Monday, January 16, 2012

William D. Davis and his Innovative Saddle

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! Let's celebrate with a post on some of the African American heroes in Montana history—buffalo soldiers.

There were some 5,000 African American Buffalo soldiers who served in the all-black 9th and 10th Cavalry and 24th and 25th Infantry Regiments. Buffalo soldiers made up about 10% of the total troops who guarded the vast borders of the Western frontier in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. These highly skilled, courageous, and patriotic soldiers served in Montana at forts throughout the state including Fort Missoula, Fort Keogh and Fort Assinniboine.  White officers commanded these black troops. In 1895, famed general “Black Jack” Pershing took his first command of the 10th Cavalry, Troop H, at Fort Assinniboine. Pershing’s men participated in a 600-mile journey to flush Cree Indians out of the coulees and draws for their deportation to Canada. This grueling military expedition required patience and stamina and Troop H accomplished it without the firing of a single shot. One of Pershing’s men, William D. Davis, had a novel idea to make such long expeditions more comfortable. Black soldiers typically were issued the roughest stock, and he invented a special type of improved saddle designed to render an easier ride on hard-trotting horses. Davis filed a patent on his improved saddle in 1896. His idea was to add springs beneath the seat and at the tops of the stirrups. While Davis did not invent the use of springs on saddles, the type of spring, its longevity, and its placement were his own. Although never standard army issue, Davis saddles provided a smoother ride for cavalry, cowboys, and gentlemen riders.

U.S. Patent Office, 568,939

P.S. More resources on African Americans in Montana.
P.P.S. Historian Ken Robison of the Overholser Research Center has done extensive research on Montana's black community. Check out a sample here.
And last but not least, Montana has long had a small but vibrant black community.

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