Photo courtesy Potter County News

“Blue-y,” the full circle saddle

It was 1948 when Ed DeKnikker, then only 18 years old, custom ordered a saddle from a maker in Texas to help prepare him for work as a cowboy back in central South Dakota. It cost around $150??, which was a hefty sum at the time. He broke it in during a big cattle drive where he and his brother moved 1,000 head of cattle on a three-day ride from Ft. Pierre to Phillip, SD. “It rained the whole time,” he recalled, saying the blue from his jeans leached into the seat.
Just a few years later, he left to serve in the Korean War, but before leaving he gave the saddle to his brother. That was in 1952, and it was the last time he saw the special piece of equipment -- until a Friday afternoon in May, 2023.
For more than 70 years, the saddle has been passed over the backs of horses through members of two families. Ed’s daughter, Violet, had conversations with her cousin, Susan DeKnikker Carmichael, and over the years the families came to an agreement to share it with the original owner one last time, on the condition it would stay in the family.
On Friday, May 19, Cleo DeKnikker, Ed’s sister-in-law, her daughter Susan DeKnikker Carmichael brought the saddle home.
This story starts with Scotty Phillips, the individual which Philip, SD is named for, and the person who owned the 1,000 head of cattle along with 37 horses needing to be moved.  Scotty had hired Ed DeKnikker and his brother, Jim, along with three other individuals to make the trip from Ft. Pierre to Phillip, SD with those cattle and horses.  Of the five people, three individuals were on horses and two were in a vehicle with the food for the trip.  It would take them approximately ten days for the trip.  Well, it would take some of them ten days.
Moving cattle is a business in South Dakota.  Nothing new there for small towns in mid-western areas.  Everything was going fine, until the rain started - it was only rain – and typical South Dakota weather.  When the rain continued, over a day or so, the “typical” ceased.  That was when the pickup driver, with the cook, decided to leave the rainy mess in the middle of the night, unannounced and taking all the food with them.
Facing obstacles of that sort would continue for the trip.  Not only did they have over a thousand head of cattle to deal with, but the three cattle drivers also had the thirty-seven horses running loose with the cattle.  This wasn’t a problem until various landowners’ horses saw the moving cattle with the now strange horses.  Horses can be territorial and that is what was about to happen.  The landowner’s horses took this territorial invasion as an opportunity to protect their space.  A new problem was at hand with trying to keep the two groups of horses separate.  This brought on a new “Good Luck with That” opportunity.  Over space and time, the horses were kept separate by the three riders who were now soaked to the core along with what little they had with them; their clothes, their horses and their saddles.
Everything was soaked. The men and the horses were soaked.  There was no shelter.  There was no food.  And there was absolutely no choice but to keep moving west – which is what they did.  Not only were the cattle and horses running, the blue dye from Ed’s new blue jeans was running from the jeans into the saddle.  The dye from the jeans turned the saddle to a fresh new blue tone which would stay with the saddle for several years while Ed used the saddle.  Maybe we should just call the saddle by a new name: “Blue-y!”
Ed’s saddle had been special ordered from a company in Texas called the Potter Saddle Company.  It was made to fit the individual and took over 90 days from the order date to the delivery date.  At that time, the total value of the saddle needed to be prepaid-up front at the time of order.  The new saddle had arrived in Phillip, SD in a box before the cattle drive began so it was broken in some.   
Ed used the saddle from 1948 to 1951 until he went into the service to help the U. S. Marines in California and Korea.  During the time Ed was serving his country, the saddle was in South Dakota on an adventure all its own.  “Blue-y” and Ed’s horse went to another one of Ed’s brothers, Albert, to be used until Ed’s scheduled return from the Marines in 1954.  But Ed’s brother Albert was eventually on his own mission and was serving in the Marines also.  
When Ed returned to South Dakota, the saddle continued its own trek around the state independent of him or his knowledge.  Initially the saddle went from his brother on to Ed’s brother’s brother-in-law.  It was used to herd sheep by this group of family members who lived south of Faith, SD.  The timeframe now was in or about 1972.  The saddle never left the area at this point, it just changed family members.
“Blue-y” stayed with that family for a number of years – unbeknown to Ed – who started talking about it in 2014.   
In 2014, another brother of Ed’s, Art, was very sick with cancer and that drew a number of distant family members together from South Dakota, Idaho and North Carolina.  That’s when the fresh discussion about the “Blue Saddle” began.  The first question was: Was it still blue?  The second question on the table was: Where was it?  The answer at that time was: No one present knew exactly where the saddle was and therefore no one knew if it was still blue!  
These questions intrigued Ed’s daughter Violet DeKnikker from North Carolina and Ed’s niece, Susan DeKnikker Carmichael still living in South Dakota.  And so the nine year search began.   Their quest was: Try to find the saddle!  The next challenge would be: Try to get their hands on the saddle!  Followed by: Let Ed see his then 66-year-old saddle!
The adventure was on.  With the help of Cleo DeKnikker, (Ed’s only living sister-in-law), Cleo’s brother Bobby Collins, who had the saddle in the 1970’s and Cleo’s daughter Susan DeKnikker Carmichael, the saddle was found.  The history of the saddle and the travels of it were pieced together and the saddle was eventually located and confirmed to be in Prairie City, SD in 2023.  Bobby Collins and his immediate family found and confirmed the saddle, with its fresher history for working cattle again.  It was in a barn seeking shelter - probably with a fear of being rained on again!  The report is that “Blue-y” was blue for a number of years until working sheep in the rain long enough that the rain washed the blue out of it.
The new challenge was – could the saddle come back to Ed?  There lies a new dilemma.  The saddle had been in that family herding sheep and working cattle for over two generations.  This family had a deep connection with “Blue-y” also.  With some very considerate and conscientious discussions between Ed’s daughter Violet, Ed’s niece Susan, and the present owners, a barter arrangement was made with the then present owners.  That family accepted an informal offer, and a deal was struck for Ed to be able to see his saddle as its first owner.
Ed did get to see the saddle then in May of 2023 when Susan and Cleo brought it to Gettysburg as a surprise without Ed knowing anything about it making the trip from Prairie City, SD to Gettysburg, SD.  The saddle had been seasoned with and by a number of people and a number of events over the years.  
The saddle is now 76 years old and Ed will be turning 93 at the end of February, 2024.  The goal for Susan and Violet (seasoned cousins) was met with joy in that Ed got to see his saddle and the family who presently own it, cherish it as much as the first owner Ed had.  Ironically, the saddle has never been out of South Dakota and has continually been in only two main families connected by marriage.  And if you’re wondering if “Blue-y” has any remnants of being blue?  Let’s just call him “Seasoned” now!
Violet and Susan would like  Susan’s mother, Cleo Collins DeKnikker and Cleo’s brother, Bobby Collins and his immediate family members to know how much they appreciate their generosity and efforts to let this event happen.
Ed DeKnikker celebrated his 93rd birthday at the end of February and resides at the Avera Oahe Manor in Gettysburg, SD.

The Pioneer Review

221 E. Oak Street
Philip, SD 57567
Telephone: (605) 859-2516
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