Last updated: April 10, 2015
JEFF 8407-Samantha Packwood Sidesaddle
This beautifully preserved saddle from our collections is of great interest because
it was used by a young lady riding a mule headed west in a wagon train along
the Oregon Trail in 1844. William Packwood and his family were from
Springfield, Illinois, and had to join two different wagon trains to reach
their final destination. Their journey took them through St. Louis along the
Oregon Territory to what is now Olympia,Washington. Mrs. Packwood’s side of the
family was related to Meriwether Lewis. His grand journey west with William
Clark encouraged the family to seek a better way of life in what was then
called Oregon. This sidesaddle, used by their daughter, nine year old Samantha
Packwood, remained in the family’s possession until the 1980’s, when Samantha’s
great-great-grandson donated it to Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.
The French style “Marie Antoinette” sidesaddle has a balconet (a low wooden “fence”
going around the top of the saddle to help the rider maintain her seat) and a leather
slipper stirrup. The saddle is made of rawhide and the cinch is horsehair.
There is no proof that this particular saddle was either made or purchased in
St. Louis. Because it is a French-style sidesaddle-there is speculation it might have been made in St. Louis or New
Sidesaddles can be found as far back as the Greek and the Celtic civilizations. In many
cultures, ladies rode sidesaddle to accommodate long dresses and because cultural mores dictated that women not ride astride. The predecessor of the
sidesaddle was a “pannier”-a large heavy wicker basket mounted on a packsaddle frame where the woman rode sideways with her foot on one side of the horse. Next came a sidesaddle with a “planchette” or footrest, where the saddle was
stuffed with a platform-like seat on the horse’s back and the woman could sit
sideways with her foot resting on the planchette. Medieval sidesaddles were
used for conveyance purposes, with ladies of the court being led on horseback
to their destination by walking soldiers or bodyguards.
In the early 1500’s, the sidesaddle evolved with adding a horn to the saddle as a
handhold and the planchette was replaced with a single stirrup. Catherine de
Medici introduced a second horn, known as a leg horn, on the near side of the
horse, with which the rider could place her left leg to steady herself in the
saddle. This allowed the rider to control the horse herself, enabling her to
ride independently. By the 18th century women took part in foxhunts
and steeplechases riding on sidesaddles.
In 1830, a Frenchman changed the style again and added a third horn, called a
leaping horn, that was installed with a screw underneath the leg horn. This
third horn, which went over the thigh, just above the knee of the stirrup foot,
provided even more stability. These horns are called pommels.
Samantha Packwood rode her mule along the Oregon Trail and survived the journey to grow
up, marry twice and have six children. She was one of fourteen children reared
by hard working parents. Mr. Packwood died at the age of 84 in 1897 while under the care of his eldest child, Samantha
Packwood Woodruff Croll. She died in 1920.