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Published May 29, 2018
Research by a student worker at the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center (AHC) has determined that a saddle displayed for years as “Hopalong Cassidy’s Saddle” actually was used by his wife in the early TV show.
In 1982, Grace Bradley Boyd donated to the AHC a large cache of documents, photographs and memorabilia that belonged to her late husband, William L. Boyd, or “Hopalong Cassidy” as he was better known. “Hoppy” was well-known to children from the 1930s through the ’50s as the quintessential good guy in the black hat who rode the range with his unflappable horse Topper, capturing villains without a shot fired.
When the collection was donated by Grace Boyd, not all of the material was sent to the AHC. It was split among various museums that also collected Western and popular culture materials. Two saddles were donated to two different museums -- one to the AHC and the other to the Autry Museum of the American West in San Diego, Calif. These saddles were used by the TV characters “Hopalong Cassidy” and “Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy,” the latter portrayed by Grace Boyd.
The AHC was under the impression the saddle it received was used by “Hopalong Cassidy,” so that’s how it was displayed.
However, discussing the borrowing of collection material from the AHC’s William L. Boyd Collection by the Autry Museum, a comment about the “Hoppy Saddle” came up. “There was a remark about the saddle not being Hoppy’s and, instead, the saddle belonging to Grace Boyd’s character,” says AHC Collections Manager Bill Hopkins. While he was looking for projects that would enhance student workers’ time, the remark came back to him.
Research began with a look through AHC collections to find information on the saddle in the William L. Boyd Collection. Historical photographs and a look through the Autry Museum’s online collection database gave student worker Kelly Law a good starting point. The artifacts in the AHC collection include two different sets of tack and several photographs of Boyd in character.
“There is a definite connection between the reins for the saddle that ‘Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy’ used and the saddle on display at the AHC. Since the AHC has two different sets of reins associated with the William Boyd Collection, I looked for the one that would match the saddle,” says Law, of Mitchell, Neb., who will be a senior this fall majoring in art history with a minor in museum studies. “The historical photos also helped to see ‘Mr. and Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy’ dressed as their characters and determine what matches the saddle on display.”
The different sizes of medallions compared to the photographs point to the saddle belonging to “Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy.”
While the original ownership of the saddle was never in doubt, the user of the saddle was up for debate. The AHC is now confident in identifying the saddle in its possession as the one that was used by “Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy,” Hopkins says.
The AHC is UW’s repository of manuscript collections, rare books and university archives. The AHC is the laboratory for citizens and scholars to engage with primary sources in all formats that support the creation of historical narratives, interrogate the past, build community, and pose and answer questions about human experience. The AHC holds collections of distinction, serving citizens and scholars in Wyoming and beyond.