Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum

Submitted by Jan Petersen

A young saddlemaker, G. S. Garcia and wife, Saturnina came to Elko Thanksgiving week, 1893. The town was well regarded as a ranching and mining center. Two trunks full of cowboy gear were opened in the parlor of the Gem Hotel (now the site of the Stockmen’s). The town was full of cowboys. Word spread quickly of the high quality goods for sale at the Gem Hotel. All the tack and gear were sold in two days with customers wanting more. 

With great enthusiasm, the young couple rented a building (now Ogi Deli) and commenced making gear. Garcia, coming from California traditions, advertised, “Everything for the Vaquero.” Catalogues were printed and distributed. Saddles, bits and other cowboy items were shipped as far away as Nebraska. There were other saddle shops in town as well but the G.S. Garcia- Harness & Saddle Shop quickly became known for the high quality workmanship. The small building was outgrown and bigger two story building was rented at the corner of Commercial and Seventh. Business thrived.

G.S. learned of a craftsmanship contest to be held during the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. He and shop employees (including a young man named Joe Capriola) began working on the “Garcia Beauty.” The black leather saddle was decorated with silver coins, precious jewels and intricate leather carving. At the end of the Fair, the Garcia saddle was awarded a gold medal for intricate and elaborate workmanship. Again, in 1905, a similar contest was held in Portland, Oregon and the “Garcia Beauty” was awarded two medals for the artistry and skill in making the saddle. Through the social media of the time, Garcia’s work became highly sought after throughout the West and even abroad. 

In 1907, as the Western Pacific Railroad laid tracks down Silver Street in Elko, Garcia built a two building on the 500 block to house his manufacturing and retail business. However, it was an awkward location so in 1913, he had the building cut in half and moved it across the alley to 542 Commercial in the middle of busy downtown Elko. 

G.S. grew up in rural California, near Santa Margarita. Rodeos were a held nearby every weekend. In 1912, he sponsored a rodeo in Elko-the first in Nevada. Garcia’s Elko Rodeo proved to be a great success. Thousands came to participate and watch. In 1915, Garcia built a rodeo grounds on Lamoille Road in Elko (where Southside School now is). The venue had a rodeo arena, bucking chutes, a racetrack for motorcycles, autos AND horses, a grandstand seating 2,000 AND (not to leave anyone out) a baseball diamond in the middle. Elko’s first sports complex! A good time was had by all!

The store flourished on Commercial Street. Even though autos were common place, northeastern Nevada was still steeped in the horse and cowboy way of life.

G.S. Garcia’s health declined and he passed away in 1933. Saturnina and sons, Henry and Les, continued with success running the store and the rodeo grounds. In December 1938, the Garcia family closed the Elko store and moved to Salinas, California to open a store there.

The building was purchased by the Elko-Lamoille Power Company about 1940 and was in use until 2016. NV Energy restored the building to its’ original look and donated the building to be used as a museum for cowboy gear and traditions. 

The Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum opened in January, 2018. The mission statement is “Guardians of the western tradition-preserving the heritage and craftsmanship of the cowboy of the American West.” A brand wall features family ranch brands, open to anyone with an iron-past or present. Garcia’s store horse proudly shows off a 1916 silver trimmed saddle. Photos on the wall highlight the western way of life. Items on display, ranging from Garcia to Capriola and others are donated or loaned. A library is located in Garcia’s vault. Gifts, artwork, and used books are on sale in the gift shop. Partnerships are in place with the Western Folklife Center, Northeastern Nevada Museum and the California Trail Center, creating a cultural destination in Elko. Future plans include classes on rawhide braiding, leatherwork, silver engraving and more. The sky’s the limit…It’s the Cowboy Way!

Open Tuesday – Saturday 10am-5pm