Jim Carrig: Bozeman Rodeo Champ Turned Leather Artisan

When someone sees the artistry behind Jim Carrig’s leather tooled treasures, they might be surprised to know that an 87-year-old Bozeman resident was the creator. Tucked away off of Valley Center Drive is an octagon shaped log home that Jim designed and built, which houses a well-loved leather studio.

“I love the custom leather tooled checkbook cover Jim made me. 

And I was surprised with its additional features” says Tim Butterfield, owner of the Waterhole Saloon in Stanford, Montana who recently received his order from Jim.  

This artist is more than a retired Ranch Manager and former National Collegiate Rodeo Champion. Jim is the quiet hero his whole family looks up to.  Born in Butte, Jim loved horses and committed himself to athletics at his all-boys Catholic school.  This included swimming (no swimsuits used in those days) and gymnastics.  The tumbling program was the perfect foundation to Jim’s growing talent with horses and rodeo. Back when Montana State University was just Montana College, Jim joined the fledgling Rodeo team, despite not having a coach, and the team qualified for Nationals in California. The College’s Golf coach had to ride along as chaperone for trips but wasn’t able to give much advice on horses or bulls. 

While the team didn’t have a knowable coach, they had heaps of talent.  And much of that talent came from Jim, who ended up a 1950 National Champion in Bareback at the Cow Palace, near San Francisco, CA.

While Jim would have loved to have gone on to compete in Texas and other locations, contestants had to finance their expenses. He was more committed to his other growing responsibilities, including a sweetheart turned wife and later five children.

Jim’s love affair with horses and ranches continued on, and he majored in Range Management at the college. Later, he managed some of Montana’s most historic ranches, including the Snow Crest, owned by the Von Trapp family, and the vast N Bar.

For his retirement, he and his wife of over 50 years returned to Bozeman where Jim built his log home. Upstairs of the eight sided home he has his leather workshop, adorned with old posters (like the “Where the Hell is Roscoe, Montana?” poster), pictures from the 1940s, and his leather tooling workbench.

Jim’s grandson’s wife, Dana Holzer, was amazed at Jim’s talent for custom saddles and many leather household items like serving trays and photo albums.  She now sells Jim’s craftsmanship through her small business, called Montana Bones.   
Dana says, “Jim is incredible.  He has witnessed so much history in Montana, and is a special part of that history.  Everyone in the family knows he’s such a gem. I love seeing his leather creations and sharing some of his stories, like funny tales from his childhood in Butte, driving a whole team of horses as a boy in the Big Hole, and managing some of the state’s most historic ranches.  When Jim shares stories from his life, I want the moment to last as long as possible.”

Others have taken note as well, and some of Jim’s stories are on record at the Montana Historical Society in Helena. Historian Ellen Baumler interviewed Jim in his Bozeman home, and recorded the session as part of the Society’s permanent collection.

Jim says, “I don’t tool this leather to make money.  I like designing and having a project to help me pass the time.” His fans are familiar with his humility and are struck by how he can coax beautiful horses, elk, and roses out of leather.  

While Bozeman is growing with new tech businesses and trendy eateries, the city still has long-time storied residents. Don’t let their seasoned perspective fool you; they are bursting with talent just like this growing town. And the roots our senior citizens represent are some of the very best parts of the Gallatin Valley. 

Dana W.M. Holzer has written while a VISTA on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, abroad for Montana Parent Magazine, and now shares her family’s story through Montana Bones products and blog at montanabones.org.  Dana’s favorite storytellers are Evelyn Cameron and Jim Carrig.