Charles Frederick Holder.

The Californian (Volume 4) online

. (page 26 of 120)
Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderThe Californian (Volume 4) → online text (page 26 of 120)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

saddle. A riding whip is not a Cali-
fornian adjunct ; a long lash attached
to the reins, and of the same material,
answering that purpose, though the
spur relieves it of much active service.
The immense
spur with rowels
six inches across,
made more for
show than actual
use, is not now
often seen, hav-
ing given place
to smaller ones
with from one-
and-a-half to
inch rowels; not
sharp like the
Eastern spur, but
blunt pointed.
These are provid-
ed with chains
and jingling ap-
pendages which
add their part to
the pomp of the
ensemble. If a
halter rope is
used, it is likely
to be of finely
twisted horse-
hair, strong and
durable, with
perhaps two or more colors beautifully
blended, and the end finished with a
pretty tassel.

The saddle is made very beautiful
by being completely covered with
Mexican stamping ; or maybe a neat
border only of the same is applied,
according to the purse of the owner.
No nails are used in the construction
of the saddle, and it is put together in
a singular way. When the parts are
placed in position, strong, alum-tanned



leather thongs are drawn through
double holes, placed where required
and tied on the outside — the long
ends serving the double purpose of
securing packages of all kinds the
rider may wish to carry, or when not
so required, of ornament, only.

In a certain shop on State street,
Santa Barbara, may be seen a curious
old saddle that once belonged to Don
Jose de la Guerra y Noriega, Com-
mandante of the troops at Santa
Barbara under the authority of Mex-
ico. The saddle which had become so
worn as to be discarded by the General
before 1840, was made in Mexico in
the style then in vogue, though it was
given a distinctive characteristic in
the high pommel, which represents a
diminutive human head made of raw-
hide stretched over wood. The ears
are high up near the forehead, which
gives the figure a decidedly grotesque
appearance ; the open lips reveal two
rows of tiny white teeth, but where
the eyes once were, only empty sockets
remain ; and the hair which was rep-
resented by open-work silver, has dis-



appeared, as has
also the silver or-
naments which
decorated the can-
tie. The stirrups,
too, are missing,
but its chief beau-
ty, the mochilla,
still remains in a
fair state of pres-
ervation. This
interesting part of
the old montadura
is a leather cover-
ing that was fold-
ed through the center like a blanket
until required for use, when it was
thrown over the saddle, the horn and
cantle projecting through two open-
ings of proper shape, while a lacing
between the two, effected the required
curve in the seat. It extended some
distance both before and behind the
saddle, and reached at the side almost
to the rider's ankle, affording ample
surface for decoration. There are still
a few other very handsome mock Mas
to be found among the heirlooms in
some of the old adobes of Santa Bar-
bara, literally covered with rich em-
broideries in gold and silver, and
silks of the brightest hues, with
spaces filled with stamping. With
horse and rider decked out in the
splendid equipments of the time,
these proud old cavalleros must indeed
have presented an imposing appear-
ance. In time both the mochilla and
the embroidery disappeared, and the
stamping was used exclusively, with
sometimes silver ornaments for em-

A celebrated saddle of this later
period is that owned by Mr. Dixie W.
Thompson of Santa Barbara, a " 49er "
well known on the California coast.
Mr. Thompson realized some years
ago that the old California was fast
giving way to the new, and the
thought occurred to him of preserving
as long as possible a relic of those
days of almost barbaric splendor in
horse-trappings. He accordingly had
a saddle and bridle made of such sur-

passing beauty that there is nothing
in the country to equal or approach
them. The saddle is made entirely
of Mexican art leather (as this stamp-
ing is now called) of exquisite work-



collar. The dollars were cold-drawn
into fine wire, which is closely cro-
cheted into sections joined together
with heavy links and rings. The
bridle is covered with fluted silver,


tanship, and very costly, but this
ras only the beginning. Mr. Thomp-
ni collected Mexican silver dollars
which he sent from time to time
to cunning workers in silver, who
profusely decorated the saddle with
ornaments of the metal, and con-
structed the bridle of the same. The
Mexican silver coins contain less alloy
than those of the United States, and it
is said they will use nothing else for
this work. As it was entirely hand-
work, much time was required for
completion, but the result has fully
justified the labor. Each part of the
saddle is bordered with rows of silver
rosettes ; the pommel is encased in
solid silver, and the cantle, stirrups,
and corners are heavily bound, while
solid rings attached serve the purposes
of the vaquero. Some of the ornaments
are flowers and wheat-heads in lamin-
ated silver, most delicately formed,
and all are further beautified with
chasing. Nothing but silver enters
into the construction of the reins,
throat latch, lash, martingale and

except the brow-band and nose-piece,
which are finely engraved. Two
slender chains cross the face under a
six-pointed star, and the bit is as
elegant as Seiior Madrueno could
make it, which is saying a great deal ;
for in his day the grandees who came
from San Francisco to the city of Mex-
ico, would patronize no bit-maker but
Madrueno, as not one could approach
him in the excellence of his workman-
ship. The weight of the bridle with
all its attachments is twelve pounds,
and about 250 silver dollars were used
in its construction.

The horse privileged to wear this
royal paraphernalia is worthy of it,
being of superior stock and perfectly
trained, and of course he is a great
favorite with Mr. Thompson, who is
very fond of fine horses. " Canute,"
as he is
appears in
a grand
parade in


1 84


San Francisco or the smaller cities
of the State, and seems proudly con-
scious that all eyes are directed to
himself and his glittering equipage,
that reflects back the sunlight from
a thousand points. Once seen, the
brilliant vision is remembered for
a life time, and no description can
give an adequate idea of the effect.
Mr. Thompson also has another
saddle, second only to the one de-
scribed, on which the stamping is
brought to the full perfection of the

But in all these years no one ever
thought of applying the beautiful
work to anything but saddles, save,
perhaps, sombrero bands and belts.
When the Princess Louise visited
Santa Barbara on her tour in this
country in 1883, her attention was
attracted to a superb saddle displayed
at a shop door, and her critical eye at
once perceived the artistic merit of its
novel decoration. She longed to pos-
sess some of it, yet obviously not
wishing the saddle, there was but one
thing to do — have it applied to some
smaller and more desirable article — a
portfolio, for instance. She entered
and suggested her idea to the proprie-
tor. The work was found to be quite
as effective on the lighter, softer
leather as on the saddles, and so well
pleased was the Princess that she


ordered several portfolios and some
ladies' belts.

This little incident marked an era
in Santa Barbara history and proved
the beginning of a new industry.
Picture frames, collar-and-cuff boxes,
card-cases, music rolls, purses, shawl-
straps, magazine covers, satchels,
wall-pockets, table mats, and many
other articles were manufactured in
this charming handiwork which


sprang at once
into popularity.
Other shops
took it up, and
so Santa Bar-
bara has become
the center of
this art in its
new application.

When Presi-
dent Harrison
visited Santa
Barbara, a gift
from the people
which he car-
ried back to the White House, was
a large album made expressly for him,
beautifully bound in Mexican art
leather, with silver corners and name
plate, filled with views of Santa Bar-
bara's charming scenery.

Last of all, the art leather enters
into the decoration of the California
room in the Woman's building at the
World's Fair. The motif is entirely
new, being the native cactus which
lends itself perfectly to the require-
ments of the material ; and the entire
furniture, including a tete-a-tete and
eight chairs, is upholstered in the
cactus-design stamped leather. The
cactus appears in ramage and single-
figure designs and the needle effects
are produced in the background.
Some of the patterns are quite open,
all are bold rather than delicate, and
in one piece the ground work is stained
a dark red, while the pattern remains
in the rich, natural tan of the leather.

" May I see how it is done ? " in-
quires a tourist who has just purchased
a chatelaine bag wrought in passion-
flower design.

Soon a swarthy young Mexican
appears with a small marble slab, a
spoke from a wagon wheel, a few sim-
ple, pencil-
like tools of
steel, and a
piece of
damp leath-
er. W i t h
a courteous
bow he de-

j^^^l^k the counter be-

i Jj \ J fore the lady,

fSHI ' if alK * P^ aces tne

l* v^l I leather on the

|v| I I marble slab.

Then he selects
^fffl^g^^^^^^ a tool like a
small chisel,
with the edge
and cuts in the
surface of the
leather w i t h -

io u t previous
^^^^^^^^^m tracing, a few

y^^^^^W graceful, flow-

l!m&%&flm i*ig lines which

^P^-jy serve as a nu-

■r cleus for elab-

j ^m crate embel-

Y^i lishment. This

completed, the
stamping b e -
gins. There is
a frequent
change of tools,
and each moves
continuously in
and about the design, accompanied by
the light blows of the spoke-mallet,
which fall so rapidly as to appear to
preclude any possibility of exactness ;
yet in a few moments he presents the
lady the bit of leather on which is
daintily wrought in low relief a con-
ventionalized flower, perfect in the
finest detail.

It all looks so simple and easy, but
it requires a steady hand, correct eye
and a certain confidence. A wavering
half-afraid-I'll-spoil-it manner of mov-
ing the stamps or striking the mal-
let leaves its impress and mars the

To avoid disastrous results, some
careful craftsmen first trace the outline
of the design with a dull tracer, but
the heavy lines are often cut in at
once in apparent defiance of the fact
that a false line or stroke cannot be

While somewhat resembling both
wood carving and repousse work, it is



like neither, being wrought on the
upper side, and no part of the material
is cut away. No prepared patterns
are used, the work being done like
free-hand drawing, and the artist
usually evolves his design, a fanciful
and ideal mixture, as he proceeds,
though the same motifs are common
to all. Arabesques are used almost
exclusively, yet observation shows
infinite variety in the floriated and
foliated scrolls, and there is as much
individuality as in any other art.
Those familiar with the artificers can
distinguish the product of each, as
readily as one can distinguish paint-
ings of different artists.

The work seems especially adapted
to ladies, and some few have received
instruction, but in almost every in-
stance it has been abandoned, for it
requires constant practice, and the
results are not entirely satisfactory
when employed merely as a pastime.

It would be interesting to know the
origin of this particular method .of
stamping leather. California, being
once a part of Mexico, came in pos-
session of it with its people, who still
do the greater part of the work,
though the business is entirely in the
hands of the Americans. But where
did the Mexicans get it ? Some say
the Aztecs had tools made of bone and
did the work crudely before the con-
quest by the Spaniards. This is not
at all impossible, for they were an in-
dustrious and intelligent people. Cor-
tez found the princes of that wonderful
race playing our national game in a
court like a tennis court, with an
India rubber ball, and from this dis-
covery sprang the India rubber busi-
ness of the world. They ate tomatoes
and drank chocolate, raised cotton,
spun it with spindles and wove it into
cloth from which thsy made their
clothing. They were skillful workers
in gold and silver; wore ornaments of
filagree work, were expert sculptors
and engravers ; made truly artistic
figures from life, in clay and rags;
beautiful pictures from the gay plu-
mage of birds, and there is no reason



to doubt their ability to stamp leather.
But the question is, did they ? There
is no evidence that they knew any-
thing at all of this art, while it is
quite certain that it was known to the
Spaniards. The mission fathers taught
it together with saddle-making to
their neophytes, two of whom, one at
San Fernando, and one at Santa Bar-
bara called Jose, became famous
through all the country round for
their fine work.

It is believed to be of Moorish
origin, and it is even said to date back
to the Moorish invasion in the begin-

ning of the eighth century, when they
brought with them to Spain their arts
and their religion. Could it be poss-
ible that those old Moors, who loved
their horses next to their lives, could
have adorned their trappings in the
same manner as our modern Califor-
nians ? Quie?i sabe !

The work is but little seen in Spain;
and Mexico, too, seems to have not
appreciated its possibilities. So it is
to California, and especially to Santa
Barbara, that we are indebted for
the revival and advancement of this
art that is now so much admired.



When I see a workingman with mouths to feed,

Up, day after day, in the dark before the dawn,

And coming home, night after night, thro' the dusk,

Swinging forward like some fierce silent animal,

I see a man doomed to roll a huge stone up an endless steep.

He strains it onward inch by stubborn inch,

Crouched always in the shadow of the rock ; —

See where he crouches, twisted, cramped, misshapen !

He lifts for their life !

The veins knot and darken —

Blood surges into his face :

Now he loses — now he wins —

Now he loses — loses — (God of my soul !)

He digs his feet into the earth —

There's a moment of terrified effort —

It stirs — it moves !

The silent struggle goes on and on,
"Like two contending in a dream.

!E>eacb=tree Joe.

HAD mounted the cor-
ner of a grain-bin in the
stable, and sat there
swinging one foot and
idly watching John,
the master - of - horse,
who was devoting an hour of leisure to-
my favorite mare. She blinked her
eyes in the spring sunlight that
streamed in across the stable floor, and
lifted tenderly a fore foot that had once
been lame. This foot was apt to draw
attention to itself, as if former com-
fortable rubbings were still remem-
bered. I could not disguise the truth,
as I looked at her, that she was no
longer young, but I flattered myself
that she might be good for many
years yet.

John brushed and smoothed her
silky coat again and again, and care-
fully picked the few tangles out of her
thin mane ; flicked at her sharp ears,
and then, holding her firmly by the
nose, stood looking her full in the face
with an abstracted air. At last she
gently moved and glanced round at an
imaginary fly. She was full of fem-
inine subterfuges ; none of the other
horses appealed as she did to John's
gallantry, and she gained many atten-
tions and advantages beyond her right-
ful currycombing and rubbing down.

"There, there!" said John, as if
she could understand, "you know
there isn't a live fly in this stable;
you wouldn't feel a bee-sting through
such a shock of winter hair as you've
got on. I never saw them keep their
winter hair so late as they do this
year," he added, looking over at me,
and I nodded assent.

Sarah ©me Jewett

He gave his currycomb a final tap,
and leaned against the doorway.
There were shining little pools of
water on the floor near the stable-
bucket, and an adventurous sparrow
came hopping in. Sheila looked at
him jealously, as she drank, and
arched her neck and pointed her ears
at him, as if she meant to frown dis-
approval. Then she thought best to
lift a foot slowly, by way of distinct
menace, and the sparrow fluttered
away. I laughed, and she gave me a
reproachful glance.

"Too bad if he drank up all that
water, and let you go thirsty," said

"I mean to ride her to-day," I
said decisively, "and she can have
some brook-water" — to which prop-
osition John agreed, after a moment's
reflection. He still leaned against the
doorway, and I sat on the grain-bin.
Beyond, in the garden, there was great
activity. I could hear the ring of
tools and the click-clack of shears in
the shrubbery. Summer had come
all at once after much dark weather.
There was a young peach tree in full
flower at the left of the stable door.

"Those blooms always make me
think of war-time, ' ' said John. ' ' Out
in Virginia the country is full of them,
and I thought the first spring I was
there they were the handsomest I ever
saw ; but I got to classing them with
powder smoke before I came away.
The sight of a peach tree will bring
those days right up fresh before me.
Dear, dear ! — "

He did not look at me, and I made
no answer. I hoped for one of those




simple thrilling stories of army life,
which are more touching, or more
exactly descriptive, than any studied

' ' There d be one day after another
like this, ' ' he went on ; ' ' none of your
hindering east winds after spring once
got its mind made up. For my part,
I always like any other part of the
year full as well. We got out there
in the early part of March, you know.
I hadn't any business in the army
anyway ; I was under age, but I was
bound to go to war with the rest of
the fellows. I owned to a year and a
half more than belonged to me when
I 'listed! "

I had often heard this statement and
did not think it necessary to make any
comment, but I thought in the brief
silence that followed, how unwittingly
the country boy of sixteen had been
swept .southward by that great wave
of excitement, and I thought, too, of
the flood of new experience which had
gone over him. No wonder that the
homesickness and strange surround-
ings and unlooked for hardships had
made him remember clearly that first
spring in Virginia.

"There was a little peach tree just
the size of this one that I sha'n't for-
get in a hurry," John said, as if he
spoke only to himself. " It had just
such a bend in the stem, and we used
to be full of jokes about it, saying that
we were going to stop right there
until the fruit was ripe. There had
been some kind of a little old house
and garden just where our company
was quartered, and some of the old-
fashioned garden flowers and goose-
berry bushes and things came up, but
coming and going we soon trampled
'em out. Most of us was young fellows,
green as grass; but you'd have thought
'twas old campaigners that remem-
bered back as far as Waterloo, to hear
us scolding over tactics, and what
McClellan ought to do. You see we
went first to Washington, and then
they lugged us over to Arlington
Heights, and set us down in the red
mud for a week, and then we got

orders to go down Fredericksburg way.
We used to talk the goodness all out
of us before word came to move, and
you never saw such a bunch of foolish-
ness as those camps. We were hived
together so thick that you could see
clusters of lights, like towns, all over
that low-rolling country, and the
officers hadn't learned their business
extra well, and we knew it, and we
dallied along awhile, and so 'twas.

"We got to know each other, and
fights came up, and lots of us got to
chumming like young-ones. There
were plenty of good, stout, knock-
about men, dare-devils and high fel-
lows that did n't think of anything but
fighting and fooling, and would as
soon be there as anywhere, but that
camp life came hard on some folks. I
w r as thinking just now of one poor
galoot that was about roughed to
death. I don't see how they ever
came to 'list him. His father'd died,
and he'd got a mother and some little
sisters, but he'd come to the front
from high notions o' duty and saving
his country. Makes me feel bad to
think him over, now I've got to be
older and know something of the
world, but I used to tease him long
of the rest then, and be kind o' friendly
with him at odd times when I could
get him alone out in the shade of one
of those crooked, rail fences. He d
.set there and tell me about his folks
by the hour. You never did see such
a girl-faced fellow trying to play
soldier as that was, and he was scary
to match.

" We used to tell him every day or
two that we'd got orders to march, or
that he was picked out to make a
dash over into the enemy's lines, and
he'd turn just as white as sand and
get all blue around his mouth. 'Twas
a kind of nervous fit he'd seem to
have, and he'd liave to go and lie
right dowm and get over it. The
Captain used to tell us we'd better let
him alone, but that only set us on the
faster. We used to try and see if we
could anyway manage to get him
mad, but he was so simple and pleas-



ant 'twant worthwhile, and we learned
to let him alone pretty much. He'd
run and get our pipes, or mend up
our clothes, if we came in with 'em
torn, as handy as a woman. They'd
rigged us out in a lot o' cheap con-
tract stuff to go to war with. Then
he had a pretty voice to sing, was
real good company, and never seemed
to fail us for a joke.

1 ' That little peach tree I was speak-
ing about grew right in front of our
1 A ' tent, and I saw him crawl out one
moonlight night and pick some of
the blossoms and wrap them up in a
newspaper. He'd know 'twas just
the thing he'd get laughed at for by
day. I stepped out after him and put
him under arrest, and says I, 'Don't
you know word has come that the
army has got to pick all the peach
trees in the fall, and the peaches are
going to be sold up North to help get
money to carry on the war ? ' He
looked scared, and told me as solemn
as could be that he wouldn't do it
again ; he only wanted a little piece
to send home to show his mother how
forward the season was. So I said I
was n't going to report him that time.
He was a year older than I was, but
some used to say I acted old enough
to be his father."

11 Whoa ! stop gnawing that bucket
now ! ' ' and the mare looked up re-
proachfully and gave a longing glance
at her stall. I scratched a row of
x's on the top of the oat bin with a
nail that lay there.

" What became of the poor lad ? "
I asked at last. "They ought to
have sent him home."

" He would n't go," answered John
with enthusiasm, "I always thought
that he was scared out of his life.
Plenty of big backwoodsmen died of
nothing but homesickness, but nothing
ailed him but terror. The greatest
comfort in life while we were in camp
that time was his little peach tree.
He was naturally a boy of a farming
turn, and he dug round it and used to
lug water for it, and he made a little
fence out of sapling stuff that he stuck
Vol. IV— 13

down so we should n't tumble on it
when we were scuffling or anything ;
or to keep off any mule that might
wander by and browse. Afterwards
we left there and the Rebs were scat-
tered about ; we could see their lights
by night, and we used to talk across
and do trading on picket, and one
time they sent word if we would stop
fighting for an hour or two they
would stop ; 'twas while we were hav-
ing a good smart skirmishing all
along the lines. They all had plenty
of tobacco, and were glad to give us
any quantity of that for a little salt or
whatever they wanted. After we had
been chumming and trading an hour
or so, we would set to and go to fight-
ing again.

" We weren't quite so ready to go
on picket by night as we had been,
but we went all the same, and the
Captain made no excuse, but poor old
Joe was let off easy one way and an-
other, and he got sick with chills and

Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderThe Californian (Volume 4) → online text (page 26 of 120)