• Red Nichols, Holstorian

The very curious, very short tale of Royal Eubanks

Updated: Mar 4

Royal Eubanks' gunleather would get little notice except that in modern times it's still a collectible; and there's a remote connection to the well-known Milt Sparks.

The 'curious' part is that Royal became a gunleather maker at all, because he was an auto body shop owner in WA who later made his living in ID first as an upholsterer.

There is some controversy over exactly when he started Eubanks Leather in ID and yet, admittedly, when one gets down to arguing about it as a year or so, one way or the other, we're close enough for government work :-).

Royal spent most of his life in WA where he was born, with his father b. CA who was a harness maker and his grandfather b. MO who was the original harness maker in the family. One of the reasons that Royal's story comes up at all is the notion that there are 1930s Eubanks holsters when, on the evidence, there are none: he himself was entirely a 1940s maker as Eubanks Leather in ID.

Royal self-reported in all his official appearances -- census, city directories -- as an upholsterer until WWII began.

A family blog about Royal makes mention of Royal becoming a gunleather maker at that point, for local LEO agencies, to make a living during those difficult times. After all it was WWII that ended the Depression that had begun in '29! And many more gunleather people began the war in one profession -- Wally Wolfram was a fuel salesman back East, Jack Donihoo was a Texas linesman -- and left it to enter another; Wally became a gunleather maker in NM and Donihoo a lawman in TX.

Royal appears for the first time as a leather worker by self-reporting in his WWII draft registration of 1942. And this notice from competitor gunleather maker Lawrence, shows there were severe restrictions on the making and selling of gunleather during the War:

Royal built his shop in '45 and that would have been because with those restrictions lifted, he could be a gunleather maker in earnest. Yet within just a few years he sold out to Pioneer Tent & Awning that was also in Boise and dating back to at least 1917 according to its ID corporation filings. Perhaps Royal was making the Pioneer (only) marked gunleather for them, and as it is very common, the customer bought the maker? Unclear.

But in 1949 Pioneer T&A did buy out Royal and with the purchase understandably included a non-compete of five years (standard business practice with the business owner of a company that's been sold, but generally not enforceable against its employees). And Royal then stayed out of the business, traveling instead for the five years into CA, HI, NV and more; until he returned and started up Idaho Leather Co. The tricky part is the when and where of the various marks.

We can be sure that that the Eubanks Leather mark was used all through the 1940s, from beginning to end. What's less clear is when the Eubanks Pioneer mark appeared; all these years we have assumed it appeared at the time of Eubanks Leather's sale in '49. But the Pioneer T&A company's filing with the USPTO for the trademark says the mark's "date of first use in commerce'" was in 1958, nearly a decade later -- and the filing itself wasn't made until 1962.

This then indicates that the Eubanks Leather mark was used throughout all of the 1940s AND the 1950s; and Eubanks Pioneer, then, throughout the 1960s. My friend Phil, who's a lifelong Boise local, points out that Pioneer T&A company closed down in 1972. Did I mention that Royal died the year after his non-compete expired and he had founded his successor company called Idaho Leather? 1955.

Image above was taken circa 2014.

And it is the tiny period 1970 to 1972 that appears to be when Milt Sparks, also a Boise man, worked there 'standing on one leg operating a sewing machine'. So when the company closed he found himself again needing to make a living and flew to Salmon ID to ask Elmer Keith to help him launch his new holster company. And the rest is holstory.

Image is from a friend's site called Land of Borchardt, the pistol that was the progenitor for the Luger.

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