Hell On Wheels, Colt, Winchester, and the Post War West

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by MacAR, Aug 12, 2021.

  1. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    I've started re-watching Hell On Wheels recently, and I've noticed something: lots of those guys are carrying cap and ball guns. I mean, like everybody; didn't notice a lot of conversions. But a lot of them also have Henry's and '66 Winchesters, and a couple of cartridge shotguns (which may not be exactly accurate). So my mind wonders (and wanders): how did the real Westerners carry spare ammo during that era? Nobody has cartridge belts that I see. I'm sure paper cartridges were in use, so did they just slip a box in their pocket? I don't notice a lot of guys carrying flasks and bullet pouches with them and don't recall reading much about how things were done then either. And while we're at it, how would they have carried their rifle cartridges? If I were going into a fight I'd want them in something other than my pocket. Just something I'd been thinking about lately.

    The good thing to come out of all this psycho-analyzing is that it's made me want to start making my own paper cartridges for my '51 Navy. They'd be just the ticket for those days that I want to take it on a "woods ramble" but don't want to carry all the "extras"; just my pistol and six cartridges with caps would be more than sufficient.

    Thoughts? I'm more than willing to be educated about this part of history.

    Mac
     
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  2. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    Your average townsperson, if they were carrying a weapon at all, probably wouldn't have been carrying extra ammo in the first place. They're definitely not carrying powder and shot if they are, most people would buy boxes of paper cartridges at the store.

    You're most likely not going to have a chance to reload if you're in a gunfight anyway... I mean, even with paper cartridges, it's going to take you far longer to reload your Navy than most gunfights ever lasted. And despite how common gunfights are in the show, it's not like it's something that basically anyone would expect to get into everyday!

    There are a few instances where Cullen swaps cylinders with his '58 New Army later on in the show. From my reading I don't think that was exactly a common thing to carry either, although it was certainly possible. I seem to remember that some of the characters did wear gun belts too, at least later in the show, but again I wouldn't think that would be super common (certainly not average townsfolk) unless you're out and about somewhere you expect to run into trouble. And in that case, if you're traveling or out in a dangerous area, you probably are carrying extra ammo, but most likely in a satchel or a pouch of some kind. This is similar to what a soldier might have worn for a kit, for instance:

    66484.jpg

    That's an interesting point about the shotgun shells, not something I noticed, nor something I would've guessed existed (at least in common use) at the time. Turns out, there were in fact shotshell cartridges at the time the show takes place! Though from what I'm reading, they would have been very new (for that matter, so would the Yellowboy rifles that they seem to have no trouble getting) and I wouldn't think super common that far from the civilized world. Here's a neat source about the history of shotshell cartridges: http://www.rbs0.com/shotshell.htm

    I'm not a historian or anything, could have some things wrong. Like you, I'm just really interested in the time period, and have done my share of reading about it.
     
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  3. Arkansas Paul

    Arkansas Paul Member

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    In one episode Cullen swaps out cylinders on his Griswold with a fresh loaded one.
    That's a pretty cool detail.
    I know that happened a lot with Remingtons, as they were easier to swap out a cylinder on the go.
    The Colts weren't quite so easy to do that.
     
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  4. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    A lot of good info there, bear. I sorta figured that "townies" wouldn't be carrying extra ammo, but I imagine that those out on the "trail", like drovers and immigrants, would certainly have reloads. What that consisted of is purely guessing. I imagine the better-off folks bought cartridges; seems like I read somewhere that "the average frontiersman was no more a reloader than most of us today. Most went down to the hardware store and bought a box of cartridges, whether for their Henry or Colt Navy". I'm sure that's likely the case as I can't see anyone rolling paper cartridges by the campfire!

    One thing I've noticed, is the whole 1858 NMA cylinder swap "thing" didn't really come about until after Pale Rider. I don't ever recall reading anything in period writing about men carrying extra cylinders, but after that movie came out, suddenly everyone wanted to do it. Maybe it's just me, I dunno, but that never appealed to me. Heck, even if carrying a loaded cylinder, you'd have to cap it after you put it in the gun. Otherwise, carrying it capped seems like a good way to get hurt.

    I've got a couple pouches, etc that would be period correct. So I think I may experiment with a few of them and see what feels "right" to me, and try them along with my Navy and Yellowboy on my next woods walk. Won't be anytime soon though; too hot, too many ticks, and too many snakes. Think I'll wait 'til fall.

    Mac
     
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  5. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    I never noticed that; have to check that out. Which reminds me... what he has isn't a Griswold, or at least not like any I've seen; looks more like a brass framed 1860 Army. Of course I may be wrong.

    And another thing: why did Cullen go from the Griswold to the New Model Army? I think the Griswold was a .36, and the Army obviously a .44, so I could see some advantage in power. Is the NMA a conversion? Some of those were done back then to 44 Henry IIRC and would take the same cartridge the '66 did. Again, correct me if I'm wrong.

    Isn't history fun?

    Mac
     
  6. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    No, you are right. He is usually found with a thing built like an 1860 with brass frame, not a copy of anything made in the 19th century.

    I believe the stories are set long enough after the War for the 1866 to be on the market, but there seem to be so many of them.

    And expecting historical accuracy out of a teevee show is road to madness.

    Friends named "Grier" drive me nuts.
    At one time you might have seen those Confederate revolvers referred to as "Griswold and Grier" instead of "Griswold and Gunnison". Mr Grier was the company lawyer, Mr Griswold's son in law, and would have had his name on a lot of papers, hence the connection.
    Present Mr Grier is from Eufaula, Alabama just about a straight shot over from the site of Griswoldville, Georgia, and I just bet he is a descendant. But I cannot get him interested enough to do the genealogy.
     
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  7. bear166

    bear166 Member

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    Yeah that's always been my understanding as well, that the whole spare cylinder thing wasn't really a thing in the first place. It does seem plausible that people may have tried it, but I don't think it was common by any means.

    I don't remember why he switched to the NMA, or if it's even explained (I know he loved his "Griswold" so I was a bit confused when he suddenly quit using it), but I do seem to remember him doing the cylinder swap trick with that one as well, so I don't think it was a conversion. Interesting thought though, maybe I'll have to re-watch the show already and see if I'm misremembering, even though I just finished it a month ago!

    Hey, speaking of inaccuracies... I was actually pretty impressed with a lot of the attention to history, what with it being a very over-the-top dramatized show, but am I the only one who found it weird how often they referred specifically to "black powder" in the show? If they somehow already knew about smokeless powder, I sure hope they weren't loading it in their cap guns!!!

    And, absolutely right, history is a blast - especially historical blasting, with paper cartridges. :thumbup:
     
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  8. gtrgy888

    gtrgy888 Member

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    Another factor that would encourage carrying paper cartridges in place of flasks was the ubiquity of open flames in day to day life. In stagecoaches, it was a crime to spill black powder on the floor in some jurisdictions, since a spark from a lamp could ignite the passenger compartment, posing a danger to all occupants. Paper cartridges were safer, especially in a wooden box.
     
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  9. Captain*kirk

    Captain*kirk Member

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    WRT to the Henry and the '66; yes. Both used the same cartridge, the .44 Henry (rimfire). My '66 is chambered in .44-40 ( AKA .44WCF) although historically, that chambering was introduced with the Winchester '73.
    As for the Remington NMA, there is no evidence to suggest that the "cylinder swap" was a "thing", either in writing or photographic evidence that I have ever seen. And since all the original NMA's were pretty much hand-fitted, you'd have to be a fairly industrious feller and probably seek out a gunsmith to fit it to your gun...IF you could obtain one. And it would likely cost you a month's wages if you did.
    Evidence suggests that the average guy who needed a bit more firepower than the average Joe simply doubled down on the guns, a la Josey Wales, who always seemed to have another gun somewhere in that duster.
    As far as cartridges; I suspect most folks carried a few in their pockets and the rest resided in their saddlebags.
     
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  10. WestKentucky

    WestKentucky Member

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    One thing worth considering is that they were literally the end of the line. They were at the dead end of dead ends when it came to shipping supplies. If it wasn’t an item directly tied to the railroad business then it would have been somewhat difficult to procure. Not impossible by any means, but just like today they would not have been very keen on using company iron and coal to haul somebody’s order. For that matter it would have been tough to even place the order without well established telegraph wires and whatnot. Supplies would have been scarce unless they made a trip back down the track to a real town. Gunplay would have been very expensive and very inconvenient to resupply. Likely the railroad would have owned several repeaters and a few shotguns for defensive purposes so company owned gear would likely have been all there was, and it would have stayed near the working area.

    By the way… great show. I’m glad I finished it before I had little ears listening though!
     
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  11. ShotgunDave

    ShotgunDave Member

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    The one question I've always had about cylinder swapping, if it was as widespread as some would have us believe, where are all the extra cylinders? As far as I know, not many if any Remington NMA revolvers have been found with extra cylinders. Or any loose extra cylinders either. Even battlefield digs don't turn up many cylinders by themselves. It just makes me wonder.
     
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  12. Cowhide Cliff

    Cowhide Cliff Member

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    No historical evidence has ever shown that this was really done. It's a hollywood myth made especially popular by the movie Pale Rider.
     
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  13. Cowhide Cliff

    Cowhide Cliff Member

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    You wonder correct because it never really happened. Many accounts of civil war era guerrillas carrying multiple cap and ball guns but not extra cylinders.

    And why would they? the cost and trouble of getting an extra cylinder hand fitted to the gun, which all back then would had to be hand tuned and fitted, they could have just gotten an extra gun instead which is what they did.
     
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  14. Tommygunn

    Tommygunn Member

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    I've opined before that it is possible that a few did do it but never reported or wrote about it .... like you are not likely to write about mundane things like putting one's socks on, for example.

    But historical evidence we do have indicates that the "fastest reload" was having another revolver, or several. During the Civil War some irregular units did this; they carried a "brace" of revolvers. So I suggest 99.999999999999999999% of the time, it was multiple revolvers.
     
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  15. Tommygunn

    Tommygunn Member

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    Ah, Cowhide, you were writing reply 13 while I was doing 14. ;)


    Yes, fitment would have been an issue with cylinder swapping too. Too bad they didn't have c n c machining! :what:
     
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  16. Arkansas Paul

    Arkansas Paul Member

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    Yes, that is what he is carrying.
    In the show the Griswold is referred to a few times.
    I think the completely fictional brass framed 1860 Army may have been the closest thing to a Griswold that was readily available.

    And perhaps I chose the wrong wording when I said the cylinder swaps "happened a lot".
    Obviously it wasn't a lot.
    But some cased revolvers did come with spare cylinders.
     
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  17. Arkansas Paul

    Arkansas Paul Member

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    Here's the clip of the swap in the show for anyone who wants to watch it.
    It is entertaining if nothing else.
    He's actually using a Remington in the scene, and the other guy a Colt pattern revolver. That's kind of cool.


     
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  18. Captain*kirk

    Captain*kirk Member

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    No disrespect intended, Paul...
    After watching that ridiculous charade, which conveniently neglected to show the subsequent capping of all six nipples after the swap...would you prefer to do that, or simply pull another sixgun (or derringer, even) in a real-life situation to get the job done?
    Yeah, me too.
    But, as you said, it WAS entertaining! But hardly realistic or efficient.
     
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  19. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    You're probably right, I hadn't really though of it. To be fair, there aren't a lot of Griswolds, replica or otherwise, floating around. More than likely that was the closest thing to it in the prop department.

    I agree, very entertaining scene, but hardly realistic. Up until I started this thread, I'd never consider the feasibility of carrying spare cylinders. After discussing that here, it's quite obvious that most of the "real" westerners wouldn't have done so; much cheaper and easier to "acquire" a second gun. Another thing to consider that might not be "realistic": even the cavalry troopers were carrying '66 Winchesters; would they have not been armed with Allin conversions or some other type of single shot carbine like a Smith or Sharps?

    Thinking about all this has lead me to a couple conclusions, were I to have lived "back then": I would more than likely have invested in a Colt of some sort, be it a '51 Navy or '60 Army, etc. I would also have had the best rifle I could get my hands on; be it a Sharps, Henry, or Winchester. And lastly, I'd have found me some type of little "back up" gun like a '49 Pocket or similar for when the big gun ran dry. Of course, this is lots of fun to think about, but I'm pretty proud I didn't live in that time! A/C and electric lights are pretty nice!

    Mac
     
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  20. Arkansas Paul

    Arkansas Paul Member

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    Definitely unrealistic.
    He even took the time to put the empty in his vest pocket while another guy was trying to get his loaded to shoot at him. lol

    I love the show though.
    With all of the Western movies and books out there, extremely few tell the story of the railroad race.
    The cowboys, lawmen and Indian wars get nearly all of the attention.
    The railroad had as much to do with the settling of the west as probably everything else combined.
     
  21. Cowhide Cliff

    Cowhide Cliff Member

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    Even modern CNC machined ones don't alway just swap and work and they almost all need a certain amount of tuning to get the timing exactly right.

    Plus it's not safe to carry a spare cylinder capped and ready to go anyway do why would anyone do anything like that? No records exist of Colt, Remington, or anyone shipping guns with an extra cylinder and not a single one exists today as evidence someone did it. That would be a huge collectors item if one turned up but none have therefore I'd go so far to say it likely NEVER happened.
     
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  22. Cowhide Cliff

    Cowhide Cliff Member

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    It was nothing but lazy propmasters or propmasters that know nothing about historical arms and/or more than likely they don't care because they assume their audience doesn't know the difference. Costner used the brass framed army in Hatfield and McCoys too.

    A reproduction Pietta Griswold and Gunnison was no trouble at all to come up with during the making of either of those films, I personally have three and until the covid situation EMF had them available fairly often and even Cabelas sold them up until about five or six years ago. It's crazy to me they still push these guns that never were and dropped the one that was the more accurate replica.
     
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  23. Captain*kirk

    Captain*kirk Member

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    Me, I'm guessing the average Joe back then had nothing but a rifle, and likely a single shot at that. A Henry, Winchester or Sharps was a mighty expensive commodity back then. Also very likely the average farmer probably didn't own a six gun unless he carried it back from the ACW, and even less likely he would have a gun belt and rig for it. In most cases they were probably stuffed down their trousers. Most folks needed a rifle for hunting, shooting a fox in the chicken house, or as protection against Indian attacks, and in all three cases the sixgun is the wrong tool for the job. I think the majority of us who grew up on TV westerns have been fed a lot of misinformation that we just naturally take as fact.
     
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  24. Cowhide Cliff

    Cowhide Cliff Member

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    I'm guessing that farmers most likely had an old hardware store shotgun before anything else for hunting and protecting the chicken coop. I know thats what has been handed down from my family, my great grandfathers old shotgun is an old single shot shotgun. I guess my family was too poor to own a rifle especially a repeater.
     
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  25. Captain*kirk

    Captain*kirk Member

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    You're probably spot-on there. The old SS or SXS was probably "the gun that won the West" in reality.
     
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