30 – Buster Brown’s Rare And Amazing Saddle

By Museum of Northwest Colorado

Buster Brown was one of the most recognizable figures of the early 1900s. The boy who played him, however, simply wanted to be a cowboy.
In 1902, cartoonist R.F. Outcault struck gold with a comic strip about the adventures of a boy named Buster Brown and his dog Tige. Soon after, Buster Brown Shoes, Inc. purchased advertising rights to use Buster Brown as their mascot. Richard (Dick) Barker was born in 1899 in Massachusetts. His mother owned a dance school and insisted that her son learn to perform. Richard performed, but had his eyes set elsewhere. When Buster Brown Shoes began searching for a boy to travel the country and advertise their products, they caught wind of Richard. After an impromptu performance in 1907 he was hired on the spot. In describing the occasion Richard stated, “At this news, I entertained mixed emotions. You see, I had already made up my mind to go west and be a cowboy.” Soon an American Pit Bull Terrier was selected for Tige and given to Richard – the two became instant friends and Buster Brown became one of the most successful brands in the nation. Unfortunately, Tige was Richard’s only friend for the next 6 years. Baker’s contract stated that he must be in his Buster Brown attire, along with his trademark blonde curls, at all times. This attire was the bane of his existence. Barker recalled, “I didn’t just exactly make friends on sight, and I was forever in a fight or a footrace. When you come right down to it, Tige was the only friend I had.” By 1913, Richard had finally outgrown the part. “People, especially young people about my age, were making so much fun of me that life was just about unbearable.” After retiring at the age of 14, Richard went to school for the first time and then joined the Army and fought in WWI. After the war, Richard still had a yearning that wouldn’t die. In 1923 Barker finally made his way into the Little Snake River Valley on the northern border of Routt and Moffat Counties. He bought/homesteaded nearly 800 acres along with his wife, Virginia. To make ends meet, Richard began working for various dude ranches, ran cattle and even captured wild horses to sell. He had become the cowboy he always knew he would be. Dick passed in 1976 after, appropriately, a day out with the horses. He’s buried in Craig, CO. The saddle pictured here is a very fine, and very rare, Hartke & Sheets (makers from Meeker, Colorado) made c.1900. Dick Barker claimed he simply found in the cellar of a bar in Baggs, WY and it eventually became his favorite saddle. Very few examples of Hartke & Sheets’ leather work exist today. It was acquired from his daughter and longtime museum board member, the late Barbara Terrill Baker.