When a historic saddle shop in Missouri celebrates a century in business, it’s worth paying the owners a visit.
Missouri is not a frequent stop on my story-gathering schedule, but this past June I traveled east of the Missouri River to the “Show Me” state and learned about some of its Western heritage, including Veach Saddlery Company in Trenton. This year the family owned saddle shop is celebrating 100 years of business.
It’s rare to find a saddle shop that has been passed down through generations of the same family for a century, but the Veach brand has stood the test of time, evolving and diversifying to meet the demands of its customers. Founded in March of 1919 by Monroe Veach, the shop started out specializing in harness, but Monroe also made other leather goods such as boots and saddles. His first shop was located in a 12-by-18-foot clapboard shed on his father’s farm 7 miles northwest of Trenton. In 1938 he moved the shop to town.
Today, his youngest daughter, Peggy Veach Robinson, and her husband, Robert Robinson, own and operate the shop in Trenton with their son, Craig. The building they occupy was built in the early 1970s and is the last place Monroe worked before his death on Christmas Day in 1986.
Step Back in Saddlemaking History
Walking around the front of the store is like perusing a museum of Western wear, rodeo and saddlemaking history. On display are old photos of Monroe and the Veach family working in the shop and producing and performing at rodeos. In a glass case are boots Monroe made for Peggy when she was a child and other relics from his life. Western wear posters featuring Ty Murray and other famous rodeo icons from the 1980s and ’90s are hung on the walls. For years, Peggy stocked the store full of Western wear lines but has cut back to a few basics like belts and vests. There’s theater seating to watch the documentary film $10 and a $40 Saddle that showcases Veach as an icon in the history of the West. There is also an early Veach saddle and three special anniversary saddles on display, including the 75th anniversary saddle, the 80th anniversary miniature saddle and this year’s centennial saddle, all made by Craig.
Behind the retail space is the old saddle shop. During its heyday, the shop employed more than a dozen people, including family members, who worked in an assembly-line fashion. Today, those stations remain, but Craig is the only saddlemaker in the shop making saddles the way his grandfather taught him but with his own touches to fit today’s horses and riders.
“Grandpa was interested in being a manufacturer,” says Craig. “He would decide what tree to use and then cut out pieces for six of those saddles to be assembled. As I got experience [in saddlemaking], I wanted to make one saddle at a time and we’ve slowly gotten back to that.”
Peggy estimates that her father made more than 14,000 saddles in his lifetime. One of the company’s most popular saddles in the 1940s and ’50s was the Fred Lowry Roper. Monroe, who was also a trick rider, also was a premier maker of trick saddles. Although business has slowed down through the years, Craig continues to build several trick saddles a year, as well as saddles for roping, barrel racing and ranching.
The third and fourth generations of Veach family members continue Monroe’s legacy in leatherwork. Grandsons Craig, Kenny and Cary Veach, grandson-in-law Duke Clark, and great-grandsons Drew Clark and Bryon Biggs all build saddles or make leather goods today. For an unexpected step back into saddlemaking time, however, take a tour of Veach Saddlery Company and you’ll be reminded of when every town had a local saddle shop, the annual rodeo was a community’s largest spectacle, and the West was still wild.
A poem written by Ron Ratliff in July of 2004 hangs on the wall in Veach Saddlery and celebrates the quality and historic value of a Veach saddle.
That’s a Veach
“A 100 dollar saddle on a 10 dollar horse”
a saying that’s old and quaint
Used by ranchers and farmers – referring to
something valuable on something that ain’t
Or, something fancy on something old
like fancy wheels on an old trailer
Or, a woman with too much “paint”
or a tuxedo on a common feller
Cowboys say it to refer to a new hat
or new boots while the rest of the outfits worn
Or, new seat covers in the feed truck
or patching something that’s tattered and torn
But the saying is country in origin
and the image is clear and precise
A fancy or well made saddle
that captures the attention and catches the eye
So, if you look at THAT saddle on that horse
and you figure out the value of each
Well, the saddle’s worth a whole lot more
but, boys, that’s a Veach!
No doubt you could find something cheaper
and I wouldn’t hold it against you if you did
But the maker of THAT saddle is a master craftsman,
an artist, been working his trade since he was a kid
The carvings and stitches are flawless
and the leather is stretched and tight
The stirrups are bound with a buckaroo twist
and the cinches hang just right
She’s built to use and she’s built for looks
with equal value on each
’Cause “We ain’t building antiques,
we’re building heirlooms”
Boys, THAT’s a Veach!
Read more about Veach Saddlery in the December 2019 issue of Western Horseman.