Just What WAS in Those Saddlebags?


I’ve always been curious about the contents cowboys carried in their saddlebags. In the movies, it often seemed that they held everything except a kitchen stove. Strange how those men pulled out exactly what they needed. But what did they actually tote along?


  • Jerky and hardtack when unable to build a fire
  • Matches
  • One or two Tin Plates, forks and knives
  • Extra Ammunition
  • A Curry Comb and Brush
  • Picket Pin to stake your horse at night
  • A Horseshoe and nails
  • A Change of Clothes
  • Other Small Personal Items—maybe a book or something to write on
  • Maybe a small amount of grain or oats for your horse


A gunnysack tied to the pommel and hanging off the side would hold things like a small coffeepot and coffee, a small skillet, a jar of lard, or more of the contents listed above.


They either hung a canteen of water off the side or stuck it in the saddlebags if they had room.

Although, they were careful not to load the horse down too much or they couldn’t travel far without stopping to rest. For long distances, the cowboy usually had a packhorse along to carry all this and more. That was ideal.

In my upcoming story, TO LOVE A TEXAS RANGER, Sam Legend steals a group of outlaw’s horses. When he, Sierra Hunt and Luke Weston go through their saddlebags, they find dry clothes which they sorely needed, coffee and a coffeepot. Plus, stolen loot in the amount of $650.

Later after Sam and Sierra cross the raging Brazos River, the matches, coffee and coffeepot in their saddlebags get them warm.

old west saddlebags

The contents of those traveling suitcases often saved not only the cowboy but his horse.

TO LOVE A TEXAS RANGER comes out October 4 and is available for preorder online on bookstore sites. You can find an excerpt on my website. Click HERE and it’ll take you.

What do you think about life on the trail and living out of saddlebags? Could you have fit in everything you needed?

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Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

25 thoughts on “Just What WAS in Those Saddlebags?”

  1. No way I could have stuffed them full enough and often enough to have everything I needed anywhere I went in just a pair of saddlebags. Emergency items, would be #1 with clothes 2 sets, a book, bible, and eating utensils, food, money, ammo, flint, matches and too much more. Good thing it was mainly guys not girls on the trail, haha. Imagine, soap, rags for their monthly, a3nything to be used for going to the outhouse haha, definitely needed. Scarf or bandana, just cannot imagine a person of our time packing necessities everything needed now in just 2 saddlebags back then. Remember blankets, clothes, and the like rolled in a bedroll so you have room there too plus the coffeetin, plates, utensils, lard, grain, coffee beans and oats in a bag hooked to the saddle too. Whew poor horse. Just imagine bare necessary items then versus now, no comparison. Great question and observation. Too, indian vs cowboy, differences in packing too. Thanks for bringing this up Linda.

    • Hi Elaine……Thank you for coming. I’m glad you enjoyed my blog. Whew, is right! Those horses really carried a lot sometimes. You’d probably need two pack horses along to carry everything. I’d have to have my vegetables because I’m not a big meat eater. And forget the jerkey. I don’t like the stuff. The smell gets me. Of course, if I was hungry, I’d have eaten it. Yes, the Native American’s traveled much differently and didn’t need as much because they learned from birth how to live off the land.

      I hope you have a blessed day!

  2. They were certainly amazing at packing just the right amount of things they knew they needed for the trail ahead. Hard tack/Jerky, some personal hygiene items, small amounts of food ( biscuits. Etc) and a change of clothes were probably a necessity. Those would be the things plus a book (the bible) to read, & a few utensils would probably be the main items I would take w/ me. Of course, always extra ammunition is a must. Living on the trail I think would of been fun, yes a hard life I know, but fun all the same.

    • Good Morning, Tonya…….I hope your day is going well. Glad you enjoyed my post. It certainly makes you think. I know you’d have some romance novels in your saddlebags. Ha! But I think you would’ve enjoyed traveling like this. You’re made from pioneer stock, lady! You’d have been more than capable of killing your own game and cooking over an open fire. There was certainly freedom in that way of life. No cell phones, no TV, no one to bother you.

      Have a great day, sister friend!

  3. There is no way I could fit everything I needed in a saddlebag. But then again, we probably have way to many things that we are attached to compared to back then.

    • Good Morning, Janine…….Thanks so much for coming. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Yes, we do have too many attachments now. I wouldn’t have been able to cram my microwave into those saddlebags to save my life! Ha!

      Enjoy your day and smile every chance you get!

  4. Those cowboys were so amazing in so many ways. My saddlebags would have been stuffed full and so heavy, I would have hurt the back of my poor ole horse! Thanks for a great post, Linda!

    • Good Morning, Melanie……Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. It’s been enlightening for me as well. I had never stopped to consider the rigors of traveling long distances by horseback. If I’d only thought about this way back, I could’ve added some of this into my stories. But it’s something I’d never thought much about. It would’ve been tough for a woman. We require so much more than a man. I’d need a nail file and blow dryer for sure. Ha!

      Enjoy the rest of your day!

  5. That’s a good list, Linda. I always want to send more stuff along with my fictional cowboys, and try to imagine how they’d fit in those saddle bags.
    So hard to imagine getting by with so little stuff.
    I swear when my kids come home for the day, they have more stuff in their mini-vans than the average pioneer had setting off to cross the west!

    • Good Morning, Mary…….I’m glad you enjoyed my post. It really made ME stop and think. I’d never considered what all they carried in those saddlebags. I never thought much about it. In my stories I just gave my characters whatever they had to have without a thought of how they managed to pack it. And NOW I know why in the movies those cowboys carried those saddlebags slung over their shoulders everywhere they went!! Those saddlebags were suitcases. You made me laugh about your kids and their mini-vans, but it’s the truth. Mine too. I have great respect for those pioneers. They had the right stuff!

      Congrats on your new release! And the upcoming one!! Can’t wait for The Boden Birthright!

    • Hi Vickie……Thanks for stopping by! Always a pleasure. I agree about those cowboys. I’m sure things weren’t too neat, because we all know how men are, but somehow they managed. Bet that change of clothes was pretty wrinkled, and if they put them in the side with the oats and grain, they’d be full of that. I can’t imagine what they looked like.

      Have a smilin’ kind of day, my friend!

    • Hi Estella……I’m glad you liked my post. Thanks for coming by. I couldn’t have managed either with just saddlebags to haul my stuff. I’d had that poor horse loaded down so much he barely could lift his legs. Ha!

      Glad you came!

  6. My purse looks like a saddlebag lol. I think women would have a harder time of it then men. I also wouldn’t have a cell phone or keys or charge cards (and all those cards that give you perks). Definitely a different way of life and they needed just as much for their horse as themselves!

    • Hi Catslady…..Thank you for stopping by to chat. Love seeing you. Laughed about the size of your purse. HaHa! Mine is probably the same size. I can’t imagine having just that limited amount of room. And I was astounded by the fact that they carried a horseshoe and grain for their horse. But–if they didn’t take care of the animal, they’d be afoot so it stands to reason the cowboys shared their saddlebags with the horse.

      Have a great day!

  7. Linda, I have always wondered–and imagined–what a cowboy might put in his saddlebags and what he’d have to “do without”–it seems that it would be really tough to fit everything you’d need on the trail into a saddlebag. Like catslady says, my purse looks like a saddlebag, and I always try to carry everything I might need for any emergency–especially so when my kids were younger. LOL I’m just not sure I could get everything I might want or need into my saddlebag if I was a cowboy. But men don’t think of all the scenarios that women do, so… (If we stop for ice cream, I will need handi-wipes for the kids’ hands and faces afterward, so in go the package of handi-wipes. And so it goes…) LOL

    Great post, as always!

    • Hi Cheryl……Glad you enjoyed my post. Yeah, women are definitely from men. I’d have to take band-aids, gauze, antiseptic ointment and those things in addition to all the rest. Men don’t think about things like that. They just ride out and hope for the best. I’d have to be prepared for emergencies. LOL!

      Wishing you a great day!

  8. Thanks for the info on what was in a saddlebag always wonder what they carried. And yes I could fit the bare necessaries in one.

    • Hi Kim……Thanks for coming. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Wow, you must not need a lot of stuff. I’m impressed. Mine would be bulging at the seams and half hanging out. Ha! That would make a funny scene in a book. Hmmmmmmm.

      Have a wonderful day.

  9. What? No hair dryer? 😉

    Great post, as usual! You always have the best historical tidbits! I can’t wait to read this new book. NOW! I want it NOW!


    • Hi Elisabeth…….Thanks for coming. I’m glad I could share this with you. It sure gives you something to think about. A hairdryer? They should’ve taken one along. Ha! Bet some did take shaving stuff though. I’m trying to rush this calendar but not having any luck. Sorry. A watched pot never boils!

      Hugs, lady!

  10. I know it’s not logical to compare a cowboy on a trail to a younger Eliza touring Britain but it didn’t take me long to figure out that whatever I took I had to carry! So I bought a backpack and put all of my luggage in storage, and felt freer, to tell the truth. I could go anywhere easily because it really had made me sit down and decide what was truly essential. Now a cowboy wouldn’t have had a grocery to pick up that night’s dinner, but on the other hand I didn’t have a horse to carry my food either! lol It ended up being a lifelong lesson as it turns out, not only for traveling but for living in general. After a while it all just becomes stuff in my book (except for books!). So now I try to keep things as simple as I can which explains why I don’t have an e-reader. I’ve carried a book to read with me wherever I go all my life (including one in that backpack) and that’s works for me. My saddlebag looking purse holds a book just fine. I don’t need thousands of books with me at all times anymore than I need to be continually on a phone. But that’s just me, I know, and I respect others’ joy of various portable devices.

    P.S. Simplicity is an idea that appeals to me from all kinds of sources and directions from Thoreau to Jesus to Buddha. But back in traveling days it was all about lightness of load. Maybe they’re similar if not the same, huh?

  11. I doubt I could get all I wanted into a saddlebag. What I needed? Probably, but I always want to bring so much more. My purse got too heavy, so I got a small one. It is amazing how much you can get into a small purse. I ended up bringing a tote bag along and then 2. When we travel, I always overfill the car. Realistically, I usually use only about half of what we bring. We just bought a small, used RV. I am already thinking it needs more storage. I can’t believe I packed to travel for 3 months around the world and had it all in a purse and a small carry-on type bag. Those days are long gone.
    If I were a cowboy, I would need at least 2 pack horses to carry everything I tend to drag along with me on trips.

  12. As a missionary, my backpack is my saddle bag! Lipstick and passport, hand fan, book, some TISSUE for ISSUES, are my main thing. Husband carries the money. Guess the cowboy saddlebag was the original man purse!

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