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How much ammo did the average Cowboy carry?

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by Rembrandt, Feb 3, 2012.

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  1. Rembrandt

    Rembrandt Member

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    If you're the average Cowboy riding through hostile Indian country, how much ammo would you want to have on hand? Not like you can ride your horse to the nearest gun show and fill the saddle bags up....

    How much ammo do you think the average Cowboy carried? Did any of them reload or save the brass?
     
  2. Certaindeaf

    Certaindeaf member

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    At least twelve. Or perhaps zero. Probably between the two.
     
  3. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

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    I'd guess an average cowboy carried:
    13 in a 44-40 1873 Winchester magazine.
    5 or 6 in his Colt SAA.
    Another 20 to 40 in a cartridge belt.

    A U.S. cavalryman fighting Indians with Custer would have carried 24 rounds of pistol ammo and 20 rounds for his 45-70 carbine in a McKeever cartridge box on his belt.

    The rest was in the rear with with the gear!

    Capt. Benteen has been criticized by some military analysts because he failed to obey Custer's orders to get the ammunition packs from the rear and rush forward to Custer's aid.

    One thing you need to keep in mind is, big bore black powder ammo is Heavy!
    20 rounds of 45-70 ammo weighs over a two pounds.
    A 50 round box of .45 Colt ammo weighs probably three+ pounds.
    A horse can only pack around so much of it and still get where he is going.


    rc
     
  4. The Sarge

    The Sarge Member

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    Well I got to talk and know a few "old timers" who lived through the late 1800's early 1900's in South Texas and Oklahoma. Rough country back then. Banditos, rustlers and flat out criminals all came to South Texas or the Oklahoma Indian Territories running from the law.
    My Great Grandfather was living and ranching in Oklahoma and South Texas during those times. I was about 10 years old and used to listen to him and my GrandPa talk about ranching et al back then.
    My Great GrandPa always would say "have the same bullet for your rifle and your pistol."
    I do not recall how many rounds they took out checking on the herd etc. I know they talked about being gone for weeks at a time. I also know there was a pocket in his saddlebags he carried a "box of shells" in. Had a flap and a rawhide tie. So I always assumed he had a box of shells (in .45 Colt) in that saddle bag when he went out.
    Now my GrandPa would be known today as a bounty hunter. He had tons of stories and newspaper clippings of him and his pals chasing down and capturing folks who had a bounty on them. He would get paid pretty good for these adventures and it supplemented the ranching/farming income. Now they went out in cars by then of course, but still carried their saddle bags believe it or not. This would be in the 1920's and 30's I am talking about. He would talk about cornering guys and they would surrender and he would get paid $7 bucks for 2 weeks of chasing this guy around South Texas. Deal is he was really proud of earning $7 bucks and I am sure it was a bunch of money then.
    I knew my Great GrandPa and GrandPa very well. I was lucky to know both of them so well. So I am going to say they "carried a box of shells" :)
    My Great GrandPa passed in in 1961 at the age of 84 and my GrandPa died in 1991 at the age of 91.
    Here is my Great GrandPa's rifle (and youngest daughter a few years back) and some of his belongings I cherish in a sealed cabinet over my fireplace.
    GTOSTUFF004.jpg
     
  5. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Member

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    Cowboys (the real kind) depended far more on their rifles then revolvers. Ammunition was carried in cartridge belts, that consisted of a belt usually 2 to 3 inches wide with loops sewn from one end to the other. The number of loops, with one cartridge to a loop, depended on how fat or thin the cowboy was. Apparently most were thin, because most of the original belts I've examined were around size 32 inches.

    If you're really interested in frontier leather, buy a book: Packing Iron; Gunleather of the Frontier West by Richard C. Rattenbury. Lots of B&W and color photographs of the real rigs. Don't expect them to look like tipical Hollywood.
     
  6. bakerloo

    bakerloo Member

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    Sarge, that has to be the coolest family heirloom ever!
     
  7. Murphy4570

    Murphy4570 Member

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    I agree, Sarge has himself a very nice family heirloom! His great grandfather had himself some VERY good genes, judging from the daughter!
     
  8. Certaindeaf

    Certaindeaf member

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    I ain't no cowboy but for many a decade, many a hired gunner was on the street with 18.
     
  9. Double Naught Spy

    Double Naught Spy Sus Venator

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    I don't think there can be said to be any sort of typical loadout for the average cowboy riding through hostile Indian territory. What constituted being a cowboy is rather varied over time and geography as is what would be considered hostile Indian territory.

    Here is a neat article from the northern plains about North Dakota cowboys.
    http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/thro1/rickey.pdf

    Basically, gear was quite limited to what could be carried and cowboys had a lot to carry.

    A revolver might set back a cowboy 2-4 weeks worth of wages. A carbine would run 4-5 month's wages. As noted in the article, after the Indian threat was largely over, few would carry carbines. They were heavy, bulky, and got in the way during cattle tending duties.

    Cowboys were not likely reloaders during drives, though as noted in the article might be inclined to reload during off times such as the winter when they were at home..
     
  10. JohnBiltz

    JohnBiltz Member

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    That would depend. Was he packing supplies or hunting for food along the way? How long was he traveling for. Was he expecting trouble along the way.

    Think of it this way, we can't even agree on how many rounds you should carry when you CCW on a trip to Wal-Mart. What makes you think they were any different?
     
  11. we are not amused

    we are not amused Member

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    Double Naught has it right. Depending on time period and geographical location, a cowboy may be carrying nothing to being loaded for bear. Generally they would carry what they owned, no specific weapon but what they had. It also depended upon whether they were on a cattle drive over long distances, or rounding up strays on a ranch.

    I know a couple of local old time cowboys who used to carry a lever action carbine in a saddle holster, for predators (coyotes), but they were operating from a ranch or a pickup with horse trailer, and were rarely out overnight. This would have been in the 1940's through 80's, in the Flint Hill region of Kansas.
     
  12. mavracer

    mavracer Member

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    People really haven't changed that much. I'd bet a fair sum that some cowboys carried a new winchester lever carbine some had older sharps or a trapdoor, some had a Colt and a back up of some nature along with plenty of ammo while others had a cap and ball revolver. some probably had a shotgun in the scabbard.
    Me I'd do what I do today If I'm close to home what's in the gun and 1-2 reloads, If I'm gonna be away for a while I'll toss an extra box in my bags.
     
  13. fallout mike

    fallout mike Member

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    The "average" cowboy carried all his belongings with him unless he was currently working as a cow hand then he would have some of his stuff at the bunkhouse. I'm not so sure about the 4-5 months wages for a carbine though. I guess it would depend on the timeframe. During the time that a cow poke earned $30 a month, a repeater costs roughly $45. Which was still quite a bit. "a box of shells" were less than $1.
     
  14. BSA1

    BSA1 Member

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    By you saying "passing through hostile Indian country" you are setting the time period from after the end of the Civil War through the 1870's so my first answer is none.

    There were a lot of cap and ball revolvers made during the Civil War and these guns just did not get thrown away after it ended. While some were converted to cartridge starting in the late 1860's you have to remember that transportation to the remote regions of the West was poor so finding a store that stocked your particular caliber was chancy. Wth a cap and ball revolver a can of BP, a tin of caps and round ball mold would keep a cowboy shooting for a long time.

    Moving to cartridges my next response to your question is not as many as in the movies. In addition to my previously mention supply problems comes with it the cost. I found it interesting that in past a person could buy cartridges individually. So if I rode into town needing cartridges but was short on money to buy a full box or didn't need a full box to fill my belt I could go to the hardware store and buy a few rounds.

    Cowboys were not gunfighters and space in a set of saddle bags is limited.
     
  15. CajunBass

    CajunBass Member

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    When I was a kid, (call it the mid '60's..that's 1960's to you wags :) ), we could still buy individual shotgun shells. I did it many a time, picking up pop bottles along the road to pay for them (hunting with a rifle was against the law where I grew up, and I didn't know anybody who owned a handgun).

    From what I've read, "cowboys" didn't wear or carry guns on their person all that often. They were more in the way than anything else while working cattle. They might keep them in their bedroll, or back at the wagon, if they even had one. A cowboys job wasn't to fight indians or bad guys. It was to work cattle. Plain, hard, dull, boring work.
     
  16. Carl N. Brown

    Carl N. Brown Member

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    I suspect most cowboys carried as much ammo as they thought they would need.

    What I have read of Western history (as opposed to dime novels or western movies) it was more Cavalry riding through hostile Indian country, with Cowboys riding cattle trails that avoided Indian territory. I have become to believe that Cowboys'n'Indians was Wild West Show and kids' game stuff, Saturday Matinee melodrama written by Easterners transplanted directly to Hollywood California bypassing the real West altogether.

    That's good advice for lotsa reasons that get lost, not just for economy of supply. I've heard a .44-40 cartridge in a .38-40 Winchester '73 would be a solid jam requiring disassembly of the rifle. Marlin ads for their carbines made a big deal that a 44-40 in a 38-40 Marlin just required ejecting the offending round.
     
  17. buck460XVR

    buck460XVR Member

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    ^^^this.
     
  18. happyret65

    happyret65 Member

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    Back in those days the ammunition was not always the same load either. Lead bullets and a bad load probably caused a problem.
     
  19. fallout mike

    fallout mike Member

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    Cowhands always carried a pistol. For numerous reasons. One of the biggest being able to shoot their horse if they were thrown or bucked off and being drug by one of the stirrups.
     
  20. Old Fuff

    Old Fuff Member

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    Not always. Once the Indian Wars were over, and sometimes before, many ranch owners prohibited the pactice. Also with limited funds, most cowboys would put a quality rifle ahead of any six-shooter. There are many period photographs of round-ups and other ranch activities where none of those pictured have a handgun.

    So said Elmer Keith, and he was in a position to know. But again sometimes carrying a revolver wasn't allowed. The word "always" is too inclusive.
     
  21. jeepnik

    jeepnik Member

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    Sarge, you need to write down all the stories you heard so they won't be lost. Family history tell a much better story of who we are as a people than all the school books ever written.

    My sis and I have started a project where we have the few older relatives left to tell their stories. Yes, we've heard them all before, but this time, we are recording and transcribing them. Too many of my parents and grandparents personal histories are already lost.
     
  22. 2ifbyC

    2ifbyC Member

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    I agree that the Hollywood portrayal of a cowboy is absurd. Who would travel for weeks on a hostile trail and then the first thing you do upon entering a town is to mosey up to a bar and order a shot of whiskey? Or be itching for a gun fight?

    By definition, a cowboy is one who tends cattle or horses. So they were not usually on the trail alone, armed to the hilt, and worried about marauding Indian bands.

    However, if they were close to the Southern border, my guess is they packed more ammo. They weren’t about to turn over their revolvers to a bunch of Mexicans with no stinking badges.:)
     
  23. hogshead

    hogshead Member

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    I imagine the first thing I would do would be to mosey up to a bar. Still trying to picture being drug by a horse and pulling my revolver and shooting it. From what I know about horse's that would only scare them and make them run faster. Horse's are tough don't think a 45 lc in the side would kill them very quick.
     
  24. Jim NE

    Jim NE Member

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    Question:

    Speaking of Winchester capacity, my brother inherited my dad's Winchester '73 in .38-40 caliber. It has a LONG octagonal barrel. Since I don't have the gun, I don't know exactly how long the barrel is, but the overall length of the gun is roughly the same as an old Springfield trap door 45-70, standard length (He had one of those, too. Not a carbine). So it's a pretty long gun. Any idea what the magazine capacity is?

    Don't know if there was only one standard length for the really long barrels on old Winchesters or not. If there was more than one length for the long barrels, then I realize it would be hard to determine exactly what the capacity is. I could ask my brother, but I'm fairly sure he doesn't have any 38-40 ammo to load it up with and find out. Did they put 36" barrels on them? Something tells me that might be about right.

    Just curious. Thanks
     
  25. JohnM

    JohnM Member

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    My Dad grew up in the open country of northern Montana between the years after WWI and when WWII started and he went to the service.
    My Granddad raised horses for the cavalry that ranged over hundreds of miles of unfenced country.
    No hostile injuns or desparados ripping across the range then.
    he said he and his brothers, all 5 of them, all had rifles and handguns.
    But, he said they didn't shoot much because they couldn't afford to.
    If they were going to be out gathering horses for some days they usually had a rifle along for some meat. Sometimes just a .22.
     
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