Model 1913 McClellan Mule Riding Saddle

An oddity in the lineage of McClellan military saddles, the Model of 1913 Mule Riding Saddle appears to have been a solution looking for a problem.  The Quartermaster Department had been working on identifying saddles for its own particular needs and demands. Under the capable leadership of Head/Chief Packer Henry W. Daly, the QMD had been experimenting with both fully-rigged and skeleton-rigged western/cowboy type saddles.  These were intended to serve the need of common riding equipment for military packers, horse trainers at the various depots, and whomever else needed riding equipment, that was not in military units already supplied. 

Many photos can be found of company runners and other non-mounted branches using the western type saddles in WW1 and the years following – provided by the Quartermaster Department.  

The first images of these western saddles are found as early as 1909, and these were slightly modified and put into mass production with the entry of the US into the war.  

The M1913 McClellan appears to have been developed at Rock Island Arsenal, with some thought that it would provide a ‘military’ version, comparable to the artillery saddles in wide use.  Coming along at a time of testing and consideration in the pre-war world of slow development and testing, it happened to be a minor player that got caught up in tremendous circumstances.

M1913 Mule-riding saddle

Covering M1913 McClellan saddles at Sheffer & Rossum, St. Paul, Minn - 1918

With the coming of the Great War to America, all thoughts of propriety, economy and serviceability be damned – ‘full speed ahead and worry about it later’ became the order of the day.  This odd variant was on the list of current military equipment, so contract orders for tens of thousands were sent out.  Along with enormous numbers of the full-rigged and skeleton-rigged western saddles.

A post-war lawsuit provides a fascinating glimpse into the melee that was wartime contracting, with insights offered directly in the testimony of one James M. Hays, the president and former general manager of the prolific J. M. Hays Wood Products Co., Jefferson City, Mo.  This company made vast quantities of saddletrees for most of the saddlery contractors, and made many (if not most) of the M1913 McClellan trees.  They had difficulties in the summer/fall of 1917 getting the unique bronze horns made at a foundry in St. Louis, and these delays caused penalties to be incurred against the saddlery company awaiting their order.  It was complicated case, but the details revealed by Mr. Hays were interesting to read.

The primary use for the M1913 Mule Riding saddles was, oddly enough, not for the ‘packers’ as many have suggested, but as the riding saddle to be supplied with the pontoon wagon harness sets.  These pontoon wagons were very similar in function and appearance to those found even back to the Civil War.  A rugged frame mounted on typical wagon wheels, with a four- or six-mule hitch.  The pontoon boats naturally precluded the ‘driver’ from being seated on the wagon, so he is found on the near-side wheeler mule (much as all wagon drivers had been in the more distant past) .  The M1913 was to be the regulation saddle for those drivers.

It’s rather difficult to find any images of the Model 1913 Riding Saddle in actual use, as WW1 vintage pontoon boats appear to have only been photographed in the final state, rather than the “we just arrived with the wagons” stage. But that is not to say that they weren’t around.

After the war, the AEF component that made up the Army of the Occupation was headquartered in the picturesque river city of Coblenz (Koblenz), an old fortress city at the junction of the Moselle and Rhine Rivers, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate.

One of the popular entertainments that was made available to soldiers on recreational passes or leave was to obtain a riding horse for exploring the city. You can find a number of old real-photo postcards of young infantrymen and others mounted on whatever horses and equipment was available to the quartermaster at the time. Here is one that shows a most interesting collection, which includes a Model 1913 in use, plucked from whatever pontoon equipment set was littering the storage areas – this one sports wood and leather cavalry stirrups.

Naturally enough, there wasn’t a great call for this sort of equipment in the years following WW1, so most of the M1913’s were never actually issued.  In 1935, even the Quartermaster Dept finally decided they’d cast off this weird variant, and specify the standard artillery drivers McClellan pattern for this use, if it ever became necessary.  About the same time ( mid-1930s ), the stock of M1913’s were sold off as surplus, scattering across the four winds and helping to hold down barn rafters and stable walls in various barns for decades to come.

Construction Details:

These McClellan packers were quite different in dimensions from the cavalry/artillery McClellans, as they were generally used with mules. The saddles featured a bare dark oxidized bronze horn, and four bronze rigging rings, and two cotton-strand cinchas. Standard M1904 stirrups straps and M1912 knife-edge stirrups are normal issue items.  The Rock Island Arsenal drawings and later Quartermaster specification drawings both note that only 12″ trees were to be made.  However, original specimens have been found in 11 1/2″ sizes as well, with the horns themselves neatly marked in a discrete location with the old “2” and “3” size markings ( 2 = 11 1/2″, 3 = 12″ ).  

Sidebars are of a unique shape, not like other McClellan types, apparently to address the fit requirements of mules.  The most noticeable aspect of this different sidebar shape are the nearly straight line of the rear tips of the bar.  The cantle shape has a M1904 semi-circle edge, while the pommel is essentially the same as other models in form, but wider through the gullet.  There is no mortice in the pommel for a coat strap as the horn would cover it. The horn is an unusually complex casting, with a cavity at the base for the top of the pommel, with overlapping parts allowing for a rivet to pass through the top of the wood pommel.  The arch and pommel face reinforcement are cast integrally, and the arch is thicker than it’s pressed steel counterparts in M1904 saddles.  In all, it made a very sturdy structure for such a light saddle.  The tree was painted with white lead and rawhide covered, leaving only the dark oxidized bronze horn exposed.  

The seat in a M1913, in every other respect other than tree form, is covered and fitted with hardware exactly as the other McClellan M1904 types – brass mortice plates, low and high footman loops, saddlebag stud, and rings with standard footman loops in the front.  The rigging is quite different, using a double cincha setup.  Four bronze rings are suspended from the seat via the typical quarterstrap attachments, with a connector strap between the rings on each side.  From these rings are long latigos for attaching the cinchas.   Oddly enough, this model McClellan showed tubular rivets in the specification drawings all the way through ww1, only being used for this rigging assembly.

The cinchas are a rather different creation from other McClellan types, as they are made with cotton cord, rather than horsehair rope.  The front cincha uses 26 strands, with the rear one using 18 strands.  They are joined with a leather connecting strap and buckle.   

Following are some Rock Island Arsenal specification drawings detailing various views of parts.