For a full appreciation for the American Cowboy and his craft, you should consider a visit to King’s Saddlery and Museum. For the modern rancher, King’s is a treasure trove of new tack, apparel and world famous ropes. However, the King’s Museum also has one of the best private museums in Sheridan and is a stop worthy of all visitors. With dozens of saddles, wagons, carriages and western curiosities covering every surface of the museum there is so much to see that you could spend days looking over the entire collection. Some of the most knowledgeable people about the collection would be the docents who watch over the space and they are more than happy to show you the best pieces in this amazing assortment of western heritage items.
The entrance to the museum can be accessed through the back door of the storefront and a few steps across the alley. At first glance all you see is row after row of shiny new saddles and stations for rope builders and leather workers. Just past the saddle racks is the entryway of the museum. When you step through the door you are greeted with the comforting aroma of soft leather and boiling coffee over a hard wood fire. It reminds you of the days of cattle drives and open range camping while a cowhand sings to the moon and cattle until the early morning. After signing the guestbook and paying the small donation fee, you have the option to pay the $10 donation fee for the information booklet.
Don King, the patriarch of King’s Saddlery, knew very well the hard work and fresh air style of the ranch hand life. A Wyoming native, Don was born in Douglas to Arch and Blanche Fitzhugh King on Aug 19, 1923. Don’s parents divorced when he was five and he stayed with his father who worked as a cowboy and ranch hand. Don learned the trade early in his life and by the age of 14 was supporting himself by working odd jobs on ranches and rodeos. In his spare time, he learned to tool leather and craft wallets, belts and other small gear which he would either trade or sell. After apprenticing with saddle maker and friend Rudy Mudra, Don bought his own ranch and worked in the leather trade part time. In 1957, he dedicated himself full time to saddle and tack making, rope building and leather tooling. He became well known for his impeccable taste and specific method of leather work which is now recognized as the Sheridan style.
Don, a renowned collector who had a deep appreciation for horseman culture, has procured memorabilia from around the world. His collection of saddles, guns and various other equestrian items is beyond impressive. You can see how much Don appreciated hundreds of styles of leather work and the history of the West. Some of the strangest items in the collection are something you might see in a sideshow at a circus such as a two headed calf, a three horned cow and the rattlesnake and cow skull display. You can flip though the photo album of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the saddlery when she came to Sheridan in the 1980’s and if you are looking for some Middle Eastern flair, there is an Arabian show saddle and bridle displayed over a large stuffed bear. Don also had a great appreciation for the Plains Indian culture. There are several Quirts which warriors used to count coup, dozens of beaded moccasins, and a pristine photogravure on delicate tissue paper of the Ogallala Sioux Chief Red Cloud.
Don King was a man who knew the importance of dedication, hard work and having an understanding of those who have ridden before us. You can still see this in the very backbone of the King’s Saddlery ethic. While visiting Sheridan you should plan to spend a couple hours touring the store and museum. Not only do they sell the famous kings ropes hats, but they also have an impressive collection of fine houseware items, fancy handkerchiefs, western jewelry and the stunning Always Azul bucking horse pottery. The store hours are Monday through Saturday from 8am to 5pm. When visiting Sheridan, make King’s Saddlery and Museum one of your stops–we promise you won’t regret it!
By Savannah Hennigh