(WY) Exhibit fires back at unarmed pioneer theory

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Dec 24, 2002
Moscow on the Colorado, TX
Exhibit fires back at unarmed pioneer theory

By Karen Cotton
[email protected]
Published in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle

"Draw! Firearms of the Old West" is a comprehensive exhibition of guns about the role of firearms in the Old West.

Michael Kassel, curator of exhibits for the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, said there are papers written by scholars that indicate most Americans on the Frontier didn't even know how to handle a gun.

Kassel said the information indicates the idea of guns in the Old West as depicted in the movies is a complete fantasy.

There have been some scholarly papers that say many Americans didn't even have firearms in the Old West.

"In the interpretation for the exhibit there will be information about the history of each of the firearms," Kassel said.

"My personal statement is I disagree with the theory that Americans didn't have firearms in the Old West or knew how to use them," he said. "Everywhere American civilization went, the firearm went."

Before the Civil War there were few U.S. gun makers, Kassel said.

"Each piece was unique because they were built by individual blacksmiths/gunsmiths and were made by hand, with a few exceptions," he said.

Eli Whitney was the first to make standardized gun parts, primarily for the U.S. Army.

"Then Colt came along and had an idea for a revolver firearm that would fire more than one shot between reloading," Kassel said. "He revolutionized not only the gun industry in the U.S., but he was one of the fathers of the American Industrial Revolution."

Samuel Colt, Oliver Winchester and Smith and Wesson began to mass produce firearms for markets worldwide just prior to the Civil War.

Kassel also argues that pioneers on the Oregon Trail in the 1840s took firearms with them.

"Firearms were an expensive family heirloom and they considered the West dangerous country. There were hostile natives, there wasn't any law for their protection and they also used their firearms to get food," Kassel said.

The mountain men who came before the pioneers had rifles because it was an essential part of their job.

"They used rifles for hunting and for protection," Kassel said. "They were also traders and those traders traded their guns to Indians for furs."

The U.S. was flooded with firearms after the Civil War.

"Factories in the north produced thousands of guns and if they were not used in the war, they were sold as surplus," Kassel said.

During the Civil War there were 3 million men under arms and that number didn't include civilians that might have been armed.

During the Civil War and after there were rapid advancements in gun technology.

Samuel Colt, Eliphalet Remington II, Oliver Winchester, Spencer (later sold to Winchester Firearms), Smith and Wesson and numerous other small arms manufacturers were entering the market.

There were a large number of Americans that were displaced by the war and looking for greater fortunes in the West.

They carried firearms because there wasn't law and order in the Frontier.

"Ranchers were protecting their cattle, stagecoach drivers were protecting their riders, railroads protected their workers, miners protected their claims. In Cheyenne before law and order, people felt they needed firearms to protect their property and lives. That happened while Cheyenne was a Hell on Wheels Town," Kassel said. "Cheyenne founded a police department and once the law came to the city the guns were quietly put away."

It's well documented that the American West was filled with firearms.

"They were rarely used to the dramatic effect that Hollywood uses for its dramatic stories or that are read about in Western novels," Kassel said.

The reason we remember stagecoach robberies, gun fights, train robberies and duels is because they were the exception and not the rule: exceptions like Billy the Kid, Big Nose George, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Johnson County War and the Wyatt Earp shoot out at the OK Corral.

"An armed society is a polite society," said science fiction author Robert Heinlein. It is a quote Kassel is using in the show.

The common conception that cowboys always had sidearms may very well be true in early cattle drive days but cowboys working on ranches usually didn't need to carry them.

As soon as people started going to the West and the city of Cheyenne was established, people brought firearms to hunt and for sport.

The exhibit will have examples of the 1873 Winchester and the single action U.S. Army Colt revolver.

"Those two guns were termed the guns that won the West," Kassel said.

Unique hunting arms will include black powder muzzle loading and breech loading guns, lever action and pump action models and a collection of Smith and Wesson pistols from the late 19th century.

Another gun on display will be a plated mother of pearl Smith and Wesson revolver supposedly given by Buffalo Bill Cody to one of his lawyer's wives.


"Draw! Firearms of the Old West" is an exhibit and history of firearms in the Old West and the purpose they served.


Aug. 26-Feb. 20: weekdays, 8:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; weekends, Sundays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.


Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum, 4610 N. Carey Ave.

While the Colt SAA and Winchester got the silver screen glory, it was likely the single shot Shotgun that accompanied most poor pioneers west.

I'm pretty darn sure there was no such thing as an unarmed trapper.

Might have to take a tip up to Cheyenne for a look see.
Scholars, huh?

"... there are papers written by scholars that indicate most Americans on the Frontier didn't even know how to handle a gun."

Are they referring to Michael Bellisles, formerly of Emory University, and his now totally discredited "Arming America"? The same guy that had to return the Bancroft prize for history? The guy that claimed he had reviewed records of gun ownership in San Francisco from the late 1800's after they were destroyed in the '06 quake and fire? That "Scholar"?

When in doubt re-write history to fit your world view seems to be the "scholarly" anti's view of life.
Michael Bellisles, formerly of Emory University, and his now totally discredited "Arming America"?

Probably still widely quoted by gun control advocates. No guns on the frontier? What a total idiot. Guns are part of American culture- moreso than any other nation on earth. How can anyone believe that garbage? Even the most extreme liberal must know in their innermost heart that guns are the American thing (no matter what they say in public).
Actually, "the gun that won the West" was most likely a surplus Civil War rifle, sold at bargain basement price by a cash hungry U.S. Government to a cash-poor sodbuster.

That turd who wrote "Armed America", cited evidence from a San Francisco courthouse that burned down decades before he did his "research" there!

He blatantly falsified data from the pre-Revolutionary War period, because it dids not support his foregone conclusions!

I won't bother to to list his other lies, but an independent peer review of scholars thoroughly hosed the clown, without benefit of KY!

Emory University kept a full report of this on their website some years ago, I don't know if they still do.

He was fired from his professorship. Run a search to get the particulars.

(Leeebrulls still cite this clown because they PREFER to get hosed without benefit of KY.)
Read "Roughing It" by Mark Twain. It is based on his experiences in the frontier west in 1861 and later -- he went west with his brother who was appointed Secretary to the Nevada Territorial Legislature.

He discusses guns frequently and at length. There is a long hilarious part about "Mr. Bemis" and his Allen pepperbox revolver.

"I'd have shot that gangly lubber they call Hank, if I could have done it without crippling several other people -- the old Allen's so confounded comprehensive!"
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