Howe Working Cowboy Saddle Maker
The first impression you have of Don Howe
is of a man who has “been there and done that.”
Don was born in
and moved to the State of Washington
where his family broke ground on a new irrigation project in
around Warden. They
ran yearling cattle, farmed, and grew potatoes.
As soon as Don graduated from high school he headed out
to the ION
Region looking for a buckaroo job. He tried the ZX in
Oregon and they were filled up, then on to
the MC at Adel,
they too did not need help. Then Don headed for
Paradise Valley, Nevada.
The Circle A wagon was out and Don contacted Buckaroo Boss Brian
Morris and got hired.
Upon arriving where the wagon was camped
in the evening Don broke out his double-rig, swell-fork saddle
with rubber on the horn and his 30-foot rope.
He looked around at the buckaroos working on their horse
gear near their tepees and found that they were riding
single-rig slick-fork saddles, flat-plate rigging, with mule
hide on the horn and long ropes.
Some had nylon ropes and some had reatas that they had
Brian Morris was packing 80 feet of reata on his slick fork
saddle. Don said, “Talk about a fish out of water that was me.
This gear and the buckaroos that made it and used it just
blowed me away. I thought right then, I want to able to do what
these guys do. This was also the start of my desire to become a
Don went on to say “While working on the
Circle A Wagon, Stub Stanford, from Jordan Valley, Oregon took
me under his wing and I began to learn the ways of cattle and
buckaroos. I had never worked on a cow/calf outfit which is very
different than a yearling outfit like we had at home.
It changed my whole life right there. I learned how to
work cattle a whole different way, a quiet way.
I rode alongside Waddie Mitchel and Claude Dallas and
worked pairs out of an “open rodear” The quiet way these men
handled cattle and their skills with a rope and horse were
something that I will never forget.” Don finished up the
branding season at the Circle A, rolled up, and headed back to
Warden, Washington where he got married to a Lakota lady from
the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in
South Dakota. Don and his new wife, Una
Howe, headed to Idaho
where he got a job in JR Simplot’s feedlot at Burley,
Jess Brackenberry was part of the feedlot
crew at that time. While riding pens there, he knew Dr. Baxter
Black who was heading up the Vet crew. Don got to talking to
Jess one day about getting a job on big cow/calf operation. Jess
Brackenberry said, “Why don’t you go down to
and contact Bill Kane at the Spanish Ranch. Bill is the cow boss
and they always need help.” We gave this some thought and one
fine day in early January we drove to the Spanish Ranch near
We met Bill Kane and interviewed for the job. I said to Kane,
“Do you want my see resume?
And Kane said, No - you are hired.
So here we are at the “Span” with a 30 mile-an-hour wind
blowing the snow sideways and about two feet of snow on the
ground. I said to
myself, “hell, this cannot be too bad.
I am 21 years old and bullet-proof.
Little did I know what was coming in the following
months. There have been people who have asked me years later if
I had “a death wish” going to work for Kane on the “Span” in
January??? We doctored cattle on the feed grounds in below-zero
weather on solid ice. When one of the teamsters did not return
from Elko on a big drunk I took over his team and fed. There
were no tractors.
All draft teams. You pitched the hay on the hay wagon and
pitched it off. We calved out the heifers and branded up at the
ranch. We worked every day except we got Sunday afternoon off. I
rolled up about May 15 before the wagon pulled out and headed
back to Warden, Washington and ran yearlings for my Uncle that
Don said “In the fall, I went to a
saddle-making school in Eugene,
Oregon run by Lawrence Dewitt and Ton
Henderson.” Before Don left the “Span” he had wanted to buy a
Capriola saddle but they were $450 at the time. He never could
put his money together, but he did go to “Cap’s” in Elko and
picked up a slick-fork tree.
Don Howe had caught the saddle making fever and was
hooked for life. He
said, “I made two saddles, one a slick fork from the tree I had
purchased at Caps in Elko, and I also made a swell-fork saddle.
I then went to Othello,
Washington and opened up my own saddle shop
for about a year. I was called back to teach at the saddle
school I had attended in Eugene.
I taught there two years.
We moved to Dupree,
South Dakota on the Cheyenne River Indian
Reservation where my wife’s family all lives. We opened a saddle
shop here and have been here since 1992.
“When we arrived in Dupree I thought the
team ropers and barrel racers would be my saddle customers
because of the big interest in rodeo in this part of the
country. That did not work out because most of them wanted
cheaper saddles. So we started doing trade shows back out west
and southwest. We have done shows in
and Idaho. ”
Don’s biggest sellers at many shows are
not just saddles but rawhide reatas. Don says, “I have customers
all over the world that buy my reatas.
I have sold them all over this country from
North Carolina to
I don’t buy any of the rawhide I use, I process my own.
I flesh out the cow hides and cut my own strings. You
have to have the right kind of hide.
I make my reatas out of old “shelly” (thin) cows with
very little fat.
Red hides are better but I also use a lot of black hides.
You can use thinner yearling hides to make lighter gear
“I picked up how to prepare the hides and
braid from people like Claude Dallas, Brian Morris, and Bill
“Blackie” Black. I make braided reatas in lengths of 50 to 80
feet. Most people want about 60 feet.
Some hang on the wall, some are used.”
He says most of the recent interest in rawhide gear and
reatas has come from people who have attended horse clinics by
folks like Ray Hunt and Buck Branaman and events such as The
There is a resurgence in the use of the traditional equipment.”
Working Cowboy Saddle Maker
Don continues, “If I had one ideal saddle
to build for someone to ride a variety of horse types, I would
build a 3-B Visalia,
5/8 flat-plate, single-rigged saddle.
Ever since I worked for Bill Kane I have ridden a
There is no real reason to ride a double-rigged saddle
unless you’re roping heavy cattle outside
or calves and jerking them over in the arena.
In today’s market, I build more Wade saddles than any
other saddle, again because the horse clinicians made them
deal is I will build a dog collar or a big time buckaroo saddle.
Makes no difference to me.
I am a rawhide and leather man. I can make any kind of a
saddle, but gear and repairs are a big part of my saddle
business. My wife does custom silver work which has added to our
income. Straight saddle making is not a money making deal and
you have to rely on other items to make a living. Saddlemaking
has to be your passion to stay with it. You will never get rich
just making saddles. I still do some day work for ranches in the
Dupree area. If they have calves to brand or a bad bull, they
call me to come rope him out of the herd. I still enjoy being