27. June 2012 · Comments Off on Saddles – Pack · Categories: Tips, Tricks and Tid Bits


The first Decker Pack Saddle tree of its kind (with wooden bars and steel bows) was first used by an Arapajo packer named S.C. MacDaniels in central Idaho during the mining boom of 1898-1900. Several brothers named Decker saw the practicality of the idea, adopted it and made improvements to the Arapajo cover, or “half-breed” as it is know today. They applied for a patent on the tree and rigging, which apparently was never granted, and the name Decker Pack Saddle stuck. In the early 1900s, the Decker brothers established themselves as some of the finest packers in Idaho and Montana, packing thousands of pounds of equipment and supplies into the unroaded, trail-less terrain of the Selway and Lochsa Rivers, over Lolo Pass and into the Bitterroot Valley of Montana. All the while they were demonstrating the durability and versatility, as well as humane nature, of the Decker Pack Saddle.

The modern Decker Pack Saddle tree was perfected by blacksmith/saddle maker, Oliver P. Robinette of Kooskia, Idaho shortly after 1906. Robinette is credited with developing and manufacturing hundreds of the Decker trees and pack saddles for the Decker brothers as well as for local sheepmen and other outfitters and packers of the era. The Decker brothers could foresee a rapid increase in the use of this unique and clearly superior pack saddle and they made a deal with Robinette to market the saddle. It was advertised and sold as the Decker Pack Saddle. In later years, O.P. Robinette built many trees for the Forest Service (the “OPR” style Decker Pack Saddle tree) until his death in 1945.

At that time – the twilight of the old west – a generation of packers skilled in the use of the sawbuck and the traditional diamond hitch were passing into history, while a rapidly growing Forest Service needed transport for heavy, often bulky equipment through the vast roadless back-country. The Decker Pack Saddle, a rugged versatile saddle that could be easily packed to capacity by Forest Service personnel, filled this need. It caught on quickly throughout Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, while in Wyoming, Colorado and California packers continued to use the sawbuck. In 1930, a “Remount Depot” was established in the Ninemile Valley west of Missoula, Montana, as a place to raise and train horses and mules, as well as train packers for the Forest Service. Horses and mules in sufficient quantity to supply fire fighters duing critical fire seasons had become difficult, if not impossible, to obtain from private sources. The Decker Pack Saddle was adopted as the official saddle and packing style in Region One (all of Montana, Northern Idaho, North Dakota and a bit of South Dakota). Part of the mission of the newly established Ninemile Remount Depot was to “develop improved methods of packing and standardize packing practices.” In 1937, a standard specification for the Decker Pack Saddle was prepared and that specification, with only minor modification, is still used today as the basic design of most Decker Pack Saddles.

The above information was taken from “Packin’ In on Horses and Mules”, Elser and Brown, 1980, “The Packer’s Field Manual”, Hoverson, 2005 and “Horses, Hitches and Rocky Trails”, Back, 1959.

Ray Holes Decker pack saddle are prized by Pacific North West packers.

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