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In late spring of 1894, a 29-year-old saddler arrived in Elko, Nev., intent on relocating his business. He brought a modest stock of saddlery goods and nearly a decade and a half of experience in the trade, working in saddleries in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara, Calif., as well as operating his own shop in Santa Margarita during that community’s boom period. In moving to Elko, Guadalupe S. Garcia was following his customers—the California stockmen and vaqueros who flocked to the Great Basin in the decades following the completion of the transcontinental railroad.

Within months of opening his shop in the Mayhugh Building, Garcia had enough business to justify hiring an assistant, probably Florentine Najor, a fellow saddler from San Luis Obispo. By fall of 1895, Garcia found it necessary to move his operations to a larger building. In June 1896, a branch store was opened in Deeth, Nev. That fall, the local paper announced that Garcia had hired a “first class bit and spur maker” and several similar announcements appeared in the following months.

By the turn of the century Garcia’s shop employed a dozen gear makers. His business grew steadily because he knew what his customers wanted and he put together an impressive community of craftsmen to produce “Everything for the Vaquero,” as his early catalog covers proclaimed. It did not hurt that he was an accomplished craftsman and horseman himself, or that he had grown up in an area where the legacy of California’s Hispanic ranching past remained strong. Garcia put together a truly remarkable shop producing the full range of vaquero horse gear. He employed in-house bit and spur makers, rawhide braiders, hair cinch and rope makers, and eventually produced his own saddle trees and tanned his own leather. He displayed a real genius for promotion, producing his first catalog in 1899 and advertising heavily. His 1904 World’s Fair Saddle made his shop and Elko famous worldwide.

Above: Garcia family portrait, circa 1917. Back, left to right: Audelina, Les, Walter, Margarita. Front, left to right: Henry, Saturnina, Victoria, G.S., Edward. Below: Garcia Saddle Shop circa 1920. Left to right: Joe Kegan, Benny Mitchell, Monte, Thomas Jayo, Charles Hayman, unknown, unknown, Joe Ames, Julian Jayo, Chino.
G. S. Garcia with his gold-, silver- and diamond-mounted saddle, awarded first prize at St. Louis World’s Fair and Portland Exposition, ca. 1913. Inset shows details of gold medallions which feature Governor Nye, President Teddy Roosevelt, and Governor Sparks.
Garcia’s shop and crew circa 1900. This building housed the shop, and many employees, from October 1895 until spring 1907. It was in this shop that the World’s Fair outfit was produced. In this photo the crew is in three groups of four according to trade. The group on the left—including G.S. Garcia—are saddle and harness makers; the center four are bit and spur makers; and the group on the right are braiders and twisters.

Although he was a major booster of Elko, Garcia’s ties to California remained strong. Suffering from poor health, Garcia began spending more time in California after 1917. In the early ’20s Garcia maintained a residence in Los Angeles and operated a saddlery on Sunset Boulevard. The 1920 census lists sons Walter and Leslie as proprietors of the Elko shop. By 1924, the name on the catalog had changed from G.S. Garcia to Garcia Saddlery Co. A newspaper article describing a fire in the Elko shop in May of 1924 mentioned Leslie Garcia as the owner of the establishment.

Guadalupe S. Garcia died in Los Angeles on April 28, 1933 after a lingering illness. He was buried in the family plot in Santa Margarita.

Sons Henry and Leslie opened a shop in Salinas in 1935. Henry ran the Salinas operation and Leslie remained in Elko until December 1938 when the shop was closed and operations were consolidated in Salinas. The Salinas shop closed in 1966.

Carrying on the Garcia legacy in Elko is the shop founded by former Garcia employee J.M. Capriola in 1924. In the capable hands of Doug and Paula Wright the shop maintains the tradition of fine craftsmanship. In 1978, the Garcia name returned to Elko when the owners of Capriola’s bought the Garcia Bit and Spur Co. from Leslie when he retired after 20 years in Reno.

An exhibition celebrating the career of G. S. Garcia is at the Western Folklife Center in Elko through July 12. It features examples of craftsmanship from his shops in Santa Margarita and Elko, and that of his sons in Salinas, and highlights his gold medal-winning World’s Fair outfit as it nears its centennial.

Historian Griff Durham of Reno, Nev. has been interested in cowboy horse gear for over 50 years and was guest curator for the G. S. Garcia Exhibition. Co-curator Meg Glaser is the artistic director of the Western Folklife Center and from a family that has ranched in Elko County for four generations. Their Garcia exhibit was presented with funding from International Game Technology, Anne Pattee, and the Nevada Arts Council.

The Western Folklife Center

 The Western Folklife Center in Elko, Nev., is dedicated to preserving the folk arts of the West. WFC conducts research and produces educational programs, exhibits, media and public performances that honor the heritage and contemporary culture of the West. Headquarters are in the historic Pioneer building at 501 Railroad Street, where visitors are welcome to wander through the exhibit gallery, visit the Black Box Theater, buy folk arts, see cowboy crafts, hear live performances and share in the experience of the West. 

  • Legacy of G. S. Garcia: “Everything for the Vaquero,” exhibit extended to July 12, 2003.
  • “Why the Cowboy Sings,” a music video in the Black Box Theater.
  • Summer workshops—Farrier, Illustrated Journals, Oral History Collecting, Leather Tooling and more.
  • Summer concerts—Marley’s Ghost, Painted Horse and others.
  • 20th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering—January 24-31, 2004. Tickets on sale October 3, 2003.

 For more information call 775-738-7508 or visit <>

Summer 2003 Contents | Git Home!

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