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A Saddle Makers Story

Jesse W Smith Saddlery

Shaie Williams for Jesse Smith Saddles 2018

Jesse W Smith was born in 1939 on his grandfather’s ranch in southeast Colorado.  He was raised on a ranch and worked on ranches in the area until after High School.  He then spent 4 years in the U.S. Air Force.  While in the Air Force, Jesse started doing leatherwork in his spare time, making belts, billfolds, album covers, and purses.  After leaving the Air Force, Jesse returned to Colorado to work on a ranch.

In 1963 Jesse made his first saddle for his dad and soon after made four more.  Then in 1965, he received a phone call from The Tack Shop in Spokane, Washington.  They wanted him to come make saddles for them.  He took a leap of faith and moved to Spokane with his wife and two young sons to be begin his life as a saddlemaker.

At The Tack Shop Jesse made saddles, tack, and packing equipment as well as a great number of holsters, knife cases, and rifle scabbards.  Custom knifemaker Rodrick Chappell, rated one of the top 10 knife makers in the world at the time, commissioned Jesse to make knife cases for his knives.  He made over 30 for one collector alone.

In the spring of 1972, Jesse W Smith Saddlery was founded when Jesse bought a portion of The Tack Shop, taking over their saddle shop.  He maintained the shop while honing his skills building saddles and creating leather art, all while using only the best leather and hardware he could buy.  During this time he always strived to create the very finest leather goods.  He did a lot of work for hunters, especially in the packing industry, along with trail riders and cowboys involved in ranching.  He made rodeo equipment, bronc saddles, bareback riggings, and chaps as well as saddles, tack, and chaps for the horse show crowd.

In 1979 Spokane Falls Community College asked him to take over their Custom Saddle Program, a two-year custom saddlemaking course where students made five saddles.  Upon finishing the course, students received an Associate of Applied Science degree in Custom Saddlemaking.  Jesse taught this program for 21 years, all the while maintaining his custom saddle shop in Spokane.  Some of the graduates of this program are rated top saddlemakers in the country.

Jesse retired from teaching at the college in 2000 and moved back to Colorado with his wife, Sharri and son, Nevada in order to claim a portion of his grand dad’s ranch.  He has a full production saddle shop on the property and runs a small her of Red Angus cattle on the land too.

Awards and Achievements

Al Stohlman Award for lifetime dedication to leatherwork and education

Lifetime Achievement Award in Leatherwork from the International Federation of Leather Guild

2017 Saddlemaker of the Year from the Academy of Western Artists College

Howard Munsell Award from the C.S.M.A.

Former Vice President of the Colorado Saddlemakers Association

Degree in Commercial Art from Spokane Falls Community