Connolly Bros. Company History

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Klamath Falls, Oregon
Butte, Montana
Billings, Montana

It was in 1865 that John Connolly opened his first Saddlery in Minneapolis Minnesota where he remained in business until the turn of the century - 1900. By the mid 1890s, John Connolly's sons, John Thomas (Jack) & Patrick Henry (Pat), were heading west and sometime in the late 1880s, they opened the first Connolly Brothers Saddlery in Klamath Falls, Oregon where they operated until shortly after the turn of the Century 1900. It was in 1907 that the Brothers re-opened their shop in Butte, Montana and they moved to a second location in Billings, Montana in approximately 1912 leaving Butte.

The Connolly Saddles in Billings

Connolly Brothers 1912-1929

In 1912, the Connolly Brothers, Jonathan Thomas (Jack), and Patrick Henry (Pat), moved from the copper rich mining town of Butte, Montana to the thriving Commercial hub of Billings in eastern Montana. Having run a very successful harness, horse collar and saddle shop In Butte from 1907 to 1912, the Connolly brothers decided to move East to the Yellowstone Valley. Brother Andrew Jackson (Andy). Their hearts, it is said, were in the grass rich, prairie cow-country of Eastern Montana where they could further ply their trade skills and Further the future of Connolly saddles. Jack was a talented saddle-maker, gifted at the difficult task of making a saddle of both extreme beauty, and incredible strength and comfort. Jonathan Bradley, the boy’s father, joined them at this time, working in both the Billings and Butte shops, until he was stricken and died while working at his bench at the age of 86. Prominent customers and riders of the famous Connolly saddle of this period included Jim and Walt Hill (builders of the Great Northern Railway), Al Grasfielf (a famous bronco rider), and Mickey Cochrane (of baseball fame). Perhaps the most noted cowboy to ride and promote the Connolly saddle was famed western artist and author Will James. He bought his first Connolly saddle second-hand as a young man while still in Alberta, Canada. Upon moving to the Yellowstone Valley region, he became fast friends with both Jack and Pat and rode nothing but Connolly saddles until his untimely death in 1942. Saddles made in this time period were identified with this Firm Stamp Pat Connolly Saddlery 1929 - 1950.

In 1929, the second separation of the Connolly Brothers occurred. Jack decided, with some reason, that two widely separated shops would be more advantageous under changing business conditions. Pat was well able to manage the Billings shop alone as his reputation for fair dealing and loyal consideration toward his employees assured him of the best help available. So Jack bid bother Pat adieu, and moved up the Yellowstone Valley to Livingston, Montana where he established the Jack Connolly Saddlery. With Pat's health began to waver, Jack returned to Billings in 1937 to once again produce his incredible saddles in the shadow of the Rimrocks until 1939. The saddles he produced at this time in the Billings shop were stamped with the Pat Connolly firm stamp. It was during this period that Pat's only son, John Connolly, apprenticed to his Uncle Jack, the master saddler. John showed talent with the craft and became a respected saddle maker in his own rite. After his time teaching John, Jack was able to return to his own shop in Livingston, leaving the Billings shop and store in the trusted hands with John and his younger sister Alice. The war years of 1942-1945 were challenging for the Pat Connolly Saddlery. John joined millions of young Americans at the time and eagerly enlisted in the Armed Forces. This left his 20 year old sister, Alice Connolly, to single-handedly operate and manage the successful family business. She speaks to this day of the kindness and hard work of a saddle maker named Mr. Nelson that she credits with saving the saddle business for Pat Connolly Saddlery during the turbulent war years. With service to his country fulfilled, John Connolly returned home and went right back to work building the fine saddle for which the shop was renowned.

A new hand entered the Connolly saddle scene in approximately 1946. John hired his brother-in-law, Charles R. Harris (Chuck) to join the shop and learn the leather craft. Chuck proved incredibly adept at the saddle craft and in time became the head saddle maker at Pat Connolly Saddlery. Saddles made in this time period are identified by this firm stamp The Connolly Saddlery 1950-1978. With the sad passing of Pat Connolly in 1950 , the surviving children John, Alice, and Katherine with husband Chuck Harris purchased the Pat Connolly Saddlery and thus the name change became effective, The Connolly Saddlery. The ensuing years brought an exciting expansion to the old building that had housed both the saddle shop and the retail store. An adjoining building was purchased that doubled the original size of operation. Connolly Saddlery now had plenty of room for a large saddle shop and saddle retail store. For many rural families, "Connollys" was not only the one stop location for all their tack and clothing needs, but a place to meet with neighbors and conduct the social life of 'bein in town'! Chuck Harris ran the saddle shop with the utmost of integrity and produced a quality saddle that was equaled by none. A very staunch advocate of the "old school" craft of saddlery, every saddle and all components were constructed to perfection or not put out for use! He had learned his craft perfectly from John Connolly and had many hours of instruction from the master saddler Jack Connolly, who had returned back to Billings in 1946, to retire. Under Chuck's reign as head saddler during these years only two other saddle makers ever made a "Connolly" saddle. The first of these was an incredibly likable man from Wyoming by the name of Ed Stoke. He came to Connolly's already an accomplished saddler, having worked the great shops of Sheridan, Wyoming. He is credited with some of the very fine saddle making innovation such as the seamless horn cover and the no-end horn wrap, just to name a few. He is also credited with inventing the saddle buck made from the hydraulic lift of the common barber chair! The 60's and 70's saw its share of "leather workers" come and go through the Connolly shop. In Jan. 1976, Chuck hired, to Man's amazement, a very young cowboy with absolutely no leather working experience what so ever! His name was Chuck Weldon and he came from a ranching family who had traded at Connolly's for decades. An apprenticeship ensued and the young , eager worker progressed quickly under the "most persistent teachings" of the head saddler, Mr. Harris! By the second year of this apprenticeship, Chuck Harris would build the main body of the saddle and Chuck Weldon would do any basket-stamping and finish the saddle out to completion, as well as build the entire saddle, completing orders. Sadly for all, Chuck Harris retired from The Connolly Saddlery in January 1978 and the decision was made not to continue the service of a custom saddle shop. On January 15, 1978, the two "Chucks", Harris and Weldon, left the Connolly Saddlery. History will record that for 66 continual years, the Connolly Saddles of Billings, Montana were at the top of the list for custom saddles produced in the world! Saddles made in this time period are identified by this firm stamp.

Connolly Bros Oregon 1888-1907 makers mark
Pat Connolly Montana 1930-1950 makers mark