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Handgun Carry in the Old West

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Tequila jake, May 4, 2012.

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  1. Tequila jake

    Tequila jake Member

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    I just read a magazine article that stated that most of the folks in the Old West, contrary to what we see on TV and in the movies, did not carry on the hip. The writer stated that most carried either cross-draw or in shoulder holsters. Does anybody know if this is true?

    Tequila Jake
     
  2. LightningMan

    LightningMan Member

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    I don't know or doubt it, but considering even in the old west many towns had laws against carring firearms openly. So carring a concealed pistol would likely be in order, thus a pocket pistol or shoulder type holster under a top coat would make sence. LM
     
  3. MCgunner

    MCgunner Member

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    This guy seems to have a hip holster on. Wild Bill was said to carry a brace of .36 caliber Navy Colts stuffed in his sash, no holster.

    [​IMG]
     
  4. royal barnes

    royal barnes Member

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    Many did carry crossdraw. It was much more comfortable on horseback. Many also carried strongside butt to the rear. Both methods are seen in period photos. A few carried in shoulder rigs. It was simply a matter of choice.
     
  5. Iggy

    Iggy Member

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    Most "Cowboys" left their handgun in their bedroll in the chuck wagon unless they knew there was trouble afoot.

    You ain't been beat until you've rode a horse across tough country with a gun rig bouncin' around and bangin' you in the ribs and back.

    Workin' cattle or fencin' and that danged gun can git you hung up and kilt just a little bit.

    Cowboys, if they could afford a hand gun and rig, put it on to go to town and git their picture took at the local tintype emporium for to send to the folks back home.

    There was lawmen and gunmen that carried a gun slung on their hips, but to cowboys, those gun rigs were a true pain in the butt.:cool:
     
  6. ApacheCoTodd

    ApacheCoTodd Member

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    I'd go along with that for the most part. Open carrying here in Arizona on the hip - on the motorcycle sucks . I can't even imagine riding a horse with a "hollywood" rig danglin' and tanglin' up my life on a daily basis - it's a cross draw for me.

    I guess a significant indicator of some of the prevalent styles would be to study photos of cavalry and mounted infantry of the day. I should think between learned behavior and available hardware - it would have had quite an influence.
     
  7. joecil

    joecil Member

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    I belong to a group called NCOWS for cowboy action shooting. They really are period correct in both dress and gear.

    Now I had a fellow named Cliff Fendley http://www.fendleyknives.com/leather.htm make a holster for me to fit the period from 1880's based on an F.A. Meanea called a Cheyenne style. There is a book called Packin Iron that they use to be authentic as it shows great pictures of all the holsters of the 19 century including the military.

    Now most of the TV shows used the holster with the tie downs, slotted belt etc which became the Movie version of the western holster in the 1930's. Cross draw was common however they didn't use a special holster as they just slid the right hand holster to the left side, especially when riding a horse.

    Below is a picture of the holster/belt I had made which is dyed using a natural walnut dye as done then. All is hand stitched using linen tread that has been waxed. It is a dead on right down to the engraving to the original also. The gun in the picture is his not mine as I carry a Uberti while that is a Ruger. I've since had him make me one for a 7 1/2" barrel and a sheath for a knife.

    Oh and a Note here: the picture above posted by MCgunner is of Billy the kid. If you look at the rifle you will notice something wrong with the picture. The picture is reversed hence he wore his pistol on his right side as they never made a rifle that loads from the right side of the gun. Hence it kills the left hand gun theory completely.
     

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  8. oldfool

    oldfool Member

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    I always heard that those who carried were the exception to the rule, any firearm any style, and that the vast majority who owned any firearm at all, owned a shotgun, not much of anything else
    don't sound heroic or romantic, but probably true
    a bird in the pot beats a bird in the bush

    methinks handgun carry for the vast majority who carry is pretty much a 'modern invention', odd as that sounds
    horse optional, then and now
    most pioneers did a lot of walking, not riding
     
  9. Jim K

    Jim K Member

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    Two things about "Old West" guns:

    1. Cowboys all carried SAA Colts - in the movies. In the real world an SAA cost over half a month's pay for the average cowboy, who was at about the same relative pay scale and social position as the "cowburger boy" at Mickey D's. Those cowboys who did carry guns usually carried what we would call "suicide specials", or other inexpensive guns, in their pockets, not in fancy holsters. Townsmen (and women) often went armed and they also carried small guns, though often of better quality. reflecting a higher income and position on the social ladder.

    2. Many ranches banned cowboys from even having a handgun at all; when a man was hired he turned in his gun and it was kept in the office safe until he left. Rifles, belonging to the ranch, would be issued as needed to keep down dangerous critters, 2 and 4 legged variety.

    Jim
     
  10. joecil

    joecil Member

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    Popular hand guns also where the Schofield by S&W around 1869 and became the bullet of choice even over the 45 Colt round as it fires in both guns though the 45 Colt won't in the Schofield. The Schofield was a break top gun and carried by a number of famous outlaws and lawmen in the day including Billy the Kid. Another was the 1875 Frontier, and 1890 Remington which was similar to the Colt SAA colt. Winchester levers as well as the older Henry Yellow boys where also available. There was also a lot of Civil war style pistols still being used with more than a few using Colt conversion units from cap and ball to cartridge similar to what Eastwood used in the Outlaw Josey Wales and Good, Bad, and the Ugly. I might add their is really little records of gun fights as seen on TV/modern movies as they just didn't except in some very rare situations.

    The cloths that one sees the modern TV cowboy star wearing didn't exist as men's pants didn't have a belt but used suspenders till after about 1903 when the military stared adding belt loops. Till then only baseball uniforms had belt loops (3 to be correct).
     
  11. Jim K

    Jim K Member

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    Civilians had a choice between .45 Colt and .45 S&W, but in reality, there were very few big bore S&W's around. S&W's foreign contracts accounted for some 140,000 guns over the critical period 1873-1878, so they effectively handed over the U.S. civilian market to the competition.

    As to the military, they used the .45 Colt cartridge for only about a year. From 1875 on, the cartridge some call the .45 Army or .45 Schofield was the only revolver cartridge issued by the Army until the advent of the .38 cartridge c. 1892.

    Jim
     
  12. stevekozak

    stevekozak Member

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    I am doubting a lot of stuff in this thread. The idea that cowboys surrendered their sidearms to the ranchers to put in a safe sounds suspiciously like some liberal crapola.
     
  13. Lawdawg45

    Lawdawg45 Member

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    I come from a long line of Sheriff's, Marshal's, and Pinkerton agents, and I'm blessed to have several old Tin Types of them. Most had their pistol stuffed in their waistband, but one did have a gun rig. While Hickok had a double rig, Wyatt Earp had his tucked in the small of his back and in his duster.

    LD
     
  14. Jim NE

    Jim NE Member

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    This is true, from what I've heard. And the more notorious a town was (Dodge City, Tombstone) the more likely this was true, though I don't know specifically about any particular town.

    My grandfather, born in the 1890's, knew an oldtimer who, in his youth, knew Wild Bill Hickok when he was in Abilene, KS. I believe it was illegal to tote guns there. He said the consensus of the Abilene citizenry was that the only people who carried guns into town back then were losers or people looking for trouble.

    He also said Hickok, as sheriff, was no better person than the outlaws he shot.
     
  15. CraigC
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    CraigC Member

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    I see a lot of both styles, crossdraw and strongside. Most your crossdraws are probably a carryover from the cavalry. I don't know about cowpunchers but somebody bought and used all those hundreds of thousands of sixguns produced through 1900. I also do not think that carrying a sixgun in a proper leather rig was any less comfortable then than it is now. Lots of folks even have to get into and out of cars wear a pistol and a lot more. We call them law enforcement. I wear a sixgun rig all the time and usually forget it's even there. :rolleyes:
     
  16. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    A period article in the Sacramento Bee about gold and silver mining town Bodie, CA said that you seldom saw an Army or Navy revolver in a belt scabbard, the usual weapon was a Bulldog revolver in a canvas or leather lined coat pocket. Of course those were miners and merchants, not cowhands or travelers on a horse for long rides.
     
  17. hogshead

    hogshead Member

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    I agree with you craig C . I wear my sixgun every time I ride my horse. Just use a hip holster no problems.
     
  18. qwert65

    qwert65 Member

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    I dont think Calvary holsters were worn cross draw I'm pretty sure they carried strong side butt forward, this had to do with carrying the saber as well
     
  19. Greg528iT

    Greg528iT Member

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    Also remember that photographers back in the day, like today possesed PROPS, so it's hard to say a true old tin type, the cowboy may have borrowed said pistol just for the photo. Just saying.
     
  20. Greg528iT

    Greg528iT Member

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    [​IMG]

    Not sure one would carry a knife, outside a scabbard either.
     
  21. JRH6856

    JRH6856 Member

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    The majority of period holsters I have either or seen pix of were, except for cut down cavalry holsters, little more than leather pouches that loosely held the gun. Retention was usually a thong looped over the hammer spur. No holsters formed to fit the gun, no reinforced leather. Holster design has come a long way in 140 years.
     
  22. shiftyer1

    shiftyer1 Member

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    I assume there were far more longguns of some type being carried. Depending on your financial status a rifle or shotgun would be far more useful and practical.

    My grandfather died in the 70's he was almost 100 years old. He wasn't a cowdriving cowhand in Texas but a Minnesota farmer. This was still indian country, he told stories to my dad of having to hide in the sloughs as a child when the indians would come to raid the house.

    He was also in the cavalry in ww1 and a sharpshooter. The only firearm he ever kept around and used all his life was a shotgun. He did bring back a handgun from the war but never used it.

    Some employers today ask you to leave your guns at home and people do everyday. If you worked on a ranch back then you do what the boss says or got fired....nothing different then or now. The difference is that work = home back then. Here lemme hold your revolver so you don't shoot yer foot off, heres a rifle for critters and stuff.

    If that ranch paid well, had a good cook and a draftfree bunkhouse with a good wood stove I'm in.

    Just like today:) Good enough pay and benefits and you kinda like your job or need it. Your gun gets locked up by the boss(at home) and if you need one.....use mine.

    I do find crossdraw more comfortable for a working gun, I try to find a holster with a slant but mostly just a right hander slid around. I'm sure back then some felt as I do.

    Just like i'm sure some carried a matched pair of lovely engraved pearl handeled colts, The same applies today.
     
  23. XGibsonX

    XGibsonX Member

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    Gone...Adios
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2012
  24. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Member

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    From what I've read most Cowboys relied on a levergun carried in a saddle scabbard for protection on the range. Most town-folk used a shotgun more than anything else. In actuality they should call the shotgun the gun that won the West.
     
  25. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Member

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    Actually I think they carried weak side because at the time the "brass" considered the saber their primary weapon which was held in their strong side hand. I think I remember reading that somewhere but I could be wrong...
     
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