How Did The Old Timers Carry?


Blank Stare 73
October 17, 2008, 03:43 PM
Does anyone have any historical knowledge of how men carried thier BP revolvers back in the old days. Did they keep them loaded? If so for how long?

Or did they only load when they were anticipating action/hunting. Being relatively new to the BP game I was just curious.

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October 17, 2008, 03:56 PM
I think it was common practice to keep only 5 chambers loaded, hammer down on the empty chamber. The way things may get jostled around, safety was likely #1.

October 17, 2008, 03:59 PM
purportedly many fired and than reloaded daily to make sure the powder was viable.

I have often suspected that back then most did not have the hammer on an unloaded cylinder. the temptation was probably just too great to have an extra round available.

October 17, 2008, 04:54 PM
Truth is, during that era most people did not waste powder and lead. Some of their guns stayed loaded for extended periods. Ever look at some of the originals - they weren't too meticulous on cleaning either. Guess they did the best one could under frontier conditions.

I posted the following on a thread about the longevity of black powder:

The powder will not degrade any faster in the cylinder than it does in the factory container. I am very meticulous in cleaning my revolvers as well as loading them. I keep 2 loaded in the house all the time. I usually fire, clean and reload them at least every 6 months or so. I have gone longer at times. Sometimes not long at all, depending on what I am taking to the range. Been doing this for over 30 years now, and I can honestly say I cannot remember a misfire on the initial charges at the range. I have had the typical problems (not often though) of a cap dropping in the action after firing. But a failure to fire because of the powder - never.

Having said that, I will add my guns are pretty much kept in ideal conditions.
Exposure of the powder to dampness would be my only concern, more so prior to loading (that will be obvious). Your powder is not going to fail unless it is exposed to moisture.

I dug a can of powder out of a locker that I had forgotten about, been close to a year ago now. It had to date back to the early 90's. Still shot good.

I also shoot black powder cartridges. I have some of those that are several years old and they are as reliable as any smokeless cartridge.

Short of fording creeks or going swimming with your gun, you most likely will be wanting to go to the range long before the load componets go bad.

The problem with black powder firearms is not so much leaving them loaded, but not cleaning them after they are fired. Once fired, the powder residue is extremely corrosive.

Most original cap and ball revolvers and reproductions have a safety pin or notch between the chambers so the gun could be carried fully loaded. Not advocating their safety - but that is what the original design was. The cartridge era guns did not have that and the safe carry was an empty chamber under the hammer.

October 17, 2008, 05:57 PM
Couldn't have said it any better PRM & I do just about the same as you in that I keep at least 1 C&B Revolver loaded & it may stay loaded for a week to almost a year depending on my frequency to the range with it & I too can not think of a time where the 5 loaded chambers didn't go Boom & had the same accuracy as though I had loaded it that day & I've been caught in the rain wearing one once & it was still just as reliable.

You hear of Hickcock firing, cleaning & loading his 51 Navies daily but I'm in agreeance with you in thinking that it may not have been as frequent but only to keep his skill up.

October 17, 2008, 10:28 PM
the temptation was probably just too great to have an extra round available.

Dunno. Standard practice with the later 1873 was to only load "5 beans to the wheel." Loading 6 was an excellent way to shoot yourself. I'd think it'd be even moreso with C&B guns, given how much thinner percussion caps are than primers.

Old Fuff
October 17, 2008, 11:02 PM
The popular Colt and Remington cap & ball revolvers provided a safe way to carry with the hammer resting between the chambers. In Colt's the hammer rested on a pin, and there was a matching notch in the hammer nose to keep the hammer where it was supposed to be. The Remington had an even better system, with the hammer resting in a notch cut in the cylinder that was located between the chambers. Because of the reative slowness in reloading, combined with the above cited safety provisions I believe that most carried the cylinder fully loaded, as there was no good reason not to.

Early cartridge revolvers are an entirely different matter.

As for methods of carrying. By the early 1850's cameras had been developed and were well distributed - even on the frontier. Today we have any number of books that are illustrated with copies of these original photographs. In addition, some of the leather gear of that era has survived and is displayed in various collections. I recommend the following:

The Peacemakers - Arms and Adventure in the American West, by R.L. Wilson.

Packing Iron - Gunleather of the Frontier West, by Richard C. Rattenbury.

October 17, 2008, 11:05 PM
SAA doesn't have safety pins...

Old Fuff
October 17, 2008, 11:14 PM
From the opening post #1.

Does anyone have any historical knowledge of how men carried thier BP revolvers back in the old days.

Today "BP revolvers" generally means reproductions of cap & ball percussion revolvers, not those using metallic cartridges. You are correct in saying that the:

SAA doesn't have safety pins...

But the Colt Sninge Action Army (SAA) isn't a cap & ball revolver.

In any case I noted the difference by saying:

Early cartridge revolvers are an entirely different matter.

Hopefully this will clear up any question. :)

Harve Curry
October 18, 2008, 09:57 AM
Flap holsters. They protected the cap & ball revolvers from weather and dirt.

J.T. Gerrity
October 18, 2008, 11:18 AM
There are actually contemporary accounts of loading (or capping) only five chambers; pistols have been found this way and Wyatt Earp, for one, mentions it in his autobiography. Sir Richard Burton (NOT the actor, but the great English adventurer and explorer) in his 1861 book "The City Of The Saints, And Across The Rocky Mountains To California" writes: "As a precaution, especially when mounted upon a kicking horse, it is wise to place the cock upon a capless nipple, rather than trust to the intermediate pins. In dangerous places the revolver should be discharged and reloaded every morning, both for the purpose of keeping the hand in, and to do the weapon justice" (he refers here to the Colt's Dragoon, which he introduced to the astonished natives on his African trips; they were so impressed by the gun they called it the "God's Pistol"). Although there are those that question some aspects of these accounts, they were written nearly seventy years apart and both mention a distrust of the intermediate pins. Mark Twain, in "Roughing it" (1870) writes that, while crossing the plains by stagecoach in 1861, his brother "had a small-sized Colt's revolver [Pocket Pistol?] strapped around him for protection against the Indians, and to guard against accidents he carried it uncapped". One has to consider that, in those days, the powder was evidently less refined and more prone to accidental discharge than it is today (which may have lead to the practice of carrying a revolver butt-forwards so that, when it went off accidentally, it shot your horse instead of your foot).

I won't get into whether loading five (or capping five) or even relying on the pins was a common practice, or whether it should be done today, as it always turns into a "pissin' match" under discussion. Suffice to say that it was a matter of concern among the old-timers, who relied daily upon the condition of their weapons.

The Bushmaster
October 18, 2008, 01:04 PM
The Colt SAA in all of it's calibres from 32-20 to .45 Long Colt can be and probably were carried with the hammer between loaded chambers. My .357 magnum is that way in that I can drop the hammer between loaded chambers...By The Way...I still carry it with the hammer down on an empty chamber. Thought about putting a $20 bill in the empty chamber. Anybody know why?

Blank Stare 73
October 18, 2008, 01:45 PM
Well you gentlemen are certainly very knowledgable on the subject of Cap and Ball revolvers, and I am thankful for all of comments in this thread.
I've enjoyed learning to properly load and shoot cap and ball revolvers and this forum has provided a wealth of knowledge.

Keep Smokin' Em!

Old Fuff
October 18, 2008, 04:59 PM
According to legend, the money was supposed to fund the owner’s burial, if that became necessary. Another story was to be sure the owner couldn’t be charged as a vagrant. I suspect it wasn’t as common as some suppose, because you’d have to get the bill out of the way before being able to load the 6th chamber in an emergency. A $20 dollar gold coin somewhere on one’s person would be more likely.

In another vain, during the middle 1880’s and later combination money/cartridge belts became popular. A belt would be made out of middleweight soft leather, folded double and sewed along the lower edge. Then cartridge loops would be added. Money or whatever could be kept in the inside hollow of the belt at each end. John Wayne wore such a belt in many of his later western movies, starting I believe in Hondo.

Harve Curry
October 18, 2008, 05:10 PM
Old Fuff,
I have an old belt like that. I found it in my old house that was built in 1884. It has loops that fit 32-20 or 38's and a skinny waist.

Old Fuff
October 18, 2008, 05:52 PM
I have one also, that had the loops filled with .44-40 cartridges that were so old they were'nt headstamped. Most of the older ones I've seen are small sizes, around 28 to 32 inches. They were prefered by horsemen because the softer/flexable leather was easier on one's hips and waist.

Hollywood has a lot to learn... :scrutiny:

October 18, 2008, 11:13 PM
Yup, go ahead and put a bill in the empty chamber of a .45. Make sure you're using 30+ grains of BP under a 250 grain bullet. Shoot those 5, and see what's left of your bill.

October 19, 2008, 12:40 AM
1858 Remingtons were made to load and carry six rounds, that is what the notches are for between the nipples. Its a safty notch, the hammer rests in it.
Warning: some repros the hammer does not fit properly, file or grind the bottom corner of the hammers strikeing surface will allow it to fit properly and permit safe carry on SIX in a flap holster, or holster with a hammer loop.

October 19, 2008, 01:05 AM
...By The Way...I still carry it with the hammer down on an empty chamber. Thought about putting a $20 bill in the empty chamber. Anybody know why?

It was to know you had at least five loaded...and money for a Brothel and Whiskey when you made it to town.

Side Bar... I burned a $1 bill that way shootin' a .45 Colt Conversion in my Colt Dragoon(R&D)


October 19, 2008, 06:35 AM
Lots of holsters out there and good vendors.

Flap holsters were the prime for military personnel of the era.
Slim Jims were popular for civilians, and a lot of the time the flap was simply cut off of an old military holster to make a civilian holster. I like both. If I am in the woods I like the protection of the flap - otherwise the more traditional western holster is a favorite. Over the years I have made a number of holsters myself from old boot tops and leather boot laces. A little leather dye and your ready to go. A lot of the old holsters were homemade from what was available - others came from high quality makers.

Here is some sites that sell holsters. Top of the line!!! Great high quality vendor - easy to deal with. Got some reasonable military holsters/and other

Coyote Hunter
October 20, 2008, 06:09 PM
From historical referencing and by personal experience as a western reenactor, the reason a mounted lawman or outlaw or cowboy wore his gun crossdraw (butt forward) was the things were 7 1/2 to 8" long in the barrel and it was a lot more comfortable and handy, it is very uncomfortable and difficult to mount a horse with a long barrel pistol with it butt rearward and it also digs into the saddle, but a butt forward high rise holster, now that puts the gun butt right where you can naturally reach it with reins in your hand, and when your sitting playing poker.

Jim K
October 20, 2008, 11:21 PM
That "bill in the empty chamber" dates way back at least to 1980 or so when Colt's lawyers dreamed it up as a way to keep modern "cowboys" from shooting themselves and then 1) suing Colt, or 2) demanding more gun safeties.

Ruger revamped their design in response to lawsuits. Colt came out with the Cowboy, but avoided the issue for the SAA by making it available only as a "custom" gun. Most other makers have some kind of safety device other than the traditional safety notch in the hammer, but it is required only for imports.


October 21, 2008, 03:33 AM
One of the most annoying ''safety's'' is the over long two position cylinder pin,seen on modern copy's of the SAA.I grind those off as soon as I get 'em.

J.T. Gerrity
October 21, 2008, 08:51 AM
That "bill in the empty chamber" dates way back at least to 1980

That would more correctly be "1890" and earlier, due to the relics found this way.

October 21, 2008, 11:07 PM
well living in colorado we have open carry in most of the state. i carry my 58 remy allot, shes a pietta with a 5.5 inch barrel. if i'm camping and shes just coming along for moral support after shes loaded i wax the caps by just taking beeswax and warming it in my hand and placing a glob around each cap. just wipe the back of the cap clean and shes pretty much water proof. i'll do the same very sparingly around the balls. just enough to seal the chambers. use NO LUBES under or over the ball. powder and ball or bullet only. lubed wads will effect your powder in a day. when i'm done she'll go a longways and still give ya the full boom everytime.

oh and notches or no notches i never load 6 to carry, just for target practice. i carry her loaded and capped but never load more than 5. i also use the saftey notch behind the empty chamber so i have to cock her twice before she fires.

Old Fuff
October 22, 2008, 08:12 AM
During the Civil War, and probably before and after, it was a common practice to use candle wax. A small candle would be lit, and after some wax melted it would be dribbled on a capped nipple. One or two drips would do it. :cool:

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