Historical Holster Position Question


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Packman
August 9, 2010, 08:06 PM
Hey folks,

So I've been on a kick of watching a bunch of old westerns lately, and I noticed something that made me wonder...

Is there a particular reason so many of the people (not just in movies, look at old photos/drawings too) carried their revolvers butt-forward? It doesn't look as though they're necessarily carrying cross-draw, but more like strongside butt-forward.

I was just curious if there's a reason there's so many examples of this kind of holster orientation.

Thanks,
Packman


Edited to add: I'm talking about kind of like in the picture below (If I made it work right)
http://media.oregonlive.com/travel_impact/photo/wild-bill-hickokjpg-d8e006354bf5000c.jpg

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FightingWombat
August 9, 2010, 09:30 PM
In the book "Percussion Pistols and Revolvers: History, Performance and Practical Use" By Mike Cumpston, Johnny Bates
http://books.google.com/books?id=LQausfRgWvYC&lpg=PA110&ots=XzCMrltb1S&dq=wearing%20revlovers%20backwards&pg=PA110#v=onepage&q&f=false

It says they wore them that way at least at first, so the revolver didn't get in the way of their saber.

Packman
August 9, 2010, 11:08 PM
Source: http://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/4045621

Cavalry draw is a method used to extract a pistol from a holster, which is designed to carry the pistol butt-forward.

The name and technique come from the gunleather used by the cavalry of both the United States Army and the Confederate States Army, during the Civil War. The pistol was in a covered holster carried high on the cavalryman's right side, but was placed butt-forward for crossdrawing by the left hand. The pistol was considered by the Army to be a secondary weapon, with the right hand used for the saber. Placement on the right permitted an alternate method to be used, allowing the right hand to draw the pistol if the sword were lost in battle.

In practice, however, the "alternate method" became the standard, with the sword being left in its sheath until the pistol and its spare loaded cylinders had been expended.

Later, it was found that the reversed holster can be more comfortable, especially when worn while sitting down, than the normal type holster. In addition, cavalry draw can be performed while sitting, as well as retaining the original off-hand crossdraw capability. For these reasons, the FBI used the cavalry draw when they were equipped with short .38 Special revolvers. Cavalry draw is performed in three steps:

#Rotate the wrist, placing the top of the hand toward the shooter's body.
#Slip the hand between the body and the butt of the pistol, grasping the pistol's stocks in normal shooting grip.
#Draw the pistol, rotating the wrist to normal orientation as the arm is brought up to shooting position.

With practice, the cavalry draw can be as fast or even faster than drawing from a normal, butt-rearward holster, due to the assistance of the body in placement of the hand on the pistol stocks.

Interesting. This would actually make some sense in historical movie context, as so many of the gunslingers in the old west movies are portrayed as having had some manner of military background.

Good stuff, my question is answered.

GRIZ22
August 9, 2010, 11:10 PM
The primary weapon of the cavalry was the saber and most troops were right handed. The pistol or revolver was considered the secondary weapon. How this translated to civilian usage as your photo shows I have no idea. I doubt that there were so many veterans who grew accustomed to carrying butt forward, strong side.

tex45
August 9, 2010, 11:16 PM
From what I understood, it increased the cant for riding horseback. A lot of the Texas Rangers in the mid-1800's carried crossdraw because their primary weapon was a rifle when on horseback, used on their strong (right side) in most cases. The low slung, straight cant holsters, were a figment of Holywood (buscadera rigs) and TV starting in the late twenties and up.

Packman
August 9, 2010, 11:40 PM
How this translated to civilian usage as your photo shows I have no idea.

At a guess, I would suppose that in real life, it didn't transfer so much as one would think. Some of the most famous people (Hickock) who were seen to carry this way did have a military background. These types of notorious individuals are the ones we see in many of the surviving pictures, and I think maybe Hollywood just took it and ran with it. Like I said, it was watching western movies that made me think of it, so I figured I'd see what was out there for historical context.

By the way, Wombat, I appreciated the link. Gave me a good jumpoff point to find out more. Clearly your Google-fu is stronger than mine.

hirundo82
August 10, 2010, 04:26 PM
Later, it was found that the reversed holster can be more comfortable, especially when worn while sitting down, than the normal type holster. In addition, cavalry draw can be performed while sitting, as well as retaining the original off-hand crossdraw capability. For these reasons, the FBI used the cavalry draw when they were equipped with short .38 Special revolvers. Cavalry draw is performed in three steps:

#Rotate the wrist, placing the top of the hand toward the shooter's body.
#Slip the hand between the body and the butt of the pistol, grasping the pistol's stocks in normal shooting grip.
#Draw the pistol, rotating the wrist to normal orientation as the arm is brought up to shooting position.

With practice, the cavalry draw can be as fast or even faster than drawing from a normal, butt-rearward holster, due to the assistance of the body in placement of the hand on the pistol stocks.

It seems to me that drawing with this method would require sweeping your body with the muzzle of the gun as you rotate it after the draw. Not exactly good muzzle discipline.

rcmodel
August 10, 2010, 04:32 PM
Nobody had heard of muzzle discipline yet in 1870 something.
Those old boys did a lot of things back then that would make cross-draw seem pretty mild I betcha.


BTW: Something else related but never seen on the movie screen is.

Real cowboys would often shift the whole gunbelt & holster around on the other side to get them out of the way of a lariat rope.

That made a right hand holster a left hand cross-draw with the buckle on the back while you were roping cattle.
Or visa versa for those feared left hand guns!


rc

Jim Watson
August 10, 2010, 04:38 PM
For these reasons, the FBI used the cavalry draw when they were equipped with short .38 Special revolvers.

This will be news to the only fed I know with enough seniority to be experienced with the revolver. And to makers of strong side straight draw "FBI cant" holsters.

Note that the rig in the OP is being worn by an actor or a CAS player.

Claude Clay
August 10, 2010, 04:49 PM
Note that the rig in the OP is being worn by an actor or a CAS player.

what gave it away Jim?
the 'No Motorcycle Colors' sign perhaps?:uhoh:

russ69
August 10, 2010, 04:54 PM
For a gentleman, wearing a jacket, a crossdraw is easier to draw when one is seated. Perhaps a good idea if playing cards with men that might be drinking......

Thanx, Russ

waterhouse
August 10, 2010, 04:57 PM
The primary weapon of the cavalry was the saber and most troops were right handed. The pistol or revolver was considered the secondary weapon. How this translated to civilian usage as your photo shows I have no idea. I doubt that there were so many veterans who grew accustomed to carrying butt forward, strong side.

If civilians did it, I'd guess it could be something as simple as "well, that professional soldier does it, so I'll do it as well."

rcmodel
August 10, 2010, 05:05 PM
It could also be that a lot of civilians on the western frontier were former civil war or indian wars solders, and had to use the old military cross-draw holster they brought home with the gun.

Back then, just like now, jobs were scarce, money was short, and custom made gun leather was expensive.

So you danced with the one who brung ya!

rc

Telumehtar
August 10, 2010, 05:35 PM
It could also be that a lot of civilians on the western frontier were former civil war or indian wars solders, and had to use the old military cross-draw holster they brought home with the gun.

Or even more simply, it could be that those who were not soldiers, used military hardware on surplus. Weapons makers, and outfitters are probably not going to be doing up different styles just because civilians wanted something else.

The time period we are talking about is the dawning of the American industrial revolution, and mass production means pumping out as many of the same thing as possible.

Quite simply, the economics of the largest customer (the army) dictated to the remaining customers what they were likely to have available.

The Lone Haranguer
August 10, 2010, 07:34 PM
I can see no reason to "sweep" yourself with a "cavalry" draw. After the gun clears the holster, twist your wrist while keeping it parallel to your side, then bring it up into firing position. I have not tried it as yet, but it may be a way to have the gun accessible to either hand. (Conventional crossdraw for my right - which is my strong - hand, cavalry draw if I have to use my left hand.)

THe Dove
August 10, 2010, 08:16 PM
I don't know for sure about each post but, as far as I can tell all of the above posts have merit to me. With that being said, I ride horses (western stock saddle) and carry a 45 LC while doing so in the woods or on the trail. I have to carry cross-draw in order to easily get to the pistol. I don't know how to explain it, but it is easier to draw (cross-draw) while you're in the saddle.....

The Dove

John Wayne
August 10, 2010, 09:26 PM
I always thought it was because it made the gun harder to grab from behind, since most holsters didn't have any sort of retention device. :confused:

But the "cavalry draw" explanation sounds better .

jfrey
August 10, 2010, 10:29 PM
A lot of old pictures show men with pistols just stuck in their belt or in a sash tied around their middle. These were normally carried in a cross draw fashion as well. Many of them actually carried 2 pistols this way which would lend to the butt forward style. From what I have read it was better to carry 2 pistols than to stop and reload one.

As was mentioned, sweeping yourself with the muzzle wasn't a big concern in the old days. Many people, including John Armstrong of the Texas Rangers, have been known to shoot themselves with their own gun. The bullet hit where it was pointed, plane and simple.

Old Fuff
August 10, 2010, 10:40 PM
The "cavalry draw," as any other style of drawing, is not dangerous when using a single action revolver - so long as one doesn't try to cock the hammer until the muzzle is pointed in a safe direction. Most old timers knew this and seldom shot themselves or anyone (or anything) they didn't intend to.

Packman
August 11, 2010, 12:52 AM
So, I got to wondering about this...I decided to experiment.:D

I put on a pair of dress pants, these being more similar to period-correct pants than my jeans.

I got my Ruger Bearcat out and verified it was unloaded. Then, I made sure it was unloaded. After that, I unloaded it again. (Everyone happy? This was all done with safety first.)

I used my Bearcat because it's the only revolver I have on hand right now. I'm expecting my 1858 New Army cap and ball revolver to arrive tomorrow, I'll experiment further with that. Size reference for anyone unfamiliar with a Bearcat-It's a small frame single action with a 4 inch barrel.

I experimented with tucking the gun into my pants, into just my belt, utilizing a holster I turned around to make into cavalry draw, etc. Here's what I learned...

1-This is a feasible carry position, depending on a couple of different factors regarding how you dress, what you carry and what you do during the day.
2-This position doesn't work well with pants worn low around your hips, as is popular today. This is where I normally wear my pants, which is why I switched to dress pants. These I can wear up above my hips, at my natural waist. In order for this position to be viable, I needed my pants up above my hipbone, so that the gun butt rides higher than I would otherwise like.
3-This position requires a decent amount of butt-forward cant to work well. Reference the picture at the top of the thread to see what I mean. Too much vertical component makes the grip hard to access against your side.
4-Old Fuff and others, I'm pleased to report that you most assuredly can draw from this postion without sweeping yourself. As you draw, your (well, at least MY) wrist tends to bend in such a manner that the muzzle is driven to the outside, away from your body. Then, you begin to drive it forward, towards the target, rotating it to a firing position as you go.
5-As previously stated, using single-action firearms adds another level of safety. The hammer is not easily cockable until well into the draw stroke, by which time the muzzle is oriented towards the target, GREATLY reducing the chances of an AD/ND into oneself.
6-This position requires that you rotate the gun further forward around your waist, to about the 2:30 position. Well, it did on mine, anyway.

Overall, I was surprised with the speed with which I was able to access the firearm, draw, cock and dryfire on a target. It's far more accessible than I'd have though, and the added benefit of easy access for the off hand is very nice as well.

My conclusion, based upon this test: If you're not a gunslinger wearing a dropped-leg style holster, this isn't a bad way to go. Wearing strongside keeps the gun out of the way of many other things, as has been mentioned. Keeping the gun riding high on the hips/waist keeps the barrel from hitting things as you sit. Having the gun rotated forward on your waist and oriented butt-first means it would be very difficult to snatch quickly from behind and would enhance retainment from the front. Overall, this is perhaps not the BEST option, but it isn't a BAD option either.

Your mileage may vary. :)

Jim Watson
August 11, 2010, 09:20 AM
If you could find a copy of Chic Gaylord's Handgunner's Guide you could read his take on the high cavalry draw - which is what you see with the usual belt holster - and the low cavalry draw - which was studied in the early days of fast draw competition, but soon dropped in favor of the straight draw.

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