The Whole Bit

The artistry of Garcia bits and spurs is kept alive at a famous Elko saddlery.
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The artistry of Garcia bits and spurs is kept alive at a famous Elko saddlery.
garcia

The story of Garcia bits and spurs is straight from a page of Old West history. In 1864, at the age of 19, G.S. Garcia, a native of California’s Central Coast (a region that attracted many vaqueros), started working at Arana, the state’s finest saddle shop.

Trained by Mexican artisans skilled in the tradition of tooling leather, Garcia found his calling as a saddlemaker and, later, as a craftsman of exquisite bits and spurs. Eventually, Garcia and his wife settled in Elko, Nev., and opened a small shop in the historic Gem Hotel. Eventually, Garcia established G.S. Garcia Harness and Saddle Shop and gained national renown for his intricately carved gear. His clients included the likes of Will Rogers.

Unlike most in his line of work, Garcia used coin silver as a way to distinguish his line from the competition. The mouthpieces of his bits— then, as now—were made of sweet iron, an alloy so-called because it stimulates salivation and has a flavor pleasing to the horse. Garcia’s signature inlay was royal blue, but in the 1970s, three additional colors were added: copper, oxidized brown (which mimics the patina found on vintage gear), and silver.

Upon his retirement in 1932, Garcia sold the business to his sons, Les and Henry. Henry eventually opened a saddle shop in Salinas, Calif., while Les moved the bit- and spur-making to Reno and carried on the family tradition.

Today, all Garcia bits and spurs are still made by Les’ relatives (another notable bit and spur maker, E. Garcia, is of no relation). Every item is made entirely by hand, by the same artist, from start to finish. The only significant change to the gear since the company’s inception has been the switch to using pure silver. Three-quarters of the line are the original designs made by the elder Garcia; custom products are also available.

One of G.S. Garcia’s apprentices was a young man named Joe Capriola. Eventually, Capriola opened J.M. Capriola (which became a prestigious Elko saddlery) in 1929, but maintained a friendly relationship with his mentor, Garcia.

Eventually, Capriola’s was purchased by the Bear family, local ranchers who expanded the store’s offerings to include other working gear, including Garcia bits and spurs. In 1987, the same year as Les Garcia’s death, Doug and the late Paula Wright née Bear, bought Capriola’s. Today, the store is the world’s only dealer of Garcia bits and spurs (“Garcia is the most counterfeited brand in the industry,” explains Wright).

Wright now owns Capriola’s with his son, John.

“We call ourselves the Guardians of Tradition,” he says with pride. “We hope to see the next generation of the Garcia family carry on the legacy.”