The first individually-owned saddle shop in Alpine was that of J. G. Crawford in the year 1905. Crawford came to Alpine with his ranching family from Pecos County and located his shop in the Henderson Building. Crawford’s desire was that his saddles and harnesses fit the horse and that his merchandise was high quality. His ad in the December 27, 1905 Alpine Times said: “It Never Pays a Cowman to Buy a Cheap Saddle or Set of Harness.”
In 1909, J. G. Crawford moved to Austin to enter the University and sold the saddlery to W. S. Dunbar. Dunbar was a well-known merchant in Alpine, having been a resident here for many years. Dunbar employed expert saddle maker J. A. Bowles, as well as boot maker William Casey. Dunbar advertised,” If you want a saddle that is first class and can not be beat, call and see my stock.”
Though the date of the change of ownership is unclear, due to records destroyed by fire, the Alpine Avalanche of May 9, 1912, ran an ad for Arthur Williams and Company who made saddles and harness in Alpine. His ad boasted: “Our saddles are made by the best saddle-maker in West Texas, and are guaranteed. Our line of harness is up-to-date and complete. Williams had also had a saddle shop in Ozona and Marfa.
George H. Yates and his family moved to Alpine from Forrest, New Mexico in May of 1912. Sometime during that year, Yates became Williams’ partner in the saddle-making business. This partnership was dissolved in May 1913, when Williams sold his interest to Yates who then became sole owner. Later, the business became Yates and Sons. Yates employed J. O. Varner as a saddle maker. Yates sent out a catalog to prospective customers in 1917 and in his advertisement he stated: “Come and see the saddles that pay us less profit, but gives us more satisfaction in the selling and you in the using.”
The Alpine Saddlery came into being in April of 1928, when C. H. Werner bought the business from G. H. Yates. This is the first time “Alpine Saddlery” was used as the name of the business, according to Avalanche records. Werner, born in 1890 in Germany lived and worked in Alpine for forty-seven years.
George Nix bought the Marfa Saddlery from John E. MacDonald in the 1950’s. Meanwhile, Werner sold the Alpine Saddlery to a man named Powell, who had the business a very short time. Mr. Nix later bought Alpine Saddlery from the bank and combined it with the Marfa Saddlery, changing the name of the business to Big Bend Saddlery and locating it on the west end of Alpine on Highway 90.
While attending Sul Ross State University, New Mexico-born Gary Dunshee apprenticed under George Nix for about five years, finally buying the business and moving it to its present location in 1977. Bret Collier, Sul Ross student from Wichita Falls, became a partner in 1981, and then Carla Spencer joined as a partner in 1999. All three partners come from a working cowboy background; as a result, the business has continued in the same vein in which it was begun. Merchandise is still first class, top quality, with customer satisfaction a high priority. Employing craftsmen who are artists in their own right, Gary, Bret and Carla continually strive to maintain this level of workmanship in all of their products.
One hundred years after its meager beginnings in a newly-formed ranching community in far West Texas, Big Bend Saddlery has earned its reputation among stockmen far and wide. Regardless of the name on the outside of the building, it doesn’t take long to realize that the stamp used on Big Bend Saddlery leather goods carries a lot of history, as well as a sincere love for and appreciation of the life of the cowboy.
Information obtained from Archives of the Big Bend, Bryan Wildenthal Memorial Library, Sul Ross State University, Alpine, Texas