What did they REALLY carry in the old West?


January 15, 2003, 11:58 AM
Was watching an old B&W western movie and everyone on the street was packin a SAA.

Never thought of it before, but it just hit me; who in the world would want to walk all over town with 3 lbs of steel on his belt?

I betcha MOST armed folks back then were of the Remington double derringer or pocket Colt .31 or some lil .32 rimfire.

I have read many accounts where the shot guy says, "I am killed" which I imagine refers to the state of medicine in those days where a hole in the belly was reason enough to head for an undertaker. So I would bet that ANY gun was enough to avoid a fight.

I know I would want ....sumpin....but a big ol hogleg??
If I was ridin out of town maybe, but for everyday wear, I don't think I would be slingin that much iron.

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Joe Demko
January 15, 2003, 12:01 PM
As I understand it, and I could be wrong, many towns in those days already had laws prohibiting the carry of firearms within the city limits. So it would appear that most people who went about strapped, in those towns, probably did so with small concealed weapons.

January 15, 2003, 12:11 PM
TO define what was really carried in the old west you must decide on two more defining elements:

When, specifically and where, specifically.

Most people carried guns with them often. Long guns too for that matter. I'd rather walk around with several pounds of iron on me if I thought an Indian attack was highly likely. Modern weapopns of the time were expensive. After cartridge guns came into popularity many still carried cap and ball revolvers becuase they became cheap(er). Some "old timers" questioned teh reliability of cartridges as well.

You are correct that many towns had ordinances against carrying in the city limits (Ever see Tombstone? (the movie)). So it varried from place to place. In under developed areas you would NEED a gun while traveling but might have to leave it at the SO while in town. The retrieve it before leaving.

Jim Watson
January 15, 2003, 12:13 PM
An old article from the Sacramento Bee, describing the rough, tough, mining town of Bodie, Cal, as "Bad - Shot Gulch" because of the frequent gunfights with few casualties, said that there were few holstered Army or Navy revolvers to be seen. The most popular weapon was a Bulldog revolver carried in a coat pocket lined with canvas or leather for an easy draw. The Bulldog was typically a short .38 or .44 DA of British, Belgian, or New England make; the 19th century equivalent of the Chief's Special.

Double Maduro
January 15, 2003, 01:35 PM
I understand, and I'm sure you'll correct me if I am wrong, that in town most people, male and female, carried pocket guns. Outside town the most popular weapon was a shotgun.

Mike Irwin
January 15, 2003, 01:39 PM
The concept of the Colt as the universal "big" gun of the west is also something of a myth.

Yes, they were the most popular, but not, by any means, the only gun around.

Remington, Smith & Wesson, and Merwin & Hulbert revolvers also were extremely popular.

January 15, 2003, 01:54 PM
I believe also, although this is not usually mentioned, that the Colt's pistol was a big ticket item and not everybody could or would part with the required scratch. :confused:

Joe Demko
January 15, 2003, 01:57 PM
I once read that a Colt SAA cost about the equivalent of a month's wages for a typical ranch hand or other "working stiff" type in the 19th century. That is an awful lot of scratch. One supposes that then, as now, many people simply purchased used guns, surplus items, or less prestigious brands.

January 15, 2003, 02:04 PM
Looking at pictures from the time, many of the .32 caliber "pocket pistols" were not that small. Then again, the pockets they went into were not so small either. I get the impression that more "small" calibers like .32 were carried than we like to believe.
While living in Atlanta, I used to carry a Browning HP with 2 full magazines. I weighed this after I moved out. Alll told I carried about 3.5 pounds. With the right belt it is pretty easy.

January 15, 2003, 03:05 PM
The danger of the smaller calibers (still is) was that your intended target may still be alive and kicking (and mad as hell) even after you had shot him. One reason that "Derringer's" small guns were popular was that they were typicallly in larger and more effective calibers than most of the others. There are many cases of somone being shot with a pocket gun and then drawing his "hog-leg" and shooting his opponent, who usually died within minutes, whereas the original guy who was shot with small caliber lived for several days thereafter or recovered.

January 15, 2003, 03:50 PM
Let me be the 1st to chime in with: "They carried Glocks for the weight savings!" :neener:

Sorry, I couldn't resist :D

January 15, 2003, 04:31 PM
Let me be the 1st to chime in with: "They carried Glocks for the weight savings!"

Was rubber invented back then?

Mike Irwin
January 15, 2003, 05:20 PM
"Was rubber invented back then..."

Well, I know you're making a funny, Woodchuck, but the answer is yes.

Many handgun manufacturers used hard rubber as a grip material for many years.

January 15, 2003, 05:21 PM
Rubber is a natural product tapped from trees. Been around as long as people and trees.

Plastic still had about 30 years before introduction and common usage as 'bakelite'.

Actually, the most common gun in the Old West was probably the rifle.

Since a cowboy only made it into town once or twice a year to spend their 'roundup' wages, they tended to get quite drunk & disorderly. -The townsfolk tended to relieve them of any firearms at the entrance.

Knives probably settled more arguements.

January 15, 2003, 06:14 PM
Knives still do settle way more arguments, check your local city's police blotter anywhere.

January 15, 2003, 06:29 PM

Thats what they REALLY carried!


January 15, 2003, 06:33 PM
Cowboys usually didn't carry long guns when working.

The hogleg was the general purpose weapon that they could always have on their belt or in a pocket on chaps.

Lot's of the "towns" up here were nothing more than a collection of a few cabins, one of which would be a saloon.

Charlie Russell's paintings are almost as good as photographs for history purposes.

January 15, 2003, 06:47 PM
Of course, he passed on a long, long time ago. But I knew him as a little boy and he often chuckled at the movie characterizations of the wild west. I remember that he said , for lawmen, the most common and effective weapon was a double barrel shotgun. And, not many bad guys would argue with that.

January 15, 2003, 07:33 PM
Golco-13 writes:

I once read that a Colt SAA cost about the equivalent of a month's wages for a typical ranch hand or other "working stiff" type in the 19th century. That is an awful lot of scratch. One supposes that then, as now, many people simply purchased used guns, surplus items, or less prestigious brands.

And so the tradition lives on. I believe a Colt SAA will still cost you about a month's wages... :rolleyes:


January 15, 2003, 08:00 PM
RE: "a month's wages"

Well, the cowboys got all their grub provided along with their wages, plus a spot of ground to sleep on between about midnight and 4am. :)

So what else to spend money on ...?

January 15, 2003, 11:15 PM
I suppose we’d consider a good quality firearm to run in the $600 to $1000 range, right (please don’t tell me to price a Glock, exclude them for this point)? If you consider that a cowboy was a pretty low end wage earner then you’re still talking about a months wages for a quality firearm (after taxes of course).

Mike Irwin
January 15, 2003, 11:22 PM
"Cowboys usually didn't carry long guns when working."

Frequently they didn't carry handguns, either. It's something of a myth that cowboys were always armed and always in the saddle.

When you're slinging a rope and herding cattle, especially during branding, the LAST thing you wanted on your belt was a gun. A rope with the other end of it around a cow gets caught on your gun and it can snap you right out of the saddle.


According to the Sharon Stone - Gene Hackman - Leonardo Diuglystickinsect movie I caught this evening, every one in the west was armed with Colts.

Except Gene Hackman apparently had a two-barreled Davis Derringer (Remington lookalike) as a backup. It sure as hell wasn't a Remington.

January 16, 2003, 12:10 AM

It’d also be a myth that all cowboys ever did was rodeo...


January 16, 2003, 12:26 AM
Mark Twain wrote about life out west around the time of the Civil War. The gun he mentioned was The Pepperbox, a multiple barrel black powder handgun which tended to fire more than one barrel at once.

Later Merwyn & Hulbert revolvers competed with Colts. A neighbor has one that came down in the family. It was used in the Canadian west by a Mountie. Some preferred these because they unloaded and loaded more quickly than Colts.

I have seen statements saying that lots of the Smith & Wesson Schofields were surplussed out of Army use and bought by civilians. I think the Pony Express armed some of its riders with these, after shortening the barrels.

Colt also competed with itself with the double action Lightnings. Billy The Kid is supposed to have favored these because the birdshead grips fit his small hands better.

Not everyone could afford the newer guns either, so I'm sure there were lots of caplock rifles, muskets and shotguns around too.

I wasn't there, you understand, but I have done some reading.

January 16, 2003, 12:35 AM
I've looked at the production statistics of Colt and Winchester and there ain't much comparison. The rifles were MUCH more popular than the revolvers. It makes sense when you think about it. A black powder revolver is of limited utility and was very expensive, whereas a good levergun can be used to fend of banditos and bring home meat.

Mike Irwin
January 16, 2003, 12:43 AM

It wasn't the Pony Express that grabbed up the Schofields, it was Wells Fargo & Co. Express. The Pony Express was defunct by the outbreak of the Civil War.

Wells Fargo bought several hundred that had been surplussed through a wholesaler (probably Hartley & Graham), which had had the barrels cut down to 5".

January 16, 2003, 03:25 AM
Alot of percussion muzzle-loading firearms were being used well into the cartridge era.

January 16, 2003, 08:31 AM
Mr. Irwin,

I'd have to disagree with your quote:

Frequently they didn't carry handguns, either. It's something of a myth that cowboys were always armed and always in the saddle.

When you're slinging a rope and herding cattle, especially during branding, the LAST thing you wanted on your belt was a gun. A rope with the other end of it around a cow gets caught on your gun and it can snap you right out of the saddle.

If anybody has ever handled cattle that have been on the range, not hand fed steers, they'd know that a handgun frequently has saved a good horse, or a decent cowboy from an angry cow or bull. I think most cowboys probably kept a belt gun handy, but unlike the hollywood version, kept it high on the belt.

January 16, 2003, 09:18 AM
I'm no expert. I just remember the SAA my grandpa used to carry. He was a homesteader/farmer/deputy sheriff in Indian Territory before the turn of the century. He had a Pistol Pete mustache and that gun hanging from the bedpost looked like a cannon to me as a little boy. As a side note, grandma, as a little girl saw Geronimo when he was briefly held at El Reno.

Okay, let's see ... where were we? ... Oh yes -- guns! :D

January 16, 2003, 09:25 AM
Mr. Irwin;
I stand corrected.

Baba Louie
January 16, 2003, 10:49 AM
From "Mark Twain Himself" (pg 45, describing leaving St. Joe, MO with brother Orion, then appointed Sec'y Terr. of Nevada for Carson City)

"I was armed to the teeth with a pitiful little Smith & Wesson's seven-shooter, which carried a ball like a homeopathic pill, and it took the whole seven to make a dose for an adult. But I thought it was grand. It appeared to me to be a dangerous weapon. It only had one fault---you could not hit anything with it"..."The Secretary had a small-sized Colt's revolver strapped around him for protection against the indians, and to guard against accidents he carried it uncapped."

Of course that was in 1861, pre cartridge days.

Later, describing the Pony Express (riders), he wrote (pg 48)..."He carried no arms---he carried nothing that was not absolutely necessary,..."

So I wonder what an 1861 era seven shot S&W looked like and what caliber? Anyone have a link? Pepperbox? He called the Colt a "revolver" but failed to mention anymore particulars on the S&W.

And can you imagine being a teenage boy (or as Twain put it..."a little bit of a man") riding from St. Joe to Sacremento unarmed back then?


Mike Irwin
January 16, 2003, 11:28 AM
Mr. Stang,

There's a number of good books out on the life of cowboys in the West, including one of the series by Time - Life. In many of the photographs of ranch life of the men actually working with cattle, the one thing that's very frequently missing from the pictures are belt guns.

I'll drag out a copy when I get home this evening for some page cites, but I remember distinctly when I was younger reading that book, and others like it, and being absolutely SHOCKED that these guys weren't dripping with guns.

One only needs to look to the modern equivilent of the cowboy today, though, for a good indication of how many might have carried firearms while working with cattle. Not many guys carry guns while working with cattle today, even when the cattle are handled "the old way."

My Great Grandfather was a cowboy for some years in the Dakotas in the 1880s. The ONLY handgun that we know of him ever possessing was an H&R breaktop .32 S&W (wrong caliber. Geez, Mike, you know better than that!).

He was a writer in later life, and wrote quite a bit about the west and his life there (from reading his work, it must have been boring as hell 99.9% of the time!), and makes very few references to guns of any kind.

Joe Demko
January 16, 2003, 12:33 PM
So I wonder what an 1861 era seven shot S&W looked like and what caliber? Anyone have a link?

It probably looked something like the Smith and Wesson #1.5 partway down this page (http://www.fineantiquearms.com/CatAPG5.htm) and used a cartridge we would today call a .22 short.

January 16, 2003, 12:36 PM
A rope with the other end of it around a cow gets caught on your gun and it can snap you right out of the saddle.

That's why they had to be good - VERY good!


January 16, 2003, 12:53 PM
In many of the photographs of ranch life of the men actually working with cattle, the one thing that's very frequently missing from the pictures are belt guns. They were pretty common though Mike, especially prior to fencing the range in when cowboys would have to range pretty far to deal with various ranching issues. Cowboy life back then was pretty solitary work, and you’d better have a couple of different tools at your disposal. One vital tool was a firearm. Pistols were a common way to go (as were rifles, obviously). When hands were together doing their thing, you’re right pistols weren’t as common. It was when they were out on their own (which used to be a common thing) that they would carry a gun.

One only needs to look to the modern equivilent of the cowboy today, though, for a good indication of how many might have carried firearms while working with cattle. Not many guys carry guns while working with cattle today, even when the cattle are handled "the old way." Modern cowboying is nowhere near what it was prior to the advent of barbwire. Modern ranches, even those that do it “the old way”, are tiny compared to what they used to be. Even smaller ranches “back when” still had access to open range that required far ranging cowboys, that were often alone for significant periods of time.

Missouri Mule
January 16, 2003, 01:17 PM
Almost makes you wonder how they managed before the 1911 revolutionized handguns.

I had a dream the other night that I was in a gun fight with Bad Bart and I got him good. The year was 1911 and I already knew I love the 1911 model, in oh yeah .45acp.

His draw was faster than mine but his holster was empy.

Damn....no Glock! and what the heck is a 9mm?

:neener: :neener: :neener:

Yeah I know....just couldn't resist!
I like the Glocks, sort of, that are chambered in .45acp!:evil:

The 1911 and the .45acp cartridge are as American as baseball, apple pie and Ford trucks!!!! :D

Joe Demko
January 16, 2003, 02:07 PM
You know, funnily enough, the other night I dreamt that there was a thread on THR where nobody dragged in unrelated praise/damnation for 1911's and Glocks. That's how I knew it was a dream.

Mike Irwin
January 16, 2003, 02:23 PM

I'm not saying that they didn't have handguns, or that they didn't wear them.

I'm just saying I think we have an image of cowboys with their gun belts permanently welded to their bodies, and I really don't think that's true.

I suspect that a handgun spent more time in a saddlebag than on the person.

I'd also think that the rifle would be a much more common working tool for a cowboy out alone.

January 16, 2003, 02:41 PM

I doubt a long arm was as handy as a pistola for the same reasons they aren't today when working on a farm/ranch. I believe ahenry has hit what I was trying to say, that when a bunch of folks were around, the pistol wasn't as likely needed, but when out by yourself, a pistol was as handy as a lariat. If you read Hell, I Was There, by Mr. Keith, he mentions packing a six shooter, and most of his compadres as well.

As to today's ranches, it's like today's cities. A lot of people, even people who work outdoors, have been conditioned that you "Don't need a gun, there are better ways to solve problems".

As for this ol' country boy, when I'm in the woods, on the farm, or in my backyard, I've got a pistol handy, just in case.


January 16, 2003, 02:48 PM
I wear a pistol when working around a farm I own back in La.
Wearing a pistol gets to be tedious, one reason I've never applied for concealed carry. I sometimes leave it or rifle in the pick-up or camphouse, nearby if needed, but not on my person. I suspect cowboys were similar. One in saddlebag was available if needed, but not always on your person.
Another thing I've found is that I prefer a holster with a cover over it. Keeping the gun clean is more important than a fast draw.

January 16, 2003, 03:10 PM
I'm just saying I think we have an image of cowboys with their gun belts permanently welded to their bodies, and I really don't think that's true. Ah. I misunderstood. I apologize. Certainly pistols weren’t the constant companion, day in and day out that hollywood would have you believe, but as I said, when out and about doing your job alone (like was very common back then), pistols then became a constant companion.

I suspect that a handgun spent more time in a saddlebag than on the person. Perhaps. I’d certainly think this would be the case if the cowboy had a rifle with him in a scabbard. Easy access to a rifle beats slow access to a pistol any way you slice it. However, just projecting my own personal thoughts into this (IOW, I don’t actually know), I wouldn’t want to have to dig in my saddlebag for a firearm. If I didn’t have a rifle with me I probably wouldn’t keep my pistol in a saddlebag.

Mike Irwin
January 16, 2003, 04:07 PM
Come off it, you guys...

EVERYONE knows that every cowboy had a saddlehorn mounted mini Gatling Gun! :)

January 16, 2003, 04:30 PM
The problem with a revolver in a saddle bag, etc is that if the cowboy got separated from his horse, then he was also separated from his gun. Not a nice situation.

Course I wasn't there :) but I have read a lot and looked at both old photos and paintings. Seems like it goes both ways - gun or no gun. But "concealed carry" was not even an issue back in those days, and a lot of men always wore coats - so you might not even know. Seems like a lot of the old guns you see in western museums are smaller ones, like the .32.

Charlie Russell had a fetish for accuracy down to the last detail, so I doubt that he added six-guns just to please his customers. If you look at his paintings, the cowboys almost always had them.

A rifle was a lot of extra baggage for a cowboy out working for the day from the wagon camp. Not too good if the mostly half-wild horses rolled on them either. The sixgun was for emergency defense, anyway. A mounted man traveling cross-country would more likely carry a long gun of some sort, instead or in addition.

The "Old West" (new at that time) was a rapidly changing environment. A ranch in Kansas and a ranch in Montana were different envirionments in the 80's or 90's. It was a lot wilder a lot later up here than some other places. Even after the Indians were mostly confined to reservations, they still broke out on horse stealing expeditions, etc.

Be nice to go back in time to visit and see what it was really like "before the wire"

January 16, 2003, 04:41 PM

You just had to figure out how to sling the Vulcan from the latigo strings, so you didn't bust the horn off your rig!

This thread has been awesome, I'd love to go back in time to those days.

Of course, what DID they do for toilet paper on the range?

I guess that's why I love Cowboy Action shooting, I get to dress up like a cowboy, and go home to my throne and my tactical Charmin!


January 16, 2003, 05:40 PM
My grandfather was born and raise in Lincoln county New Mexico in the early 1890's. He made a few comments that have stuck with me over the years.

--Most people carried rifles.
--Cowpokes had handguns but they were generally on the saddle horn.
--Towns generally didn't allow handguns to be carried.
--Ladies and gentlemen would often carry a small derringer style handgun.
--Shootouts were rare.
--The shotgun Billy the Kid used in his jail escape was loaded with stacked dimes. ???? The early version of a fleschette round.
--Anyone carrying a piece on their hip was considered trouble.

I knew that information would be used sometime.

January 16, 2003, 07:00 PM
"If I could roll back the years back when I was young and limber,
loose as ashes in the wind - I had no irons in the fire.
I could ride them wild young boncos, the adrenaline came quickly,
and Juanita down at Mona's was my only heart's desire ..."

Sorry - doesn't add anything to the topic, but I just couldn't resist throwing that in - the tune kept going thru my head every time I come back to this thread.

January 17, 2003, 07:31 AM
and what the heck is a 9mm? It's that little dinky round that's a couple of years older than the round in your 1911 :D
IIRC, George invented the 9mm Luger round in 1903(?) and JMB invented the .45acp in 1905(?).

January 17, 2003, 07:59 AM
'Chuck- as John Wayne once said:

"The west wasn't won with a polymer gun, Pilgrim!"

Mike Irwin
January 17, 2003, 11:15 AM
"Of course, what DID they do for toilet paper on the range?"

I'd guess grass.

With a prayer for no prickly pear in the handful!

Art Eatman
January 17, 2003, 03:25 PM
"The West". Which part, and just when?

One thing to keep in mind is that the period of 1850 to 1900 was a time of rapid innovation in American firearms. Another is that parts of the West were settled to a greater density of people and more rapidly than were others.

Some areas--around Denver or Salt Lake City, for instance--were not areas of danger from grizzlies or Indians, whereas at the same time in areas not all that far away, grizzlies and Indians were a serious problem. The same sort of situation held insofar as horse thieves or cattle rustlers.

Away from cattle country or trail herd supply, meat came from hunting. Anybody in the cow or sheep bidness needed a rifle to protect from predators.

Moving forward into the 1890s, an attraction of the Model 92 Winchester was the commonality of cartridges with pistols.

Lots of grim humor from that era. One coroner's jury's verdict, after a man began a gunfight with his handgun at another with a rifle and at a distance of over 100 yards, was "Suicide".

A headstone at Tombstone reads, "Here lies Les Moore. Five shots with a .44. No Les, no more." Numerous markers there read "Shot" or "Murdered". The one which still gives me goose bumps reads "Hanged by mistake".


January 17, 2003, 04:14 PM
Actually there were some entertainment options that your typical cowhand could spend his money on. I just won't mention what they were on a family oriented website

H&K Fan, see the song lyrics in my post right above yours - did you think "Mona's" was the local Dairy Queen ?????


January 17, 2003, 04:22 PM
Merwin Hulbert was a major manufacturer of quality revolvers during the 1870's and 1880's. Gun writer and black powder cartridge expert Mike Venturino states that "no revolver ever made exhibits more craftsmanship and precision machine work in its manufacture." During the late 1800's the Merwin company was certainly among the top four large frame revolver makers in the U.S., the others being Colt, S&W, and Remington. Most casual observers suppose that Colt was the leading manufacturer of large frame cartridge revolvers in the 1800's, and may be aware that Remington and S&W made revolvers then, and few are aware of Merwin. However if you look at factory production, you'll find that S&W actually made more large frame cartridge revolvers than Colt during the 1800's, and, based on the frequency of surviving examples encountered, I often wonder if Merwin didn't produce more than Remington!
The Merwin design is unique and required extremely precise machining and hand fitting. The twist open design allows for selective, simultaneous ejection of empty cases while leaving loaded rounds in the cylinder. To open a Merwin Hulbert, the gun is held in the right hand with fingers of left hand wrapping around top of the barrel,. The left thumb pushes the button on the front bottom of the frame backwards towards the trigger guard. The barrel is then twisted towards the left, (which would be clockwise as viewed from the rear of the gun) and pulled forward. This allows ejection of empties. If disassembly is desired at this point, the button on left side of barrel is pushed in and barrel and cylinder slide forward off of the frame.
One feature unique to Merwin design and evidence of the remarkable machining, which is highly prized by collectors, is "suction." On particularly nice examples of Merwins you will find that when you have gun open and barrel pulled forward, if you release the barrel, the barrel and cylinder will pull backwards towards frame as if spring loaded. No springs are involved; it is simply that the close machining of the parts creates a suction which tends to pull the gun back together.
Merwin Model terminology can be a bit confusing at first. We will try to sort it out here:
"Frontier" Models are large frame square butt Models.
"Pocket Army" Models have a birds head grip which comes to a "skullcrusher" type point on the bottom with a large lanyard ring hole drilled through the point. Many of the Pocket Army Models have shorter 3 ½" barrels, although they were also made with the long 7" barrel, most commonly encountered on Frontier Models. Both Frontier and Pocket Army Models can be found in single action or double action configuration.
The evolution of large frame Merwin revolvers went through 4 distinct phases which are called, First through Fourth Models, by collectors. The First and Second Models were made in single action configuration only, and are quickly identified by an open top (no top strap extending from the rear of barrel to frame) and "scoop flutes" on cylinder. First and Second Models are very similar - quickest way to tell them apart is to notice there are two small screws going into the First Model frame above trigger guard where as only one screw there on Second Model. First Models were made in Frontier configuration only, while Second Models were made in both Pocket Army and Frontier configuration.
The Third Model added a top strap from the rear of barrel to frame above hammer, providing an additional locking point for additional strength. Also the flutes of cylinder were changed from scoop flutes to standard type fluting we're familiar with on most revolvers today. Third Model was the first to be offered in both Single Action and Double Action types and again was offered in both Pocket Army and Frontier style. The Fourth Model is probably the most scarce - it's nearly identical to Third Model, but with a rib added to the barrel, (the barrel is round on all the other three Models.)
The large frame Merwins were offered in three chamberings - 44 Merwin Hulbert, 44-40 (the most common chambering, designated by the marking "Calibre Winchester 1873"), and 44 Russian.
The Merwin collector has to be careful, in that many Spanish copies from the same era are found. Some of these are of good quality while others are lesser guns. An original Merwin will usually have both Merwin Hulbert company markings and Hopkins & Allen (although the Merwin guns were made to a consistently higher standard than the H&A guns.) The foreign copies, while interesting and colorful, were worth less than U.S. made Merwins, and may have the words Merwin Hulbert appearing in their markings.
Merwin also made SA and DA small frame revolvers, in two frame sizes chambered for 32 and 38 cartridges; along with a tip up 22 spur trigger resembling the S&W Model One.



January 17, 2003, 04:51 PM
Its the Shotgun that won the west. Double barrel if they could afford it, single if not.

Mike Irwin
January 17, 2003, 05:33 PM

I've not figured it out, but how many of those S&W large frames were for American consumption, and how many were for foreign sales to Russia, Turkey, Japan, etc.?

I don't have Colt production figures, but I don't think Colt had the foreign contracts to the degree that S&W did.

January 17, 2003, 06:04 PM
Mike, I don't them broken down and am having trouble finding them that way. If I do, I'll post them.

Beer for my Horses
January 17, 2003, 09:31 PM
For the money, I'll still take a good lever action rifle today; especially as a trunk gun. I know one fellow who takes his to tactical carbine classes and outshoots most of the students with AR-15's!

Mike Irwin
January 17, 2003, 09:45 PM
"Let's face it, there is a reason Marshall Dillon never married Miss Kitty."

Yeah, she was ugly and dressed funny!

January 17, 2003, 10:21 PM
First thing hollywood got wrong was that low on your leg quick draw holster. Anyone who has ever tried to get on a horse with one of those has ended up with a pistolé in the dirt.

A good holster was held close to the body and covered most of the weapon, often with a flap (a holdover from black powder days).

It's true that many ladies carried derringers and as a Black Cowboy once explained to my third grade class, a 7 inch Colt 44-40 wouldn't FIT in her little handbag! He also had a Colt Lightning and an 1878 DA Colt. 45. The holster he displayed were not the hollywood rigs, but what you'd call "mexican loop" holsters now. His Remington derringer(s) were placed in the leather lined pocket of his vest, or hidden in a small case (ala why does EVERY wells Fargo desk have a compartment for a handgun?) His collection of pistols was inherited from HIS grandfather (he showed us really old photos) and he explained gleefully to us 3rd graders how basically being a cowboy was a job nobody wanted, so 'undesirables' like Mexicans and Irish frequently did the work. Also it was one of the few jobs free blacks were recruited for. He also showed off a Winchester rifle that had been repaired at the wrist and unlike what we think these days it wasn't chambered to match his pistols. His rifle was 50-70 or some such thing and I recall that the bore of that rifle was like looking into a mineshaft. That rifle had some "character" to it.. like it spent a LOT of time in a scabbard on the range.

I guess they wouldn't let a black cowboy come and talk to a 3rd grade class and show off guns and branding irons and lariats... but I'm glad that cowboy came to my class.

Colts may not have been as available as the movies would have you think, but they were certainly popular and sought after items, and people used them.

January 18, 2003, 01:07 AM

Now that you mention it, you made me remember that about tombstones back then. There were many written with witt and humor. I would not mind seeing that return. That has the possiblities of being an idication as to how we have become less personable as time has gone by. Rather a shame, really.

Mike Irwin
January 18, 2003, 01:26 AM
Don't think Winchester ever chambered the .50-70 Gov't. in one of their lever rifles, but the .50-95 was a fairly popular round for the 1876 Centennial rifle, and the 1886 rifle was chambered in .50-110. These two were among the most potent of the blackpowder lever action cartridges.

January 18, 2003, 02:42 AM
The West was already won by the 1890's.

Go back to the 1870's and there was more wilderness. Go back another twenty years and you would see more people wearing buckskins and using percussion muzzle-loading rifles.

January 18, 2003, 04:03 AM
You guys can argue all you want, but on TV tonight all the cowboys carried Colts and had good teeth.


January 18, 2003, 04:49 AM
In the pre civil war era , I understand that the .31 cal pocket Colt outsold all other Colt models.
After the development of the Missouri Skintight holster in the late 50s early 60s the larger models became more common. Since the average cowboy was poorly paid, I doubt that they carried expensive firearms.
The Remington Rolling Block and the Sharps probably did more to "win the West" than any repeater.
The Colt Single Action Army era was probably only about 10 years duration.
The 1894 Winchester was way too late to have anything to do with "winning the West".
The gentleman who mentioned Bodie was right on the money.

Art Eatman
January 18, 2003, 10:13 AM
Some areas stayed pretty wild on up to WW I. My area in the Big Bend of Texas was among them. (Some folks say it hasn't really changed all that much. :D ) The last Apache fight involved troops from Fort Davis, around 1886. IIRC, it was over west of Marfa, south of Van Horn. Really rugged mountains...

Hallie Stilwell went off to teach school in Presidio around 1919 or so; she carried a revolver in her purse. (No stranger to guns; she later used a .30-30 on a mountain lion, near the house on her husband's ranch.) Her book, "I'll Gather My Geese" is a classic of frontier writing.

And, getting down to the nitty-gritty, the borderlands with Mexico, today, are nastier and wilder than in the 1800s...Who's winning?


January 18, 2003, 11:01 AM
A lot of people don't realize that the homestead era in Montana didn't occur until about 1910 thru 1925. Before 1910 it was still mostly all open range in Montana and southern Alberta.

The Dust Bowl starved out most of the "sodbusters" but by then the die was cast and the abandoned homes were gradually absorbed by big ranches and a few big wheat operations (and many do both).

January 18, 2003, 03:43 PM
There's a show on now on the History Channel about the guns that won the west. They indicated that the cowboy treated his guns just like his saddle. It was a tool your life could depend on, so you bought the best. As my dad used to say, you can buy a good tool once, or a cheap tool 3 or 4 times.

I did take issue with the show's assertion that the homesteaders and pioneers were in more danger of accidental discharges than other sources. Sounded like typical anti bull. I was surprised, the History channel is usually very positive.


Mike Irwin
January 18, 2003, 03:58 PM
Actually, given the lack of safety devices on those guns, I wouldn't be surprised about that in the least...

January 18, 2003, 04:10 PM
Ok crew, there's a show on now on the History Channel called: Real Cowboy: An American Icon. Hopefully it will have some good insight on the tools of the Cowboy.

Mike, as to your response, all I can say, is the biggest safety has always been between your ears. I suppose with the influx of a great deal of people who hadn't handled weapons all their life, this could have been true. But I would think that back then more people would have been acquainted with guns.

January 18, 2003, 04:20 PM
The 1851 Navy in .36 caliber ruled from 1851 to 1876. Several hundred thousand were produced and cost the equivalent of 6 months wages.

January 18, 2003, 04:41 PM
Let's all slow down for a moment and think about this!

First of all, cowboys were only a tiny minority of people living in the west. Many areas of the west didn't even raise cattle! Even where they did, you probably had 30 or 40 people who were miners, laborers, store clerks, railroad employees, farmers, etc, for every cowboy.

Clerks and bartenders didn't line up for those famous posed photo's in Dodge City like the cowboys did. They'd show up in Abeline or Dodge and get paid off, and after a bath, a beer and a hooker, show up in front of a painted tableau squinting grimly into the camera with their 7 1/2" Colt strapped on their leg. Many of those firearms were supplied by the photographer for "color"!
It's those thousands of photo's that give the impression that everyone west of Missouri was a cowboy, sporting a Colt revolver and a Winchester.

Certainly, cowboys did favor the big Colt and for good reason, given the nature of their job. But, I suspect most other people had some far cheaper (and more concealable) revolver tucked away.

It would be interesting to get ahold of some old hardware store records and see what guns were most popular. Even today, you can find old .32's, etc, from obscure makers gathering dust in pawn shops. They must have been sold in the millions.


January 19, 2003, 02:34 AM
Many of the Navy Colts were military sales both in the USA and foriegn sales. It was however a popular model. The hot set up for the Kansas/Missouri Border Wars was a Navy Colt in a Missouri Skintight holster.
Many authorities say that the .58 caliber Army muzzleloaders really won the West. They were certainly ubiquitous.
Most American Indians died of disease relatively few were ever shot by anyone. The Europeans coming to North America had already survived living in a cesspool of communicable disease.
Native Americans had a very weak immune system compared to a European. Historians estimate that 80% to 90% died without a fight. Most died without seeing a white man.
In some cases, a good immune system is better than a bullet proof vest!
Keith was right about the percentage of cowboys in the old west.
The last areas of California brought under control of the law were East of Bakersfield and North of the Klamath. Even today people say "There is NO law North of the Klamath river."

January 19, 2003, 11:19 AM
Remember, the old west lasted far longer than many people seem to understand. Many parts of the West were still pretty wild well into the 1900's. The Indian wars themselves officially lasted into the 1890's and by then, what we'd call modern handguns and rifles were readily available. In fact, many of the guns available in the Old West continued being sold right up until WWII.

March 18, 2003, 02:26 AM
Just a couple little notes to add --

1. a friend of mine was a cowboy for a time, down South Idaho way. From what he told me, it was (and still is, for all I know) quite common to carry a pistol cross-draw style high on the belt...

... for shooting your horse if'n ya get thrown and dragged.

2. regarding accident rates -- those figures are likely from the reports of the wagon train era... apparently NDs were a relatively common death then. Given that a lot of folks on that trail were likely more "urbanized" easterners or European imports, I'd not be the least surprised if they weren't as acquainted with firearms safety as we know it today. I do remember reading one report of a pioneer pulling his sidelock rifle out of the wagon by the barrel. The hammer caught on a strap of somekind I think, fell.... you can guess the rest. ick.

3. Six months wages for a colt '58???! For that I'd REALLY like to see a source. I have a hard time believing that.. excepting MAYBE during the height of the war years when the armies were pulling up all the weapons they could. Certainly after the war they could be had for a song, comparatively speaking.


March 19, 2003, 09:19 AM
I saw that special on the History Channel, and the statement it made was that "more people on the trails to the west were killed from accidental discharges of their own firearms than were killed by Indians" (not an exact quote), and I believe that is most likely to be true. As was mentioned, a lot of the people heading "out west" weren't exactly well-trained in the use of firearms, many were city folk and immigrants from Europe. Most of the "country folk" stayed on the farms they had in the east. And, as we all know, untrained people fooling with firearms can easily end in disaster, especially when under stress (as they would likely be if under attack by people or animals).

An extreme emphasis on gun safety is a relatively modern phenomenon, as evidenced by the fact that there are far fewer accidental deaths by firearms now than there have ever been since they came into common useage. People who are "into firearms" now (such as most of us) also shoot a whole lot more than most people did back then, so proper and safe gunhandling is ingrained into most of us, and we can't think that people who would handle a gun regularly that wouldn't have proper and safe gunhandling pounded into their heads. But, that was the case in previous times.

March 19, 2003, 12:54 PM
9mm... killing for the Kaiser since 1903.... about as likely to see one in the old west, as some pimpy Tiffany carved colt or S&W...

i love this thread.. i love going to the old ghost towns and minings towns out here in PRK and in the sierras and and just letting my imagine run wild... ever been to bodie or virginia city although VC is a little tooo commercial...

March 19, 2003, 02:36 PM
>>>>>The West was already won by the 1890's.<<<<

Tell that to the miners in the NW territories and Alaska!

The US navy was bombarding Alaskan Indian villages as late as 1906 to "teach hell to the savages".


Dave T
March 19, 2003, 04:50 PM
I have been an amateur historian for years and the period I have always been most interested in was the post-Civil War American West. I have read most everything printed on that era and the guns used then.

For 9 years I was active in the Cowboy Action Shooting game and Living History re-enactments and shot original 19th Century firearms loaded with black powder cartridges.

One of the things I learned is that the old saying "Times change, people don't." is true. Back in the 1870s, 1880s, 1890s and early 20th Century people were much like we are today. There were those who had no interest or use for guns, those who owned a gun or two but were not firearms enthusiasts, and "gun cranks" like those of us here. This last group might include some "professionsals" to include both lawmen and outlaws.

The people with no interest probably didn't own guns, just like today. Many more people owned guns for occasional hunting or maybe home defense but weren't connoiseurs, just like today. Among that group there were probably more shotguns, rifles and small caliber hand guns. The final group would own several and they would be the best they could afford, just like today.

The last group is where my research indicated you would find the SAA Colt. Yes there were S&Ws, Remingtons and M&H revolvers. I have owned and shot all of them and can tell you the one reason Colt dominated among the "professionals" and also why it was adopted buy the military.

We're talking about the black powder cartridge era. Black powder fouling was a big problem, particularly in extended shooting. The Colt SAA, because if it's simple design holds up better than the more complicated S&W, the poorer design of the Remington, or the fine machining of the M&H. Among serious handgun users the Colt SAA in 45 Colt dominated.

For much the same reasons, reliability and durability, the Winchester repeaters (Henry, 1866, 1873, 1876, 1886 and 1892) were dominate long guns with the same professionals. And yes, 10 and 12 gage shotguns were also popular fighting guns.

Tommy Gunn
March 19, 2003, 10:05 PM
I will bet my bottom dollar that older muzzle-loading firearms would have been most common. Very economical for the working stiffs who did not have much money.

Wayne D
March 20, 2003, 02:08 PM
What about cap and ball revolvers converted to fire cartridges? What part did they play?

March 20, 2003, 03:06 PM
The SAA was popular in the US for several reasons. The big one is that it came out in 1873, where as the Remington and S&W didn't really hit the American scene until 1875. There was an economic "panic" in there as well which contributed. A second big one is that the .45 colt had a 40 grain powder charge which made it a legitimate horse pistol as opposed to the lighter charge of the Remington and S&W. This made it a much more useful tool to a cowboy.

For the most part thats what guns were to the people of the Old West. Tools. One of the reasons they had much more experience with firearms per capita than today is because most farmers/ranchers owned long guns as tools and farmers/ranchers were a much larger percentage of the population than today. Many people have said that double barreled shotguns and other long guns tamed the west.

Smaller guns were carried for self defense and .32s were very popular for this purpose especially in cities and towns.

March 20, 2003, 07:40 PM
A little of my own family history might shed some light here.

My great-great-great grandfather Daniel Malloy came down from Virginia to Rockingham County N.C. via flat bottom boat in 1840. At that time the Piedmont region of N.C. was a frontier wilderness with few roads and fewer laws. Daniel was said to have carried a .45 percussion type muzzleloading pistol and a large knife every day.

My great-great grandfather was David Morton Malloy. He was born 1834 and died 1902. On June 3, 1861 he was elected 3rd Lt. of the 21st. Regiment Company L CSA in Wentworth N.C.
There are court records before he left for the war of his being involved in numerous knife and fights and we know from family records he carried a .44 caliber 1858 Remington cap and ball revolver and a large knife daily before entering the Civil War.
After the war he returned to Rockingham County N.C. packing twin 1860 Colt .44 cap and ball revolvers with pearl grips that he carried in a broad sash around his waist along with a Arkansas Toothpick style knife.
In later years during the Reconstruction era he would not travel the public roads without them. At home, he often carried both the pistols and his knife while supervising activities on his farm and other farms he managed. At his death in 1902 his weapons were close at hand and passed on to his son.
My great grandfather was Robert Martin Malloy 1870-1908. He moved west to Broken Bow, Nebraska in 1896 and worked for 3 years as a clerk in a dry goods store before moving on to Tombstone Arizona due to contracting TB. He was a partner in a dry goods store there for two years until the death of his first wife. In letters to the family he spoke of the need to go armed everyday as the "lawless element" was as common out west as it was in N.C. In 1902 he returned to N.C. after the birth of my Grandfather Glenn Turner Malloy. According to family records he had the habit of packing a S&W .38 Long Colt revolver in his coat pocket.
Appearantly the habit of packing a handgun each and every day was more dependant on the daily dangers faced by the individual not the geographic location. At least in my family history the men carried handguns and knives from the backwoods of N.C. to the dusty streets of Tombstone.

March 20, 2003, 08:37 PM
Well in a past life I was an Old West Sheriff, honest I was, ok at least play along. :D

I would have carried twin 44's or 45's as the back up to my Double Barreled Shotgun. Of course a lever action in 44 or 45 would be necessary also. Manufacturers not that important, as long as they were quality arms.

Quick draw my patooty, surprise is better and safer. :D

I love the Old West. :D

Bart Noir
March 20, 2003, 10:28 PM
Back to Mark Twain's quote, he may have been talking about Smith and Wesson's first handgun, which wasn't a revolver. It was the Volcanic lever-action pistol (they made carbines too) and it fired a pretty weak cartridge. Various models of it carried differing numbers of cartridges. I don't think S&W made a 7-shot .22 then. Sorry, I don't have the links. Then they sold this "revenue challenged" design to a partner named Winchester, who had it developed into the .44 Henry and Winchester 1866 rifles and carbines, which also used a much better cartridge.

Also, the production records show that the .31 cap & ball revolvers (all makes) and .32 and .38 cartridge guns were produced in far greater numbers than the .44 / .45 models. So a lot of those smaller guns were carried. I mean, even Billy the Kid used the .38 Colt DA model. If he could have shot the .44-40 they would have called him Billy the Man :p

Bart Noir
"An arm stops harm."

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