The western saddle or cowboy saddle as we know it today, had its origins in the St. Louis, MO area in the late 1700’s. Now the question is – Why? The United States was settled from the east coast moving westward and from Mexico moving north. The saddles that were brought to this country from Europe whether they be civilian or military were basically English saddles lacking the high back seat, fork or horn. The saddles coming out of Mexico were not much more than frames with stirrups and goard horns. Neither of these two types of saddles, English or Mexican, was suited to the rugged use needed in the West.
St. Louis was the jumping off point for the West; it was the last visage of civilization. Therefore, those stout-hearted individuals seeking to go West had to outfit themselves before leaving the area. St. Louis, Missouri became the Mecca of the best gun makers, tailors, wagon builders, metal smiths and saddlers on this continent. As stated earlier, neither the military saddles from the East or the Mexican charro saddles were suitable. These saddles were modified for many years in St. Louis giving birth to the new Western saddles. See the following books for further reading on this fascinating subject:
Man Made Mobile: Early Saddles of Western North America by Richard E. Ahlborn, Editor. Published by Smithsonian Institution Press, 1980.
They Saddled the West by Lee M. Rice and Glenn R. Vernam. Cornell Maritime Press, Centreville, Maryland, 1975.
Saddles by Russel H. Beatie. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1981.
United States Military Saddles, 1812 – 1943 by Randy Steffen. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1973.