National Geographic, January 1991 – Masters of Traditional Arts
Ninty percent of the bronc riders are using Severe Saddles,” says a rodeo cowboy. “They’re the Mercedes-Benz of the business!”
Born on a ranch in southern Idaho, Duff Severe grew up working with horses and watching his father and other cowboys craft rawhide gear. “They’d take an old, bloody, hairy hide and clean it up, and pretty soon they’d have something beautiful braided out of it,” he says. “That really impressed me.”
In 1946, he apprenticed with a saddle company in Pendleton, Oregon, learning his trade from old time masters. Ten years later he and his brother Bill started Severe Brothers Saddlery. Orders have poured in ever since. “We’ve been so busy, we never do get caught up,” Duff severe says. “And we’ve never spent a single dime for advertising.”
Surrounded by scraps of leather, old tools, and photographs of rodeo riders, Severe crafts saddles valued for quality workmanship and strength. Using his brother Bill’s hand-carved trees – the saddles’s wooden skeleton – he cuts and shapes the leather, fitting the saddle to conform to both rider and horse. “The hardest part is that big main seat,” Severe says. “The cows just don’t grow hides that shape.”
With swivel cutters, veiners, shaders, and scores of other specialized tools, he carves and stamps intricate designs. The finished saddle shines with leather relief, silver inlay, and braided rawhide.
Duff Severe keeps on striving to perfect his craft. As one cowboy puts it: “There’s no 99 percent in that man’s life when it comes to working leather.”