Oklahoma Stories

Crafting a legacy

By Elaine Warner April 2023

Oklahoma artisan family celebrates more than a century of saddlery

Photos by Lance Shaw

Jump back in time to the year 1917. The United States had just entered a war and a young cowboy from Trenton, Missouri, reported for duty at Fort Riley, Kansas. An adventuresome lad, he had long been fascinated with the rapidly disappearing Old West. Spurred as a youngster by the glamour of Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show, he had mastered trick riding and roping and had just left a job as a cowboy on a Colorado ranch.

His name was Monroe Veach. The fort, noted as a cavalry center, took note of Veach’s equine experience and assigned him to the saddle and harness repair shop. He enjoyed the work and, after his military service ended, he moved back to his family’s Missouri farm, married, and opened a leather shop. He couldn’t have known that the small frame building was the beginning of a legacy that would continue to this day.

The Veach Saddlery family tree has a number of branches. Great-grandson Drew Clark, a Northeast Oklahoma Electric Cooperative member from Colcord, traces his saddle-making branch back four generations beginning with Monroe Veach.

One of Monroe’s six children, Imogene, married Charley Beals. The Veach Saddlery was doing a lot of business in Oklahoma so Charley and Imogene moved to Tulsa in 1945 and opened a Veach Saddlery there. Their daughter, Donna, married Duke Clark in 1958, and both worked in the saddle shop.

In 1973, the Clarks moved to a ranch near Colcord, where, after Charley and Imogene retired 12 years later, they relocated their saddle shop. It’s in this same building that Monroe’s great-grandson Drew not only makes Veach saddles but repairs saddles as well.

“Drew is a fourth-generation rodeo competitor. Monroe Veach, Charley Beals, Duke Clark and Drew were all PRCA rodeo competitors,” Drew’s mother, Donna Clark, also a co-op member, says.

It’s little wonder that Drew Clark’s saddles are popular with rodeo participants. PRCA calf-roper Blake Ash, who was ranked 30th in the world in his event last year, says, “They (Drew’s saddles) feel like a winner. They fit like a glove. I’ve got three of them.”

Clark’s business, Drew Clark Saddles at Veach Saddlery, is strictly custom. The process is painstaking, beginning with assessing both the horse and rider. The skeleton of the saddle is the wooden tree. Clark says, “It has to fit the horse.”

Next comes the size of the rider. He continued, “I can customize any part of the saddle to fit the person.” Specific events often determine the height of the horn, such as taller horns for team ropers who need to wrap their ropes around the horns. Bulldoggers often choose shorter horns that don’t get in their way.

Clark hand-cuts all the leather elements, sometimes over 100 pieces.

“I’ve never counted,” he says. “There’s a lot of pieces of leather, a lot of steps. It takes a month, sometimes two months to complete a saddle after I get the tree.”

Then there’s the fancy work, like the tooling.

“I try to do something different on every saddle,” he says.

Like his saddle-making progenitors, he still does it all by hand. Much of the work is done with the same tools used by his grandfather.

That’s quite a heritage that started in 1919 with a small building on a Missouri farm. The original business, run by other descendants, is still going strong in Trenton, Missouri.

Monroe Veach started and grew his business with pride in craftsmanship and consideration of his customers. Drew Clark is following in his generational footprints. Clark and his wife Darbi have two sons—perhaps one or both of them will carry on this strong family legacy.

Category: Oklahoma Stories
Photos by Lance Shaw

Sign up for our Oklahoma Living Newsletter

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Get The Latest Edition

Get the app: