On the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley in California sits an empty home nestled in the gentle rolling foothills. Inside this lonesome home is a saddle sitting on a homemade wooden frame. Tied to the saddle horn is a pair of old spurs and an old worn out cowboy hat. Stamped in the cantle leather is the name Chester Cook. Pressed into the leather is PACIFIC COAST CHAMPION CUTTING HORSE and COW PALACE 1951. If this worn out old saddle could talk, it would tell a fantastic story. Part of the story is known, but for sixty years, that history has been locked up forever and may never be retrieved.
A long time ago there was a tall, lanky, handsome cowboy by the name of Chester who was becoming an avid cattleman and an excellent horseman. His family owned and operated a large cattle ranch near Farmington, Ca. One day, during the late 1940’s Chester received a phone call from a friend in Eureka, Ca. His friend told him “There are a few mares from the Texas King Ranch that are being sold at an estate auction. Are you interested?” Chester knew that King Ranch horses were rarely, if ever, offered for sale. He was very interested and hitched his truck to the trailer and headed for Eureka. When he arrived at his destination, Chester wanted to know if there were any other horses available and his friend said, “Wait here and I will get one more horse from a ranch nearby”. After an hour or so, a flatbed truck arrived with one thin worried looking yearling filly cross tied on the back. Chester paid an additional $75 for her and loaded all the horses and returned home.
As time went by the filly grew and matured. Her registered name was Pepper Girl AQHA 5030. She was being used for various jobs on the ranch, sorting and gathering cattle and general ranch work. Chester began to visualize and dream about his new horse in cutting competition and wondered how she would perform. He sorted a few cows in the corral and proceeded to train this new young horse in cutting. The filly was an exceptional horse.
Chester entered his first cutting horse competition event in Sacramento and won both go-rounds in cutting and won the finals in Pepper Girl’s first show! Chester and Pepper Girl had a great first season, attending eleven shows and ending up with eight first and three second places.
Later in 1950 Chester and Pepper Girl won the California State Champion Cutting Horse competition at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and he was presented with a trophy saddle, a belt buckle and the State Champion title. Chester was elated with the honor. That same year the Pacific Coast Cutting Horse Association was founded. Chester wanted to continue in the competition so he entered the rodeo again and won the Cutting Championship for the second time in two years. The Association presented him with a buckle and a saddle, but this time they had his name engraved in the cantle leather and PACIFIC COAST CHAMPION CUTTING HORSE and COW PALACE 1951 tooled in the leather. He was one proud cowboy!
Chester kept his saddles in the tack room at the ranch. One day he went to use one of his championship saddles and discovered both saddles were gone! Chester was mad that someone had stolen them. Nobody, not even the other cowboys working on the ranch, had any idea what happened to them. Who would ever steal them? For many years the family and friends looked for the saddles. They checked saddle shops, flea markets, tack sales and talked to other cowboys, but the saddles were never seen again.
Life continued on the ranch. During this time, Chester and his wife Nancy raised three children. The kids grew up and moved away. They pursued their education and their own lives. The years went by and Chester became an elderly cowboy with major medical problems. His daughter Candy came back home to the ranch in Farmington, Ca. to take care of her ailing father. Chester passed away in 2011, never finding his prized saddles or knowing what became of them.
Recently, Chester’s son received a phone call from Utah and a lady began to question him if he knew a man named Chester. The son replied that his father’s name was Chester but he had recently passed away. He transferred this phone call to his sister, Candy. A lady by the name of Star began to tell Candy this unbelievable story. Star said she was starting up a dude ranch in Utah and had placed an ad on e-Bay for broke horses, saddles and tack. She received a phone call from Colorado and a man told her he had what she was looking for, so Star and her husband traveled to Colorado to look at his items. They agreed to the terms but Star saw a saddle sitting off to the side and she inquired about it. The man stated the saddle was not for sale. Star was insistent about the other saddle. The man said if you pay me extra he would include it. She agreed and they loaded up an old horse, tack and a couple of saddles, not knowing the treasure they had acquired. When they returned to Utah, they cleaned up the dirty old saddle and saw the name of Chester Cook and PACIFIC COAST CUTTING CHAMPION and COW PALACE 1951 engraved in the leather. Star said she had a hare-brained idea and wanted to find out where this saddle came from. She said “It was the right thing to do, to find where this championship saddle originated from”. She said “If it was my father’s, or grandfather’s saddle I would surely want to know what became of the champion saddle”. She discovered the saddle was made by the Visalia Saddle Company in Visalia, Ca. but when she called the company, they told her that they had a fire and all their records were burned. They referred her to the PCCHA office in Lockford, California. Star looked up their website and learned that Chester was one of the first cowboys inducted into PCCHA Cowboy Hall of Fame. When she called the association, they informed her they had no listing of a Chester, but had another same last name listed along with a telephone number. Star called the telephone number that was given to her. Candy was awe struck hearing this story. She could not believe what she was hearing. After several phone calls, e-mails and photos, it was confirmed that only the 1951 champion saddle was found. Candy agreed to send a check to Utah to cover the expenses and Star would ship the saddle back home to Farmington, Ca. Candy was gone for a week and when she returned home, driving down the long gravel driveway, she saw a large cumbersome brown cardboard box next to the grey gate. It was wrapped with grey duct tape and it was from Utah. Candy managed to load the large box into the back of her truck for the final destination home. Her heart was pounding. “It is my dad’s lost saddle,” she cried out. Her hands were trembling as she steered the truck the short distance to the house. She pulled the large box out of her truck onto the ground. Candy dragged the box through the door into her house. She used her pocket knife to cut away the grey duct tape. Pulling away the cardboard, she exposed volumes of clear bubble wrap used to protect and hide the saddle. She pulled all the bubble wrap away and there was one of her dad’s lost champion saddles. Candy had to wipe the “tears of joy” from her cheeks and take a good look at the saddle. Surprisingly, the saddle was in fairly good condition. There is a three inch tear on the seat and the cinch needs to be replaced due to wear and use.
During the sixty years of absence, the saddle has undoubtedly endured much. The question remains, who took the saddles from the tack room? How many times has this saddle changed hands? How did it ultimately get to Colorado? This saddle cannot reveal all the stories about where it has been or what it has done. The answers may never be known but it is enough that it finally made it home.
Chester passed away July, 2011 never knowing the final chapter of this story, or does he?