Friday, January 6, 2017

Cowboy Quilts: Sugans

When researching my new release, Pleasance'sFirst Love, and the significant aspect of quilts from Grandma Mary (Grandma's Wedding Quilt Series), I came across a fantastic book titled The Quilt That Walked to Golden. This non-fiction book is filled with details of Colorado's quilting history (Territorial days and Statehood days), why and how certain types of quilts made their mark in this frontier location, and stories about important (or at least noteworthy) people in Colorado's history.

On page 52 to 53 of this book, I learned about a kind of quilt that hadn't been on my radar before. I'd heard of cowboys' bedrolls, tied to the back of their saddles. I knew cowboys often slept out on the range, on the ground, and roughed this way, especially during round-ups. What I didn't know is that their "bedrolls" may have been more accurately called Sugans.


If the Mountain West made a contribution to American quilting, it is the sugan--also soogan, soogin, suggan, sugin, or sougan--a crude, undersize quilt used by cowboys and "gyppos," as independent loggers in the Northwest were called. A sugan, derived from an Irish word, was also known as a "parker" or a "henskin" when it was stuffed with feathers. Elsewhere, it was known as a hired man's quilt. Usually made of large patches cut from pants and coats, the sugan often was tied rather than quilted, and it weighed about four pounds--"a pound for each corner." It could be square and "'drove cowboys crazy' trying to decide which was length and which was breadth, as the saying went.

In fact, sugans drove everybody  crazy. "We had all these big--they called them sugans--quilts, and they were made out of old overalls and old clothes, old woolen coats, you know, patchwork quilts, and then there would be a batt, a cotton batt in between." remembered Jennie Brown Spence, who slept under one during a fall roundup near Meeker, Colorado. "We had about three of them over us, and I couldn't turn over. They weren't eiderdown, like they are today, or sleeping bags. It was just those heavy sugans."

The sugans were a source of mirth for cowboys, who loved practical jokes. They would tell greenhorns they had slept in a bed "infested with soogins." One visitor, recalled Agnes  Morley Cleveland, who grew up on a New Mexico ranch, got the last laugh on the cowboy prankster and retorted, "You should laugh. I happen to know that you slumber in  your bed." The enraged cowboy told him, "No man can say that about me and git off with it." The other hands hustled the visitor off before the cowboy could find his gun."

Cowboys prepare to bed down under their sugans. Image: p 52 of The Quilt That Walked to Golden

Upon reading about this true-to-life (accurate historically) sugan, I immediately knew that Pleasance's first love, Jacob Gideon, must have one. Jacob worked as a ranch hand for other men until he was able to scrape together the money to buy a ranch where he raises horses. Years earlier, Grandma Mary, knowing that Jacob Gideon belonged with her granddaughter, Pleasance, (and the young people would eventually figure that out) she made a sugan for Jacob--but not out old clothes and coats. Jacob's sugan matches Pleasance's quilt top in the Flying Geese pattern. Just wait 'til you see Pleasance's response when she learns, for the first time, that her grandmother made a cowboy quilt for Jacob--not just in the Flying Geese--but in the exact same fabrics!

Sources cited by author Sandra Dallas (The Quilt That Walked to Golden), p 52.

Pleasance'sFirst Love is book #6 of the Grandma's Wedding Quilts series. This title, with all remaining 11 in the series, is available for preorder. It's just 99-cents until a few days after release (January 13th), when it will increase to the regular price of $2.99. Grab it while it's 66% off!

Don't forget the BIG Official Contest associated with this exciting new series! You'll find the details right here on Sweet Americana Sweethearts!

Kristin Holt, USA Today Bestselling Author, writes Sweet Victorian Romance set in the American West. She writes frequent articles about the nineteenth century American west--every subject of possible interest to readers and amateur historians. She contributes monthly to Sweet Americana Sweethearts (first Friday of each month) and Romancing the Genres (third Tuesday of each month). 

Copyright © 2017 Kristin Holt LC


  1. What a fascinating post, Kristin! I can't wait to read Pleasance's story-- now more than ever. I love the dry humor that is traditionally "cowboy" --part wit part grit. It reminds me of my uncle who was a farmer and had that type of humor. Best wishes on this book!

  2. Thanks, Kathryn. I so agree--the cowboys and their wit. Your phrase, "part wit part grit" is a beautiful way of phrasing it. Thank you for your kind words and thanks for stopping by! I'm looking forward to your contribution to our new series: Gloria's Song.

  3. I hadn't heard that term before. Thanks for your research and posting about sugans.

  4. Hi Linda--
    I'd never heard about sugans before, either. Caught me by surprise. I'm glad you found it informative. =) Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I do love these pieces of history. Thank you so much for sharing this and for the story in the series. I know it is going to be a good one. On another note- The quilt museum in Golden, Colorado is a not to be missed place if you are in the area. Doris

    1. Thank you, Doris! I think a trip to the quilt museum is on my Bucket List. =) Thank you for stopping by--and know I'm looking forward to reading your story in the series! It's been a pleasure working with each member of Sweet Americana Sweethearts.