One of the West's most influential characters, Don King, passed away July 28 at the Sheridan (Wyo.) Memorial Hospital. He was suffering from cancer. King, who was born August 26, 1923, in Douglas, Wyo., was the founder of King's Saddlery and King Ropes-a landmark on the main street of Sheridan and a leader in the industry.
As a young man, he kicked around the West cow-boying and, while in Arizona, a man named Cliff Ketchum encouraged him to try his hand at working leather. Much like the roses in the leather-carving style he would later be famous for, he blossomed.
After making saddles for years on his ranch in Sheridan, in 1963 he opened King's Saddlery on Main Street and added rope making to the business. Today, there are thousands of lariat ropes hanging in their shop with hundreds of varieties. Cowboys from the rodeo arena to the ranch use their ropes. In fact, King is credited with developing a left-handed twist for left-handed ropers.
"He was one of the finest human beings you could ever run into, for one," said World Champion Team Roper Bobby Harris. "Two, he set the standard for tooling trends in the United States. Don King's tooling on his saddles is world-renowned. He trained many great saddle makers. I've known the Kings and have been using their ropes since I was born, so I have a very unique relationship with them, they're great friends."
In rodeo circles, King and his sons became more famous for their ropes. On a broader scope of Western influence, however, King was most influential as a saddle maker and leather carver. The style of tooling he developed, now called the Sheridan style, is wild roses arranged in scroll-like patterns of interlocking circles. Owners of his saddles span the globe, from RCA world champions and Cheyenne Frontier Days winners to the Queen of England and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.
"The Sheridan style may be the most popular style of western floral carving today," said Jeremiah Watt, a saddle maker influenced by King's work. "That is the master work of one Don King. While Don ran the King Saddlery in Sheridan, he turned out not only the finest RCA trophy saddles that have been made to date, he also turned out a group of younger saddle makers who carried on the style of carving. Today we know of it as Sheridan style.
"Over the years that Don has sat at the head of the King's Saddlery, he has made every effort to move the entire spectrum of saddle making forward in a generous way.
"As a fellow who is fortunate to have been able to call Don King a friend, as a saddle maker who has been inspired by Don's kind words and critiques, I would like to say thanks to Mr. King for all he has done for this western form of art. The energy and zeal that he brought to this body of artists and craftsmen will be forever missed."
King was preceded in death by his sons Bobby, who was the driving force behind the rope business's growth, and John.
Survivors include his wife, Dorothy; two sons, William and Bruce, both of Sheridan; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Memorials may be made to the Sheridan College Rodeo Team, 3059 Coffeen Ave., Sheridan, or to the Sheridan High School Rodeo Team, 1056 Long Drive, Sheridan, WY 82801.