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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    Oh yes, me too. The railroad race is a rarely covered topic that should be addressed more. Another "group" that gets little attention is the sodbuster; there were probably more "nesters" on the plains by 1885 (thanks in no small part to the railroad) than there were ranchers. Sure, the ranchers and cattlemen were there first; the sodbuster was the one who quite literally "settled" the West. And I think more films should focus on that.

    More than likely, yes. My wife says I have a problem in that I can't enjoy a movie; I have to point out all the things they're doing wrong!

    You're exactly right, Cap. I seem to recall reading somewhere that most settlers who went West carried a single shot shotgun, and it was usually a muzzle-loaded one at that. The shotgun was considered the "all purpose" weapon back in the day; load it with shot for small critters and ball for the big 'uns. I also recall that around the time of the Transcontinental Railroad, Bannerman's was selling surplus Springfield muskets for something like $2.50 a piece; just about any settler could afford one. Whereas, I believe the going price for an 1866 Winchester was $17 around that time, and a Sharps was about $12 or $14; I'm going off of memory so I may be incorrect. Pistols likely wouldn't be too popular with the general public, as you said it's 100% the wrong weapon for the jobs you mentioned above. And as such, gun belts weren't too popular either. It makes me wonder (as a person who grew up on TV westerns) just how much guys really carried handguns back in the day. The more I think about it, the more it seems like they wouldn't be too popular. Then again, Colt, Remington, and others sold a LOT of handguns during that time period, so someone was carrying them.

    Mac
     
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  2. Captain*kirk

    Captain*kirk Member

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    Most likely bandits, bank robbers, and town shopkeepers. Most dirt farmers back then probably didn't see another person outside of family or farm/ranch hands but maybe once a month or even less. And you can't even trust photographic evidence, as most photographers back then shooting photos in saloons, main street town scenes and the like were 'staged events' (bring your hardware and I'll buy you a drink). I'm gonna go through my Time/Life Old West books tonight and see how many "helpless, unarmed" people I can spot...
     
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  3. Captain*kirk

    Captain*kirk Member

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    Mac, this has turned into a great thread!
    One of the most realistic westerns is actually Gunsmoke (earlier episodes), to some degree, in the fact it portrays the average sodbuster's life as a bleak, barren existence with little reward other than to survive to struggle through another day, another year. Most of those folks died young, worn to a frazzle, and lost children and spouses at a horrific rate that had nothing to do with gun play. The ramshackle one room shacks many of them lived in were not much better than a pop-up tent, some worse. There are several episodes where a distraught and down-trodden dirt farmer turns his back on his 160 acres and just loads up the wagon and walks away. Wonder how often that really happened in reality?
     
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  4. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    A lot more than we'd think. To get slightly off topic but along the same lines, I recommend a book called The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Eagan. It's an in-depth look at the dust-bowl through the eyes of those who lived it. Much like my now-departed grandfather. Everyone should be required to read it, if nothing else so we can be damned thankful for what we have today.

    The sodbuster of the Frontier days faced a lot more than we realize; fire, flood, pestilence, and crop failure were far more prevalent than the "range wars" portrayed in the movies. I'd estimate that only 1 in 4 or 5 of them "stuck" long enough to claim title to their land (I think the government's condition was you had to stay 3 or 5 years before it was yours to keep, otherwise it went back to them). It was a hard life, to be sure, but I wonder if wasn't a bit better than the lives the left in Scandinavia or The Old Country; no landlords breathing down your neck, and 160 flat and clear acres must've seemed like ten thousand to the poor crofters who'd toiled by hand and one old donkey on four or five acres on the side of a rocky Irish hill. Sure is a lot to "take in", as it were.

    I'm glad you're enjoying the thread, I know I am. I noticed that there were a few Henrys featured early on, especially in the last episode of S1, where they were in the hands of the Cheyenne who'd derailed the train. Honestly, I highly doubt they'd have had many cartridge guns at that time, same as most of the white settlers. Likely the Indians would've still had bows (some were shown to) and a few muskets or trade guns.

    Mac
     
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  5. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    I think I've figured out why Cullen switched to the Remington. It would appear that after his outlaw stint, he lost his Griswold to the army. So, it would appear he made the switch out of necessity as I'm sure all that was availible to him at Rails End. Or that's what makes sense to me any way.

    Mac
     
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  6. dickydalton

    dickydalton Member

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    Sorry boys, I often take one gun with many cylinders out to shoot. Not your Cup of cake, fine, it's America. Be careful with your insults.
     
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  7. gtrgy888

    gtrgy888 Member

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    There is a legitimate safety issue with carrying a loaded and capped cylinder off the gun. The frame isn’t just useful when firing the gun, it also actively PREVENTS impact to seated caps with the recoil shield. With the cylinder removed, one fumble and one or more caps can be ignited by a fall to the ground, shooting at least one ball up at an angle. In my experience, that random angle seems to point straight at the idiot who drops them. Murphy’s law in action. If you have butterfingers like me, you’re better off keeping capped cylinders in the guns where they belong. Once I cap a cylinder, I never tap out the wedge without very good reason.
     
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  8. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    We were discussing historical accuracy, not how you chose to shoot/carry in modern times. If you can furnish hard evidence that people in the West did indeed carry multiple revolver cylinders, then by all means do so. I've never seen anything proving that was the case, but by all means prove me wrong.

    However, I don't believe anyone insulted anyone here, and quite frankly I don't appreciate your insinuation that we did. If you would like to be a civil part of this discussion, by all means please do. Or don't, the choice is yours.

    Mac
     
  9. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    Yea, that. I'm satisfied that I'd be the one getting hurt trying to swap in a hurry. Its a lot different at the range than in a hard fight, so keeping loaded cylinders in their respective guns just makes common sense.

    Mac
     
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  10. windini

    windini Member

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    I recommend Stephen E. Ambrose's "Nothing Like It in the World; The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869."

    Excellent history of the project and the times.
     
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  11. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    Thanks! I'll certainly look into it!

    Mac
     
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  12. twarr1

    twarr1 Member

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  13. dickydalton

    dickydalton Member

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    OK, I'll be nice.
    The debate over whether frontiersmen carried spare loaded cylinders for their revolvers, during the era of percussion revolvers and into the age of early metallic cartridge six-guns, continues to rage on.


    On one side, the naysayers state that this is just one more bit of Wild West or Hollywood mythology, while proponents feel that, in those early years, when revolvers were slow to reload, if two six-shooters weren’t carried, some carried an extra fully-loaded and capped cylinder.

    It is indeed a fact that the practice has been reflected in movies like Clint Eastwood’s 1985 flick, Pale Rider. True, recorded accounts of frontiersmen citing the use of a spare cylinder are almost nonexistent. Undeniably, the best-known example of this practice is that of Pony Express rider “Pony Bob” Haslam, who recorded that, just prior to riding across Nevada in 1860, he “adjusted…my Colt’s revolver, with two cylinders ready for use in case of emergency.”

    In an age when many people couldn’t read or write, if one example can be found, then certainly several others must have gone unrecorded. During the Civil War, the Missouri raiders and Mosby’s Virginia partisans each carried several revolvers. It stands to reason that if a revolver was rendered inoperable, rather than completely discard it, you might salvage the otherwise useless cylinder and carry it loaded and ready for use.

    For irrefutable documentation of the practice, one can refer to a number of studies by respected firearms historians, R.L. Wilson, Roy Marcot and R. Bruce McDowell, who not only write about it, but also show numerous photos of revolvers produced with spare cylinders. The manufacture of revolvers with extra cylinders was not uncommon, with some revolver makers, like Remington, advertising the sale of extra cylinders.

    During the percussion age, especially with the five-shot Paterson Colts of the 1840s, extra cylinders were an aid in quick reloading, and many percussion firearms were sold with a spare cylinder. Later, when the first self-contained metallic cartridge revolvers appeared, arms producers found it expedient to offer their metallic cartridge revolvers with an optional percussion cylinder, for use in the event that the new copper cartridges were not always available in certain remote locales. These revolvers included the Colt Thuer conversion and the Plant (both loaded their copper cartridges from the front of the cylinder), as well as revolvers by Remington, which converted its cap-and-ball revolvers to handle both metallic cartridge and percussion cylinders.

    Even in Europe, during the mid-19th century, England’s John Rigby & Sons produced pepperbox revolvers with spare quick-change barrels for fast reloads. Also, the Prussian Kreigsmarines were issued 1851 Navy Colts with a spare cylinder, as well as a belt and holster rig containing a circular pouch for holding it.

    In the face of all of this evidence, the question must be asked, why would these major arms makers produce extra cylinders if the public was not buying and utilizing them? There’s no doubt they were used. I’ll put my spare cylinder on it!



    Phil Spangenberger writes for Guns & Ammo, appears on the History Channel and other documentary networks, produces Wild West shows, is a Hollywood gun coach and character actor, and is True West’s Firearms Editor.
     
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  14. Reeferman

    Reeferman Member

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    Brian is a really nice guy and was serious about his work but is retired now. He has done a whole lot of movies and tv shows over the years. Like he has said it’s hard to put any let alone an original firearm in the hand of some total anti gun whack job actor/ actress and then watch them just throw it to the ground after the scene. I can listen to him talk all day about some of them.
    He owns Proline Shooters gun shop here.
     
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  15. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    A good article, and a fair argument for the use of spare cylinders. Not denying that, but I'd say your common man didn't utilize them as often as they should've. It would seem more research is needed. Thanks for the information.

    That's a shame, really. But an informative interview nonetheless.

    Mac
     
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2021
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  16. Jimster

    Jimster Member

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    9BB88E53-E87A-45E2-9B5A-2EC0055B474D.jpeg Here’s my “Hell on Wheels” collection! It’s my favorite period of the old west and I love trains to boot.
    Still working up the nerve to refinish the ugly Uberti stock finishes.
     
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  17. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    Nice! Always wanted a Henry. Had to "settle" for these though:

    0814212102.jpg

    I've got it on my mind to convert the Navy to 38, being as how the '66 is chambered in that as well. And, I really like conversions. The yellowboy happens to be one of the old Navy Arms replicas that allegedly have no parts availability. No matter, not gonna put thousands of rounds through it in a year. But its a hoot to shoot!

    Mac
     
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  18. Jimster

    Jimster Member

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    Beautiful shootin irons!
     
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  19. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    Thanks! The '66 has become a favorite, and it's recent acquisition inspired me to re-watch the series in the first place, and in turn it and the '51/'61 Navy hybrid shown inspired this thread. At some point, the local gun club is planning to do a "western shoot" (not a SASS type event) and I'm trying to get some things together for it. Hence, my questions about carrying spare ammo "correctly". And I've gotten a lot of good info here about the time period. Now I'm trying to hunt down a good belt knife, and a couple other little pieces, and hope to have them gathered up by month's end.

    Mac
     
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  20. Captain*kirk

    Captain*kirk Member

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    Beautiful guns, Mac! My Yellow Boy is chambered in .44-40, which, of course, none of my other guns are. It would be nice to have a rifle/pistol combo that ate the same food, but alas...
    Do you load for BP or smokeless/Trail Boss in .38?
     
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  21. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    Sometimes I use BP, but mostly use Bullseye and cast lead bullets. I've loaded up some stout loads using 2400 and JHP bullets for the 66, though. The plan is to use it to bag a deer this fall, but how well it'll work remains to be seen.

    To go with the yellowboy, I also have a pair of SAA clones in 357. Only carry one at a time, though; never was fond of toting two guns on my hip. Matter of fact, I usually just shove one in the hip pocket of my jeans when knocking around the farm rather than putting on my gun belt.

    I sometimes wished my outfit was in 44 rather than 38, but they sure are a lot of fun to shoot!

    Mac
     
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  22. Captain*kirk

    Captain*kirk Member

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    I have been loading Unique with mine but I'm falling in love with BPCR loading for my Pedersoli Sharps and Walker/1858 conversions. I feel I might be missing out on some of the true romance of the Yellow Boy by shooting smokeless (not to mention the extra cleaning needed!) There is something very appealing about filling a case to the brim and then seating a bullet on it for a tightly compressed load that speaks to the inner cowboy and Indian fighter in us all, no?
     
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  23. MacAR

    MacAR Member

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    Oh, you're absolutely right. The holy black is a lot of fun, but I despise the clean up. And to be sure, it evokes memories of the old days. But I'm really enjoying the bullseye, especially since I got two pounds of the stuff, along with 300 bullets and several cases, for free!

    But speaking of BP, I've decided to buy a kit and start making my own paper cartridges. I was always under the impression that they used conical bullets rather than round balls, but after researching a bit, found that roundball was used predominantly. The more ya know, eh?

    Mac
     
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  24. Captain*kirk

    Captain*kirk Member

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    Indeed!
     
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  25. Jimster

    Jimster Member

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    A great advantage that the 44-40 blackpowder cartridge has is that the thin, bottle necked brass really seals well upon firing and protects the action of the lever gun as compared to the straight walled thicker brass of other pistol calibers. My 1860 Henry stays practically spotless.
     
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