Bob Kelly (1918-____)
Bob Kelly was born August 25, 1918 in Nampa, Idaho and spent his early buckaroo days in southern Idaho in the Wilson Valley, Givens Hot Springs area working with old-time vaqueros. In 1940, Bob went to Nevada to work for the ‘Lucky T’ Ranch out of McDermitt. He was a buckaroo there from the fall of 1940 until March of 1941 when he went into the Army.
Horses have always been a part of Bob’s life. He grew up in an era when horses were a main power source, whether gathering horses, sorting cattle or just getting over to the neighbors. He also worked for a ranch in southwest Montana that ran 3,000 steers and remembers on day cutting out 1000 head to ship.
Even after becoming a full time saddle maker, Bob raised his own horses, managed a small cow-calf operation, broke colts, shod horses and buckarooed in what he call the ‘steepest cow country in the world’ the Salmon River breaks of central Idaho.
Long days in the saddle and appreciation of good leather work inspired Bob to make his first saddle in the early 1950’s.
Impressed with that first saddle, Ray Holes hired him and Bob worked for Holes for twenty-five years and during that time he made 1,720 saddles. Bob has been making saddles for 37 years and has made more than 2,000 saddles.
Bob was still active in 2003 helping his neighbors at brandings, and roping off his colt and bridle horse, and of course he keeps busy braiding beautiful rawhide hackamores, quirts, reins, and additional beautiful leatherwork. Bob knew well the great rawhide braider, Louis Ortega, spending many hours with him, visiting about the old California vaquero style of braiding, handling horses and saddle making. Louis, himself, had great respect for Bob and his beautiful saddle work. Louis remembers, "After Bob retired from Ray Holes' shop, Bob went out on his own, making a move to Tres Pinos, California." Louis went on to praise Bob's work when he further wrote, "He always uses only number one grade leather which is firm and clean, good for carving and making rigging. The saddle seat too is built up of good quality leather. For many years he has saved strips of his saddle leather for me to use for the poppers on my better quality work." Louis also recognized Bob as a horseman. As he put it, "Even though Bob quit regular riding for a living, Bob always has a horse to ride and often it's a young colt he's starting - always with a hackamore."
While in California, Bob became acquainted with Western artist, Jack Swanson; who comments, "Bob is one of the best ... high quality, pride of workmanship, and an artist of the saddle making craft "along with workmanship, these saddles have beautiful 'balance' and the lines of the old vaquero saddles!"
Paul Sweeney rode for many years and many miles as a buckaroo and he commented
once to Dennis Nelson that riding a Bob Kelly saddle '"as like sitting
in a rocking chair and as Dennis Nelson found out when he finally got
his own Bob Kelly saddle, that it was true, Bob's saddles fit the horse
and the rider.
For many years, a tremendous amount of work has been accomplished by vaqueros and buckaroos riding Bob Kelly saddles.
Bob Kelly was inducted into the Buckaroo Hall of Fame in September 2003.
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