William Raffour and the Boeseke Saddle

Raffour House - De la Guerra Plaza
Raffour House – De la Guerra Plaza

William Raffour was born in Santa Barbara September 11, 1871 to French immigrant hotel keepers Louis and Maria Raffour. Louis Raffour arrived in California in 1864 and came shortly thereafter to Santa Barbara. He worked as manager of the St. Charles Hotel, and in 1873 moved to the new Occidental Hotel. Following that, Raffour built the Mascarel Hotel before establishing The Raffour House as a typical French hotel and restaurant. The Raffour House was once located on the northeast corner of De la Guerra Plaza. The building was constructed mainly of redwood and served Santa Barbara for over 45 years being widely known for their gourmet cuisine. The City of Santa Barbara purchased the Raffour House lot in 1924 as the future site of City Hall. The Raffour House was sawed in two, and half of it was moved to 329 East Carrillo Street where today it is remodeled as a stuccoed apartment building. Louis came to Santa Barbara with Maria Pommier and were married shortly after their arrival at the Santa Barbara Mission on October 20, 1865.They had six children together, William, Leon, Adrian, Stephen, Phillip and one daughter, but sadly Maria passed away at the age of 33 in 1874. Louis remarried in 1876 to Maria’s sister Jane and they lived together at the Raffour House until his passing in 1912. William Raffour opened his saddlery shop on 926 State Street in 1901 and specialized in Mexican California art leatherwork, including harnesses and saddles.

His saddles are of very fine quality and were influenced significantly by the work of JM Forbes and the S. Loomis shop. Raffour, like many other local saddle makers used the Loomis saddle trees that were likely made in Los Angeles to build his saddles, which were at the time very popular with local vaqueros. Raffour operated a saddlery in Santa Barbara during the first decade of the 20th century.

First at the State Street location and later on at 1906 City Hall Plaza. At the saddlery he employed members of his family, his brother Leon was a saddle maker starting in 1904 and another of his brothers, Phillip as a leather stamper starting in 1900. Sadly William Raffour died at the age of 39 on May 15 1910 from an unknown stomach aliment that he battled for years. Besides being a talented saddle maker Mr. Raffour was one of the most popular men in Santa Barbara. He was a member of the Elks and served two years as councilman under Mayor Wood’s administration. We are happy to have in our collection, on loan from the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, a saddle made by William Raffour in 1903. The saddle was made specially for Dr. Elmer J. Boeseke a local physician, mayor and polo player.

William Raffour Saddle back cantle with Field silver

Elmer was native to Santa Barbara, being born here in 1868, he lived and practiced medicine at 110 West Ortega St for 48 years. Dr. Boeseke was elected mayor of Santa Barbara in 1907 and served for two years before being re-elected in 1911 and serving for 3 more years. One of his passions was the ocean and he was an active member of the Santa Barbara Yacht Club and owned the cabin cruiser Elva. Most importantly he loved horses and the game of polo and through his efforts the game was to become a favorite sport of the affluent Santa Barbara locals. Dr. Boeseke, a prominent polo referee in town, commissioned this saddle to be custom made by William Raffour for him to use to referee local polo matches. Raffour made this stock saddle with a Mexican parade influence, and with the silver adornments Elmer couldn’t help but use it in the local La Primavera parades in the early 1900s. The Boeseke family’s constant presence in the polo community had a significant impact on their son Elmer Jr. so it was no surprise when the young Elmer Boeseke decided to take up the sport. For starters, it was the Boeseke family that started polo matches in Santa Barbara on a dirt field on San Andreas Street back in the 1890s. And at one time, there was an all-Boeseke polo team that competed.

William Raffour’s E.J. Boeseke Saddle

Elmer Jr. achieved international recognition as a polo player in the 1920s as a member of the United States’ polo team that won the silver medal in the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. In addition to winning a silver medal in the Olympics, Elmer was on the American polo team that upset the Argentines in Buenos Aires in 1932. Elmer Jr. was also an active community member and served on the La Primavera committee of 1919. The committee was responsible for planning the 1920 fiesta parade, this group was the precursor to the Old Spanish Days Board of today. The committee in 1919 consisted of many prominent local individuals, including James B. Rickard, Francis Price, John Diehl, John A. Parma and Elmer Boeseke Jr. among several others. In 1965 the William Raffour saddle made for Dr. Boeseke was donated to the Santa Barbara Historical museum by John A. Parma. John was a good friend of Elmer Jr and a local lawyer that worked for California’s oldest law firm Price, Postal & Parma of Santa Barbara. The firm was established in the 1850s by Charles Fernauld, who was also responsible for forming the group that funded and built San Marcos Pass. The Parma family also donated 200 acres of their property for Santa Barbara’s Parma Park. Mr. Parma was given the saddle by the Boeseke family after Elmer’s passing in 1963. JM Forbes, local saddle maker, passed away in December of 1900, William purchased his shop and moved in January 1901.

WM Raffour Maker Mark stamped on saddle

William previously worked for the S. Loomis harness shop and then with the Tomlinson brothers who purchased the Loomis shop in 1898. William built the Boeseke saddle as a typical California Stock saddle that was classic for the turn of the century. The saddle is carved with beautiful floral patterns throughout and a majority of the saddle is adorned with custom silver conchos. The silver work was all made by the Field family of silversmiths in Santa Barbara. Edwin Field was their prominent silversmith at the turn of the century, and he was trained by Tiffany Co. of New York. They pounded and shaped the conchos and adornments out of both Mexican silver pesos and American silver dollars into beautiful floral and star patterns with tasteful intricate custom ornamental additions. The cantle and horn are encased with silver also made and carved by the Field family The seat is a unique contrasting lightly tanned leather with an intricate cross-stitch pattern of expert craftsmanship. The leather is in excellent condition and the saddle is beautifully preserved.