Her Daddy’s Hands: Mary Krause’s Prairie Leather Shop
Mary (Anderson) Krause grew up near Ellensburg, Washington, where her parents, Bill and Becky Anderson raised cattle and registered Shire horses. Bill was also a talented leather worker, building harness and saddles in a small shop on the farm. Mary has fond memories of being in the leather shop with her father, and of helping feed the cattle and horses with a team when she was a child.
“My family would use a team or a four up of Shire draft horses to feed during the winter, depending on the amount of snow and how many cows and horses we were feeding at the time,” she said. “If the conditions were right my dad would tie a sled on the back of the wagon or sleigh and I would get to sled over each flake of hay that he would throw off the wagon. I thought that was the best thing ever! I looked forward to that next bump of hay I got to go over!”
The Anderson family has been raising Shire Draft Horses since 1959.
“My grandfather, Melvin Anderson, was the one who started raising them,” Mary said. “After he passed, my father and other family members took over the breeding program. The family traveled all over the northwest going to horse shows and horse pullings. My aunt and uncle in Pomeroy, Washington have most of the horses now. I was blessed to have a great childhood.”
“It was just something Bill did and the kids dove in,” Becky recalled. “He used the shop to repair all the stuff we tore up when we were breaking horses and feeding all winter. Eventually he made a few saddles, and he built a six up harness that we used.”
Mary was only ten years old when tragedy struck the family: Bill passed away after a battle with leukemia.
“She was just starting to learn leather work when Bill passed away,” Becky said. “The first thing she did after he was gone was to take a sharp knife and cut herself badly.”
“I tried several times to use his tools,” Mary said, “But I didn’t do very well. I almost cut my thumb off.”
Becky dated a few men off and on but didn’t get serious with anyone until Mary was sixteen. Becky met Larry Schuelke online, thanks to Mary’s help with the computer. The Mud Butte, South Dakota, rancher had lost his wife JoEllen to an aneurysm. Larry and Becky’s marriage brought Mary and her brother Willie to the prairies of western South Dakota.
“When I was younger, I would look at Western Horseman and think that it would be so cool to be living that lifestyle,” Mary said. “It seemed like coming to my dream life when we moved to the ranch. I chose to finish high school by homeschooling, so I had a fairly open schedule and could ride and help with the ranch work and get my school done in between.”
When Mary needed a pair of chinks to wear, she was going to buy some, but Larry had other ideas. JoEllen had also been a talented leather worker, and her shop stood as she had left it.
“’There’s leather out there,’ he told me. ‘I’ll help you.’ That was my first real project,” she recalled.
Building her chinks with Larry’s guidance gave Mary a renewed interest in her father’s trade. She built some kids’ chinks using JoEllen’s tools and patterns that she sold to a feed store in her hometown in Washington. She also sold some things at the coffee shop in Union Center for a few years until it closed.
“Once I got a feel for what I was doing I started changing things up,” Mary said. “At first I used Jo’s tools because they were handy, but we had brought all of my dad’s tools so I eventually got them out to work with.”
Mary married Krayden Krause in 2016, and the following year set up a virtual shop on Etsy to market her products.
“It really grew from there,” she said. “I have shipped items overseas, to most of the fifty states and to Canada. One of my first online orders went to France! I sometimes wonder what my customers think when they see ‘Mud Butte, South Dakota’ on the label.”
Mary enjoys the variety of ideas that come her way in custom orders.
“People come up with some awesome designs,” she said. “I will get done with a project and it turns out so well that I think I should make myself one like it.”
But she is still wearing the chinks that she made with her stepfather when she was sixteen.
“I should make myself a nice new pair, but I still wear the first pair I made,” she laughed.
This year Mary has pushed herself to do more tooling on her projects.
“My dad did a lot of immaculate tooling,” she recalled. “I wish I could have learned from him. Over the years I would try it every now and then but it didn’t turn out so well. Finally, I told myself that I would not get any better if I didn’t spend some time working at it.”
“She learns as she goes,” Becky said. “I’m impressed with the amount of attention she gives to each detail.”
Mary hopes to someday have her leather and tools in a shop instead of in her house, but doesn’t see a retail storefront in her future.
“I try to keep it in two rooms, but it sometimes spreads to the living room,” she said. “Eventually I’d like to have a shop so that it’s not all over the house. It’s kind of a leather house; there’s no getting away from it!”
Mary says she spends an average of five to six hours per day working on projects, although this varies depending on what is happening on the ranch. She and Krayden help Larry and are working on building up a herd of their own. They enjoy spending time working cattle horseback and using a team of Anderson Shires occasionally on the ranch. In between, Mary keeps busy with custom orders and stocking her Etsy shop.
“Right now I’m swamped,” she chuckled. “It does slow down some in the summer, but I tend to get orders for kids’ chinks and rodeo chaps in the spring so it is kind of spread out through the year. I like having it be a part time deal. If I did it full time and couldn’t go outside to help, I probably wouldn’t like that!”
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In response to the severe drought conditions in the West and Great Plains, the Agriculture Department this week announced that plans to help cover the cost of transporting feed for livestock that rely on grazing.