John A. Donnel Saddlery and Harness History


Rawlins, Wyoming 1885 - 1900

In 1845 John A. Donnel was born in Mottville, New York and at the age of 16 years old he was a New York Regiment Union Army Volunteer during the Civil War from April of 1861 to May of 1865. At the time of his discharge he had served the entire Civil War also experienced multiple wounds and John A. Donnel was a Confederate captive who was later released to the Union Army in a prisoner exchange. In a heavy engagement in Virginia John A. Donnel was wounded so seriously he spent 4 months rehabilitation in a Pennsylvania Hospital and upon returning to his Regiment he was promoted to the Rank of Sergeant Major. At the time John A. Donnel received his discharge which took place in Savannah, Georgia he was twenty years old and he had served on the Command Staff of the 75 Regiment Calvary as a Sergeant Major.

After the war, John A. Donnel became a roaming Cowboy, where he ventured through the northwest the Montana Territory, The Dakota Territory, Western Canada and, after learning placer mining on his adventures, he established successful mines near South Pass City, Wyoming and in Nevada. By 1870 John A. Donnel was in California and a man of means from his various endeavors and he still traveled throughout the West over next 12 years eventually deciding to settle down in Wyoming in the early 1880s. In October 1885 John A. Donnel purchased an existing Saddle and Harness Shop from J. F. Foote and then renaming the business John A. Donnel Company and by 1887 the Saddlery was thriving due to the extensive experience and marketing prowess John A. Donnel acquired in his travels. In 1886 an employee of the Saddlery H. H. Bruning went on to open his own shop just around the corner on Fifth Street in Rawlins it was shortly thereafter that the Landmark sign was posted at the J. A. Donnel Saddlery. The John A. Donnel Saddlery placed a landmark sign depicting a Cowboy Roping a Steer across the board sidewalk at Cedar Street in 1887 also in effort to bring the local traffic into his Saddlery. After purchasing the Saddlery J. A. Donnel maintained as his shop Foreman and Manager Reuben Knox who had apprenticed and worked with E. L. Gallatin. John A. Donnel marketed his saddle under the name the "Wyoming Cowboy Saddle" and with that distinction he also introduced a "Wyoming Cowgirl Saddle" these were very identifiable saddles simply by their design and style. John A. Donnel was also very aware of the ever growing Mail Order business that was ever expanding at that time in history, through the use of Cabinet Cards J. A. Donnel became famous nationwide although his Saddles were used primarily on the West Coast. The location of the John A. Donnel Saddlery was a limitation with respect to traffic coming to the Saddlery although use of the saddles was extensive, and by 1891 the Saddlery was expanded to accommodate the workers and inventory housed at the Saddlery location on Cedar Street in Rawlins, Wyoming. Documentation shows that even many of the "Wild Bunch" Butch Cassidy's gang used John A. Donnel Saddles which were distinctive enough they could be recognized as the gang would ride away from the scene of their mischief.

The John A. Donnel Saddlery thrived over the coming years by mostly emphasizing mail order business and heavy marketing and by March 20, 1900 John A. Donnel sold his Saddlery to W. R. Hamilton of La Grande, Oregon maintaining only the real property and moving on to his other endeavor of raising sheep. In this endeavor he spent many years as the President of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association while maintaining his operations the Donnel Sheep Company until his death in 1918.


John A. Donnel Saddlery - 1887. J A Donnel sitting on steps, Herman H. Bruning standing in apron on left, Reuben Knox standing in doorway on right.

Cabinet Card Advertisement Saddle #128 Front View


Cabinet Card Advertisement Saddle #128 Back View


Cabinet Card Advertisement Saddle #97 Front View


Cabinet Card Advertisement Saddle #97 Back View


John A. Donnel Saddlery Advertisement - July 1887

John A. Donnel Saddlery makers mark