Wyoming saddle maker designs gear for working cowboys
October 16, 2013
The sign reads, "Salt Creek Saddlery, Bowie, Texas."
The placard seemed a little out of place, hanging above a booth in the agricultural building at the Fremont County Fair.
Saddlemaker Chad Campsey explained that his wife insists he keep the old sign to remind them of their hometown.
The Campsey family has bounced around Wyoming in recent years — moving to Pavillion from Meeteetse in June, and lived in Cody before that — though they are originally from the town named on the sign.
The family moved to the Wind River Valley so one of their sons could participate in Community Entry Services after he graduates from high school in the spring, Campsey said.
"He's doing so well here," he said. "We want to be close to him."
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Wherever his family moves, Campsey sets up shop, a move that landed him in the agricultural barn this summer.
The Fremont County Fair gave Campsey an opportunity to meet clients and show off his artistry as he tooled leather in his booth throughout fair week in July.
"I haven't sold a tremendous lot, but I've had a lot of interest," Campsey said.
His products include saddles, horse tack, leather book covers and knife sheaths.
"They're all custom; everything is handmade," Campsey said.
With tiny stamps he can cover whole saddles or belts inch by inch with custom basket weaves, carved florets and geometric patterns.
Campsey has made saddles for 15 years but got his start working on boots and tack at a shop in Bowie, Texas.
Working with leather soon had him hooked, and the attention to detail it required suited him.
"I really liked the art form of it," he said. "I have somewhat of a meticulous nature."
He eventually transitioned to working on saddles in the Texas shop and has worked in several saddle shops in Texas and Oregon since then.
Two scholarships from the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association allowed him to study with other saddlemakers. He used one of those opportunities in 2006 to learn from Steve Mecum in Crowheart.
Several other saddlemakers live and work in Fremont County, but Campsey's specific clientele will allow him to continue his work in the region.
"I primarily build for working ranch cowboys, but I build for anything, (such as) rodeo riders, pleasure riders," he said.
Building for real cowboys guarantees his saddles are made well.
"A working ranch guy is much more demanding of my product," he said. "If something is made poorly, they'll find out. Guys up here, they'll rope 1,300- or 1,400-pound mama cows, and they'll be tied off to that horn."
Campsey recently started offering polyethylene saddle trees, which lower the cost of the saddle.
Campsey also offers the wood and rawhide trees he has used in the past.
A typical saddle takes two to four weeks to finish, he said. ❖
Eric Blom is a writer for the The Riverton Ranger.