clarendon for about 20 years in the 1900's.

"You smell the leather and see the tools that they worked with, kind of the actual set up of a shop," explained the museum's Communications Coordinator, Andrea Porter. "It was a horse drawn culture so there was a lot of need for saddles but then it was going into the automobile era so they started to do upholstry. It really shows a transition in time as far as the transportation industry goes."

Amarillo saddle-maker, Richard Oliver, stuck with the tradition of making custom-made saddles with his hands. He and his two sons are carrying on the business his grandfather started nearly 100 years ago.

"We've been behind for a long time now," said Oliver, owner of Oliver's Saddle Shop. "We run several months behind on our saddles, which is a good thing," he laughed.

Many saddle-making shops dropped off over the years, and the few who survived have seen many changes in the business. More saddles are made these days for large ranches and the few cowboys who still ride and run the family ranch, Oliver said. Also, because ranchers are slaughtering their cattle at younger ages, the hides are smaller, meaning saddle-makers go through more hides just to build one saddle. Over time, that's caused the pricing to go up dramatically. Around the turn of the century, a custom-made saddle only cost about $30. Now, Oliver said, the base price for one custom-made saddle is at least $3,800.

Despite the changes, the actual building of the saddles, Oliver said, remains basically the same.

"Building saddles has not changed a lot," he said. "The knowledge my grandfather had a building saddles was passed right on down. My boys know what he knew and what he learned."

History the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum and saddle makers like Oliver are hoping folks of the Panhandle continue to recognize and cherish.

"People don't even realize you can get custom made saddles anymore

," said Oliver.


or the first time in history we're having to educate people that you can still get custom made saddles, quality and American made too."

"We still do the exact same things in life but just do them in a different way

," added Porter.


We show how technology how really changed so little we show the saddle and it's still used today but it's come a long ways, we use cars now and showing how that the industry had to change with that and of course that's what we're still doing today."