Fragments of the Old West – Saddle Tramps
In keeping with an ongoing series of posts relating to the Old and Wild West is this 1/6th plate tintype of two men who look even more battered and ill-kept than the photo that recorded their image for posterity. These two men seem to fit the bill of those denizens of the Old West who were often described as saddle tramps. With no fixed abode, men such as these traveled for round up to round up, from odd job to odd job as the need directed or drove them. Often times these vagrant drovers flitted life away on both sides of the law – working for a rancher one day and rustling his cattle or thieving his horses the next. Their entire net worth was carried on the back of their horses (unfortunately not pictured here) which were often as ill-kept and shabby looking as their owners.
Above: 1/6th Plate Tintype (Ferrotype), Unknown Photographer, Western United States, c.1870s. Source: Collection of Edward T. Garcia/soldiersofthequeen.com
The taller, clean-shaven man at left wears grubby, fringed buckskin trousers, a collared vest, checked collarless shirt and a dark very wide-brimmed hat with one side brim turned slightly up making it resemble very much a darker version of that worn by the character Curly Bill Brocius in the classic western film Tombstone. To be true, these two character’s mode of dress is nowhere near as picturesque and flamboyant as that worn by the outlaw cow-boys in Tombstone.
The bearded man standing at right has a rather piratical look about him. The brim of his almost shapeless hat is turned almost completely up probably because it was the only way to keep the brim from falling down over his eyes. His jacket has only the uppermost button fastened in a manner popular at the time. He wears a boldly checkered shirt and has a bandanna tightly knotted around his neck. Given his overall look with a change of setting he could easily be mistaken for a member of a Boer commando from the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa c. 1900.
Perhaps the most telling details in this photograph are the men’s boots, the toes of which are completely worn through due to age and hard use. Given their shabby and well-worn look, it is hard to imagine how these men were able to scrape together the twenty-five cents that this photograph would have cost them.
Above: Dodge City, Kansas c. 1875. Frontier/cowtowns such as Dodge City would have seen more than its fare share of saddle tramps passing though. Not long after this photograph was taken, Wyatt Earp was appointed town marshal of Dodge.