In 1982, Grace Bradley Boyd donated to the American Heritage Center a large cache of documents, photographs and memorabilia that belonged to her late husband William L. Boyd, or “Hopalong Cassidy” as he was better known. “Hoppy” was well-known to children from the 1930s through the 50s as the quintessential good guy in the black hat who rode the range with his unflappable horse Topper, capturing villains without a shot fired.
Mrs. Boyd’s donation included the original saddle used by Hopalong Cassidy, or so the AHC thought. For many years the saddle was displayed as “Hopalong Cassidy’s Saddle”. However, questions arose about who, in fact, rode in that saddle. Using historic photographs taken of William and Grace Boyd while in character determined that the saddle actually belonged to Grace in her portrayal of “Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy”.
When the collection was donated by Mrs. Boyd, not all of the material was sent to the AHC. It was split between various museums that also collected western and popular culture materials. Two saddles were donated to two different museums, one to the American Heritage Center in Laramie, Wyoming, and the other to the Autry Museum of the American West in San Diego, California. These saddles were used by the TV characters “Hopalong Cassidy” and wife “Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy”.
While discussing the borrowing of collection material from the AHC’s William L. Boyd Collection to the Autry Museum a comment about the “Hoppy Saddle” came up. “There was a remark about the saddle not being Hoppy’s and instead the saddle belonging to Grace Boyd’s character.” says AHC Collections Manager Bill Hopkins. This thought stayed with him and while looking for projects that would enhance student workers’ time this remark came back to him.
Research began with a look through AHC collections to find out what information the AHC had on the saddle in the William L. Boyd collection. Historical photographs and a look through the Autry’s online collection database gave student worker Kelly Law a good starting point. The artifacts included in the AHC collection include two different sets of tack and several photographs of Boyd in character. “There is a definite connection between the reigns for the saddle that ‘Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy’ used and the saddle on display at the AHC. Since the AHC has two different sets of reigns associated with the William Boyd collection I looked for the one that would match the saddle,” says Law. She adds, “The historical photos also helped to see Mr. and Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy dressed as their characters and determine what matched the saddle on display.” Law found that the different sizes of medallions compared to the photographs point to the saddle belonging to “Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy”.
While the original ownership of the saddle was never in doubt, the user of the saddle was up for debate. The AHC is now confident in identifying the saddle in their possession as the one that was used by “Mrs. Hopalong Cassidy”.
– Post submitted by Kelly Law, Accessioning Unit, American Heritage Center.