PADGITT BROTHERS, WELL KNOWN SADDLE MAKERS
Dallas, Texas 1867-1960s
To tell the story of the Famous Texas Padgitt Brothers Tom, Clint, and Jesse we must start at their original home of Gallatin, Tennessee. The Padgitt Brothers Parents were James Robert Padgitt and Mary Jane Bond Padgitt they had a family which consisted of 5 children:
Robert (Bob) Padgitt – Born 1845 / Died 1854.
Thomas (Tom) Padgitt – Born December 13, 1846 / Died October 19, 1926.
William Clinton (Clint) Padgitt – Born November 25, 1849 / Died Unknown.
Jesse David (Jess) Padgitt – Born December 22, 1851/ Died December 26, 1948
Sarah Sallie (Sallie) Padgitt – Born March 20, 1855 / Died March 2, 1926.
James R. Padgitt and Mary Jane Bond Padgitt were married in the early 1840s and lived in Sumner and Gallatin, Tennessee until 1853 when the family relocated to Texas. In the summer of 1853 James R. Padgitt, the son of John O. Padgitt of Fairfax, Virginia, left his Gallatin, Tennessee home for Texas. He loaded his family and household goods on a flat boat on the Cumberland River for Nashville, where upon arrival his boys had their first glimpse of a steam ship. There he booked passage for himself and his wife, Mary Jane Bond, and his four sons, Bob, Tom, Clint and Jess on the Steamship Eclipse sailing for New Orleans. After journey to Galveston on the Steamship Mexico City, and by bayou boat to Houston.
In 1854 shortly after the Padgitt’s arrival in Houston the dreaded Yellow Fever swept through Houston, Texas. It was not determined until 1901 that the mosquito transmitted the fatal disease, the citizens of Houston in 1854 had already grown to associate the transmission of yellow fever with the night air the favorite time for swarms of mosquitoes to rise from nearby stagnant bayous and descend on the town. They were convinced that the heavy atmosphere of an oppressive summer night was poison. Consequently, people, urged by a city ordinance, would file out of their houses at night to kindle huge bonfires composed of tar barrels furnished by the city in a frantic effort to smoke and drive out the “foul air”. This gave the town considerable relief by repelling the malaria carriers back into the swamps.
At the height of the epidemic James Padgitt and his eldest son Bob, died as a result of the disease. The following March Sallie was born Sallie was the first Padgitt in her family to be born in Texas. And less than four years later, in 1859, yellow fever returned to claim the life of Mary Jane Bond Padgitt leaving the four remaining children orphaned Tom 12, Clint 9, Jess 7, and Sallie 3.
The eldest of four children, little Tom found himself head of the orphaned household when he was 12. What he did to solve that problem was indicative of how he was to rise later to wealth and prominence. He hired a colored woman to look after his little brother and sister and taking Clint with him set out to rustle food for his family by seeking odd jobs in Houston.
A few months later a Tennessee uncle, Tom Bond, appeared upon the scene. Tom Bond was a saddle maker by trade, and opened up shop in Houston. There was a big demand for stock saddles and every saddle and harness maker in Texas had more than he could do. Houston was booming. Prior to the railroads, everything moved in and out of Texas through the gulf ports. And although these young Padgitts always felt that Tom Bond treated them poorly as children, it was partly offset by the kindnesses shown them by his wife, Aunt Lote, and the fact that he put the two older boys to work at the bench, making it possible for them to earn a living. And thus Tom and Clint Padgitt became apprentice saddle makers in Texas in 1859.
As head of the family, Tom handled their meager finances. He was fired with a Horatio Alger desire of getting ahead in the world. In order to save expenses he persuaded his uncle to permit him and his little family to sleep in the shop. He saved every penny above bare necessities. In later years the music of a circus calliope would invariably bring a lump to Tom Padgitt’s throat, as it would take him back to his childhood and the night a circus showed in Houston. He could see himself stretched out on his work bench pallet crying himself to sleep, being torn to pieces by a childhood desire to go to the circus while his hand in his pocket clutched the few dollars he had saved and was determined to keep.
Tom and Clint had barely learned to string a saddle when the Civil War took Houston by storm. The great grandsons of the old Spanish war saddle were in demand and men by the dozens swarmed into Tom Bond’s saddle shop clamoring for saddles and leather equipment with which to fight the Yankees. Tom Bond and his two apprentices worked from sun-up to sun-down cutting and shaping bridles, saddles, gun scabbards, saddle bags and all the countless leather tools of war. And all the time Tom and Clint heard nothing but the talk of war and certain quick victories. The “mosquito” that transmits the will of men to fight bit the Padgitt boys repeatedly. It is no wonder that before daylight one morning the two Padgitt boys “stole” a mule and ran away to join the army. They were too young to be accepted and when Tom Bond found them, he persuaded them to return home where they spent the war making saddles and harness in the Confederate arsenal at Houston.
When Galveston fell into the hands of the Federal forces in October 1862, William Richardson, editor of the Galveston News, moved his paper to Houston. Jess, too young to work with his other brothers, sold the Galveston News on the streets of Houston. This paper was the forerunner of the present Dallas News, and later in 1885, when Jess helped finance the organization of the Dallas paper, he recalled as a Houston news boy having watched the old paper slide off a press powered by a horse on a tread mill. He said, “The Galveston News was printed on brown wrapping paper, and sometimes on dark green, pale blue, or bright pink paper, but always there was some sort of paper and it contained news”.
At the close of the war, Tom and Clint again joined Tom Bond in the harness and saddle business. But the entire South was bankrupt including the ten railroads that had started construction in Texas before the war. It was five years before any of them were able to resume construction or new ones undertaken, except the Houston and Texas Central, which again began construction.
Times were exceptionally hard with Tom Bond when Tom, the eldest Padgitt, boarded the H. and T. C. for its Bryan terminus July 11, 1867. The Padgitt brothers agreed that the time had come for them to strike out on their own. The day Tom Padgitt left Houston he gave each of his brothers and sister $375 in gold which was their equal share of the money that he had been saving since he was twelve. He said, “This will give each of us a start in life, since I am the oldest, I’ll take Sallie with me.”
Tom Padgitt knew that railroad building meant heavy teamster work and that teamster contractors wore out a lot of harness. So, at 21, with a few tools and some leather, he opened up shop at the end of the line to serve the construction crews. That summer Clint, then only seventeen, took a job as possibly the first “News-butch” on the H. and T. C. running from Houston to Bryan. With this step, the Padgitt’s joined that famous historical group of pioneer business men called terminal merchants who followed the “Central” into the ever-receding frontier to build Dallas and the other cities along the route of the H. and T. C.
In 1869 Clint joined Tom in business. Bryan was still a rough labor camp and their shop was next door to a saloon over which was a hotel. One evening they went upstairs to wash up for supper when “hell broke loose” downstairs when a group of drunken teamsters took it upon themselves to shoot the place up, and whizzing bullets started splintering the pine boards under foot. When things quieted down the two Padgitts found themselves jumping up and down in the middle of a nearby bed trying to get the soap out of their eyes. A family story attributes the breadth of Bryan’s main street to Clint Padgitt, for it was he who had insisted that it be laid out wide enough to accommodate the turning of a team of twelve oxen.
As the H. and T. C. moved north Tom went with the road, first to Hearne, then to Calvert, Kosse, Groesbeck and Corsicana. During this period he operated his business in a prefabricated shack that could be moved with the road, working at the bench by day and often sleeping on it at night, but always priding him as being among the first to open up at each successively new terminus.
In 1870 both Tom and Clint married Bryan girls. Clint, operating the store at Bryan, married Mary Elizabeth Britton and together started a family of six sons. Tom, following the “Central”, married Amanda Hucherson and a year later a daughter Beulah Padgitt Born 1872, was born. While Tom Padgitt outlived three wives, he said he could never forget Amanda Hucherson Padgitt. She was his base woman she was the woman who really stuck by him while he was struggling to build his business. He said that she would hold the lantern while he worked at night and then throw a buffalo robe over the bench where they would sleep.
Tom watched the Waco and Northwestern Railroad (the Waco Tap) branch out from the H. and T. C. at Bremond and go up the Brazos toward Waco. When the line arrived there in 1872, so did Tom Padgitt. He decided Waco was the place for him. At that point was the steel suspension bridge, said to have been the longest in the world at that time, and the only bridge across the Brazos.
Tom Padgitt was greatly involved in developing the City of Waco in Texas and formed the first Fire Brigade in Waco helping to lead to the further development of the City. Also he owned the first Professional Baseball Team in Waco, The Red Stockings and he was involved in developing the Natatorium which housed the Cities only Indoor Swimming Pool.
Waco was also on the Texas extension of the Chisholm Cattle Trail. And while the bulk of the east-west freighting sought the bridge over the Brazos, cowboys were fording thousands of cattle across the river at Waco, and cowboys rode Texas saddles. Tom sold his Corsicana store to his youngest brother, Jess, who was then operating at Groesbeck, and opened up on Bridge Street on the corner of the public square one block from the bridge. Soon his reputation as a top saddle maker spread up and down the trail from Abilene, Kansas, to the Rio Grande.
While Tom Padgitt’s business mushroomed from the moment he arrived in Waco, it was there he suffered his greatest loss. In 1876 Amanda Padgitt died following the birth of their second child Sallie Padgitt who was born 1876. Fortunately, his sister, Sallie, was there to take charge of his household, which was a small cottage on Jefferson Street, then a country lane.
In 1878 Tom Padgitt expanded his business interests by going into a partnership with James A. Warmoth a Saddle Maker already established in Austin, Texas. The Maker Mark reads as Padgitt and Warmoth Austin, Tex and I the same name was used for the business Padgitt and Warmoth Saddlery of Austin, Texas. By the 1900 U. S. Census James H. Warmoth was listed as a Merchant for his occupation where as in the 1880 U. S. Census he was listed as an Saddler. It is believed the partnership ended around the late 1880s or early 1990s although I have nothing to document this for sure.
Also in 1878 Tom Padgitt handed Uncle Ike (his colored drayman) a note to be delivered to Miss Kate Ross, which read, “May I call on you tonight at eight? I mean business,” signed, Tom Padgitt. As his note indicated, Tom Padgitt was a man of few words. That night he proposed.
Miss Kate Ross was the daughter of the famous Texas Ranger and Indian fighter, Captain Shapley P. Ross, and the sister of another Indian fighter of note, L. S. Ross, who with the backing of Tom Padgitt was later to become Governor of Texas. Miss Ross, was the first white child born in McLennan County, took her problem to her father. She had to decide between Tom Padgitt and another man who was pressing his case. Captain Ross answered, “Tom Padgitt, of course. I’d rather take him with a shirt tail full of rocks, than have the other man with a barrel full of money.” So Tom and Kate were married.
It was a far cry from the shack-like store that he opened over 138 ago on Bridge Street to the imposing building he later erected at his final location on the corner of Fifth and Franklin Streets, for Tom Padgitt prospered as Waco grew. The name of Tom Padgitt Company became famous all over the United States, Canada and Mexico, and he finally developed a good trade with Central and South America.
William Cody (Buffalo Bill) chose Tom Padgitt to supply his Wild West show with all of its saddles, harness and leather goods. Other leather houses were clamoring for the contract and competition was keen. By timing himself just right, Tom made a gaudy bright red saddle pad, the type Indians preferred to ride in lieu of saddle, and sent the sample as a present to the Chief of Buffalo Bill’s Indians. Overnight every Indian in the show was lobbying for Tom Padgitt and demanding one of those bright red saddle pads. There was nothing for Buffalo Bill to do but award Tom the contract.
Like the Indians, many other famous people demanded Padgitt saddles. For years, Tom made saddles for Will Rogers. The last saddle he bought in Waco was during the prohibition era, and as a courtesy to Will Rogers, Tom did some of the finishing work on the saddle himself. That day, Camilla Padgitt, a daughter-in-law, stepped into Tom’s office where he and Will Rogers were talking saddles, Will noticed her eyeing a rather suspicious quart sized looking package under his arm and smiled. He took the package in the other hand and dropped it on the floor, with a Will Rogers grin, he ducked his head and said, “It’s only a rope.”
While Tom was setting up shop in Waco, Clint of Bryan and Jess of Corsicana were also busy making saddles. Jess, who died in 1948, at the age of 97, often recalled that all the towns up and down the H. and T. C. were wide open to gambling houses and saloons. The crack of the drover’s whip as ox wagons rumbled up the street, wild pistol shots and the clank of cowboy spurs were regular accompaniments of the days and nights. In Grosebeck some of the bullets came too close to suit him. His shop was next door to a gambling house. Especially at night, forty-five caliber bullets frequently whizzed through flimsy pine walls and across his shop. Since he also slept in his shop, he regularly made his bed on the floor behind kegs of trace chains so he could wake up healthy in the morning.
In the jump from Corsicana, Jess arrived in Dallas behind the H. and T. C., in 1872. A year later, his older brother, Clint, closed his Bryan store and joined him in Dallas. Thus Padgitt Brothers was established by 1873 in Dallas while that city was a roaring frontier town of flimsy shacks, board sidewalks, and boggy streets built around the court house square. Padgitt Brothers first location was in a newly constructed two story brick building on the west side of the square. There, wagons often mired in the boggy streets and drivers sometimes were pitched from their seats as wheels fell into deep chug holes.
Freighters who brought wagon trains of buffalo hides from Fort Griffin to Dallas stayed to buy supplies and gadgets either made in Dallas or hauled in by the iron horse. Padgitt Brothers styled its business on a sign over the front door as “Manufacturers and Wholesalers of Horse Collars, Harness and Saddlery Goods,” and soon Dallas became the wholesale point for a vast area. Many a hard-to-please ranchman came to Dallas to buy a Padgitt saddle, for a Padgitt saddle had already become the pride of the range rider, and for many it remains so today.
In early day Dallas, Clint and Jess Padgitt followed a pattern of business that would seem peculiar in these times. They would arise while dark then go to the wagon yards and other places where visitors could be found to solicit business from cattlemen, freighters and frontier merchants. By 6:30 A. M. they would be at home for breakfast and then return to the store for a ten hour day of serving customers. After a later supper, they would join their three employees at the factory to help them turn out pistol holsters, or whatever was on order until ten or eleven at night.
Their trade mark was “Bronco Brand”, which pictured a Buffalo Bill type cowboy with goatee and buckskin clothes casually riding a Padgitt saddle a-top the hurricane deck of a bucking bronco.
By June of 1873 Clint Padgitt was working in the Volunteer Fire Department Engine Company #1 Dallas, Texas. Also in Waco, Texas Tom Padgitt was actively working with the Volunteer Fire Department after spearheading the development of a City Fire Department in Waco.
With the square literally jammed with freight wagons, its sidewalks and stores crowded with buyers from the great territory to the west, business was brisk. A forty dollar saddle would sell as fast as it could be made. There was also a big demand for harness leather from the freighters and teamsters supplying the Texas frontier with Dallas merchandise.
When Padgitt Brothers came out with a new saddle, one with llama hair covered pockets draping the back of the cantle, their business boomed and they had to seek larger quarters. They moved east to a site near the present location of E. M. Kahn and Co. Next they moved to the site later to be occupied by the old Slaughter Building, for which they paid $5,000. They spent $33,000 developing this location and in the boom of the late eighties they sold that location for $110,000—trebling their money. They put this into the present five story home of Padgitt Brothers Company at 1020 Commerce Street. The two brothers thought they had provided room for all the expanding they could ever do, but were to learn differently.
In 1886 the business had grown so much that Padgitt Brothers hired a Leather Shop Manager out of Baltimore named George Volk who had earned a reputation of speed and quality. In 1889 Leonard Volk moved to Dallas after completing Business School in Baltimore, MD and he went to work for Logan, Evans and Smith Shoe Store. Later that year in 1889 Leonard Volk bought the store and went into Partnership with his Brother George Volk they opened Volk Brothers which became a famous Dallas, Texas Department Store.
By 1900 they had to build a six story factory building adjacent to their property on Jackson Street, as well as to spread out on Commerce Street with space to show their extensive line of buggies and carriages. The firm became of age in 1900 when it was incorporated as Padgitt Brothers Company, Manufacturers, Jobbers and Wholesalers of leather goods.
Clint Padgitt, the business leader of the firm became its president. On June 1, 1900, he gave his six sons fifty shares each in the company and took them in as partners in the business, requesting that in case of his death “his brother Jess be made president and general manager of the business as long as he lives and wishes the position.” Within a few years Jess Padgitt’s sons joined the firm and are still operating the business. At an early date the firms of Padgitt Brothers Company and Tom Padgitt Company of Waco divided up the Southwest, and thus during their many successful years of business never interfered with each other’s territory.
On August 30, 1900, Clint wrote, “We are having a good trade, business is rushing, and it keeps us humping to keep up. Had the biggest month in July of this year that we have ever had since we have been in business—something over $97,000.”
By 1908 Dallas became known as the greatest saddle market in the world. There were at least three other pioneer leather manufacturers there beside the Padgitt’s. They were G. H. Schoellkopf, E. O. Tennison and Charlie Steinman. The system of mass production had found its place beside the old time work bench, for between 1900 and 1908 the leading manufacturers were individually turning out around two hundred sets of harness a day at from $13.50 to $35.00 per set wholesale. Padgitt Brothers Company kept a stock of five hundred saddles in its show rooms at all times. Dallas boasted in those boom years that more leather was cut there than any other town in the country. It was reported that enough leather was cut to bring in five million dollars annually to the industry. The typical scene in a general store in the Southwest was groceries on the right, clothing on the left, hardware to the rear, and Padgitt horse collars hanging from the rafters.
The Harness Herald, the Leatherman’s trade publication in 1909, referred to Clint Padgitt as the dean of the leather trade in America. It went on to say, “So potent is he as a force in the Saddlery trade that his ability and influence is recognized all over the country.”
That same year leather lost one of its strong men, for Clint Padgitt died on his sixtieth birthday. Jess Padgitt took over as President and General Manager. Like his older brother, he was an excellent business man, although even more conservative. He once said, “As a young man I lost two dollars playing poker. I never played the game again, for I could see there was nothing in it for me.”
On January 18, 1912 Kate Ross Padgitt Died of Apoplexy which is a stroke, leaving Tom Padgitt a Widower for the second time. After a few years Tom Padgitt remarried a third time on October 6, 1914 Tom was married to Frances S. Wall a Widowed woman of some years with 4 grown children of her own.
Between 1914 and 1918 the harness and Saddlery industry reached its peak in Dallas, where factories devoted their output to the needs of the military, and the emphasis at the time being on harness equipment for ambulances and gun carriages. When it fell the lot of Padgitt Brothers Company to turn out the government’s medical pack saddle, Jess immediately sensed that the pack then in use was a clumsy and unnecessarily bungle some affair. He designed an entirely new model, which was accepted by the government and named “The Texas Medical Pack Saddle.” And Jess Padgitt produced them by the thousands during the war.
Tom Padgitt supplied both the British Military and the U.S. Military in World War I which led to a great increase of business for the Tom Padgitt Company as well as the Padgitt Brothers Company of Dallas which were both operating at peak production to keep both Armies supplied throughout the war. The two Padgitt Saddlery and Harness Companies were the most famous Saddleries of the South even supplying a large amount of Saddles to Mexico and South America. After World War I the output of automobiles and tractors increased and the advent of mass production in the saddle and harness business went into eclipse.
With the passing of Tom Padgitt on October 19, 1926 and with Jesse Padgitt passing on December 26, 1948 closing the historic chapter of the leather trade in Texas at the age of 97, the story of the early day Texas saddle maker came to an end.
Information courtesy Vintage Gun Leather. Photo courtesy Historic Photos of Dallas.