Tools of the Trade: Braided, Twisted and Tied / Braiding Artists
The following rawhide braiders are represented in the Western Folklife Center Contemporary Gear Collection.
Jake Brown – Reata, Tuscarora, Nevada
This 59.5 foot rawhide reata carries Jake Brown's signature touch of using two different colors of rawhide. In this case, three of the six strands have been dyed with coffee grounds, and three have been left natural. Jake finishes his reatas off with a unique combination of knots he has learned over the years.
Jake has over ten years of experience invested in the braiding craft, first learning from Dave Weaver while working on the YP Ranch. Other influences have been Roger Fisher and his father-in-law Larry Schutte. Like most braiders, Jake has a day job; he currently works as a buckaroo for the YP Ranch in Elko County. And like many cowboys, he has moved around a lot, learning the lay of the land on some of the finest outfits in the Great Basin, including the Spanish and TS ranches.
Jake is quick to give credit to God for giving him the gift of braiding which brings in a little extra income for his family. He also refers to the three Ds - Determination, Desire and Discipline - as key ingredients to success. When asked about what he looks to in the future, Jake says he "just wants to keep cowboying and braiding and trying out new ideas for ropes."
William J. Budd – Romal Reins, Spring Creek, Nevada
These braided romal reins were made by Bill Budd in 2000 and donated to the Western Folklife Center by the artist. The 16-strand braidwork used in the long body of the reins and romal contains many pattern changes, a style unique to Bill’s work. A total of 140 rawhide knots decorate the set. Bill started rawhiding in 1986 while living and working in the San Jose area of northern California. He is now retired and has moved to Elko, Nevada, residing a few miles from town. Bill rawhides daily, has taught classes on the subject, and tutors people on an individual basis. He has published popular books on braiding, and is well known for his ability to design new knots and braid forms. In addition to braiding in the traditional manner, Bill is one of the few braiders who also makes gear in what he refers to as the “New American Style,” which utilizes long knots containing a variety of weave and color patterns. This style is more time consuming and requires the ability to design new knots as opposed to using traditional forms.
Doug Groves – Twisted Reata, Battle Mountain, Nevada
More than a quarter century has passed since Doug Groves started braiding out of necessity, to make the gear he needed as a working cowboy. One of his first teachers was Frank Hansen, and Doug has enjoyed the process of learning ever since. “There’s a genealogy behind learning all this stuff. When you’re sitting around the bunkhouse, and somebody is teaching you how to tie a particular button or something, you’ll get to visiting and you’ll say, ‘Well, where did you learn that?’ And they’ll say, ‘Well, Roger Fischer taught me that when we worked at the 25 together.’ You learn it from this guy, from that guy, from that guy - and knowing where it came from is like having a quilt your Grandma made, it means something to you.” Doug is currently the cow boss on the TS Ranch outside of Battle Mountain, Nevada. He has taught his son Grant how to braid and is generous in sharing his knowledge with the other cowboys he works with.
Frank Hansen – Braided Rawhide Reata, Lakeview, Oregon
This 72-foot, four-plait braided reata was donated to the Western Folklife Center by the maker. Frank Hansen was born in Colorado in 1917 but grew up mainly in Kansas, where he attended school through the eighth grade. He was working as a cowboy by age 16, and picked up a bit of knowledge about braiding here and there, but didn’t start working at it seriously until the early 1960s. He always said most of his knowledge came from Bruce Grant’s book How to Make Cowboy Horse Gear. Frank taught dozens of other braiders over the years, made many friends through braiding, and enjoyed the challenge of working with rawhide.
Ellison "Bombo" Jackson – Miniature Quirt, Owyhee, Nevada
This miniature quirt was donated to the Western Folklife Center by Ellison "Bombo" Jackson. He first attempted rawhide work when he was mustanging in northeastern Nevada and needed a reata. He learned some braiding techniques on his own, some from Bruce Grant’s How to Make Cowboy Horse Gear, and some from fellow Western Shoshone cowboys and rawhiders. Bombo claims that rawhiding is like building a house - you need the foundation to be perfect. He also speaks of the importance of making sure the balance and weight of the quirt is right for the work. Bombo makes his own tools and draws on his experience as a working buckaroo to create gear that functions well.
Mehl Lawson – Hackamore, Bonita, California
This beautifully handcrafted hackamore is made up of a 16-strand braid with a brown interweave pattern on the nose button and heel knot. California native Mehl Lawson is widely respected for his work as a professional horse trainer, sculptor and braider. His reverence for the traditions of the old California vaquero and the contemporary buckaroo is a thread connecting these artful pursuits. Mehl was invited to join the distinguished Cowboy Artists of America group in 1982, and has received numerous awards for his artwork.
Jim McKinney – Santa Ynez Reins, Riverton, Wyoming
Jim McKinney likes to make gear for the working buckaroo. This set of Santa Ynez style reins is braided from 12 strands of rawhide. In Jim’s opinion the old style rawhide gear is the best, and he tries to make his gear neat and useable. His braiding began over 30 years ago as a hobby to pass the time by making horse gear to use and to trade. By studying The Encyclopedia of Rawhide and Leather Braiding by Bruce Grant, as well as obtaining tips from other braiders, Jim turned his hobby into a business known worldwide as Buckaroo Rawhide, specializing in reins/romals and hondos, and headstalls, quirts, and bosals.
Jim spent over a quarter of a century working on cattle ranches in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and in his home state of California, before circling back to western Wyoming. Since moving back to Wyoming, Jim has been day working, calving, and working cow camps, but mainly concentrating on his rawhide braiding.
Ed Pass – Quirt, Florence, Arizona
This quirt is one of a very limited edition and has the distinguishing characteristic of being constructed by covering the twisted rawhide core with one long knot that extends from the butt end of the handle to the popper end. Ed taught himself this style of braiding in a craft shop in the Arizona State Penitentiary. His work has inspired a growth in the American West of this intricate style.
Sharon Paulin – Hackamore, Pine Valley, California
This hackamore is 11 inches long with a rawhide braided core. The body is 16 plait with several pattern changes, and the nose button features pattern changes as well, with interweaves at both ends and in the middle. The headstrap is made from kangaroo leather. Sharon Paulin experiments with native plants and bark for dyes; these strings were dyed with red shank, a bush that grows on the ranch where Sharon and her husband live in the mountains of eastern San Diego County. She makes her own rawhide and cuts her own strings.
Sharon feels fortunate to be an heir to the old and fine tradition of California vaquero rawhide braiding. She first taught herself the craft in 1984, using Bruce Grant’s classic book, The Encyclopedia of Rawhide and Leather Braiding, and has been influenced by braiders such as Luis Ortega and Ed Pass.
Shorty Prunty – Reata, Charleston, Nevada
Shorty Prunty donated this rawhide reata, made from a black cowhide, to the Western Folklife Center. A rancher in the remote Charleston area on the Nevada-Idaho border, Shorty enjoyed doing rawhide work in his spare time. Five generations of the Prunty family have ranched on the same land. Shorty’s widow, Marge, and granddaughters Becky and Kyla continue to maintain this tradition. The Prunty Ranch is well known for its herd of colorful Diamond A Desert horses, numbering about 150 head, which were featured in the April and May 2001, issues of Western Horseman magazine. They also run about 300 head of mother cows on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land and their own property.
Randy Rieman – Braided Rawhide Reata, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Randy Rieman has made his living on horseback for the last 25 years. He’s worked for various cow/calf ranches, grazing associations, and stocker operations in Montana, Nevada, and California. He spent eight years in Hawaii starting colts and training stock horses for the Parker Ranch on the Big Island and is currently plying his trade in New Mexico, where he lives with his wife Kim. Fellow cowboys respect him for his philosophical thoughtfulness, honesty, and finely honed practical skills. Randy had the benefit of working with master braider Bill Dorrance as he learned the art of building reatas, and produced a video entitled Four Strands of Rawhide: The Making of a Reata, which features Bill and his thoughts on braiding. In addition to starting colts and braiding reatas, Randy recites traditional cowboy poetry. He is known for his classic recitations of poetry from the American West and the Australian Bush.
Bob Stone – Reins with Headstall, Three Rivers, California
This headstall was assembled from gear crafted by five artists. Bob Stone made the reins. For more details see Cowboy Chrome – Dan Price.
A native Californian, Bob Stone works in a strict California tradition, which he describes as a slightly lighter, understated style of gear. A set of extremely fine reins, made from over 900 feet of rawhide strings, takes over two months to complete.
Nate Wald – Bosal, Lodgegrass, Montana
This ½" rawhide bosal is for a hackamore setup. Nate Wald likes to use traditional gear in his work as a rancher, and he likes to do things the old way. The process of creating a finished product from rawhide involves a series of painstaking steps that lead to a beautiful result in the hands of a perfectionist such as Nate. “I like to make gear that is functional. A person should be creative and try new things, but must not lose sight of the fact we are making gear. I want to make the finest, most beautiful, unique gear I can produce without losing tradition, functionality, or straight, clean work. I intend to do my part to keep the tradition of braiding alive,” he explains.
Nate braided his first pair of reins in the spring of 1989, after graduating from college and returning to work on his family’s ranch near Lodge Grass, Montana. Nate considers himself self-taught; however, braiders such as Ed DuBeau, Bryan Neubert, and Bill Dorrance have been influential in the development of his work. Nate is a member of the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association.