When a cowboy needed a rope in the early days of Wyoming he usually had to make it himself. He would get a cowhide, cut it into strips, then hand braid the strips into a rope. The same process was used to create bridles, reins, hobbles and another other gear necessary for work on the range. Even though the product was utilitarian, many cowboys took great pride in braiding intricate knots and patterns.
Hand braiding is almost a lost art, but a Lander resident is keeping it alive and passing on the techniques to a new generation. Jack Mease taught himself how to make leather gear based on historic samples. A mechanic by trade, he also makes all his own tools to do the leather work. He is one of a handful of skilled braiders left in this country.
A new display in the lobby of the Lander Pioneer Museum highlights some of the intricate work that Mease and his students have created over the years. On display are ropes, bridles, and halters made locally. “The amount of time and detail that goes into these pieces is amazing, these are real pieces of art” said museum Visitor Services Coordinator Randy Wise. “Just the preparation of the rawhide takes hours of work.” Wise said that examples of the knots and braids are also on display. He said Mease uses many Spanish style braids, but has also recreated Argentinian and Australian styles.
The display is in the main lobby of the Pioneer Museum through the winter. According to Wise the display is part of a new series of rotating displays in the lobby and Western Gallery at the museum. A previous display of Mease’s hand crafted miniatures of pioneer wagons and tools was very popular. The museum is celebrating its 100th anniversary with special events, displays and activities all year.
The Pioneer Museum’s winter hours are Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Call the museum at 307-332-3373 for more information, visit www.fremontcountymuseums.com, or visit the museum Facebook page: Pioneer Museum Lander Wyoming.