View Full Version : Cowboys and guns in the 19th century

Ben Towe
February 6, 2011, 03:32 PM
In the thread about cowboy guns it has been put forth that few cowboys even owned guns in the 19th century. My question is where do you get your information?

Doc Hoy
February 6, 2011, 04:17 PM
I don't have an answer for your question but it may depend upon one's definition of the word "cowboy"

I would think that the decision to keep a firearm might depend upon

1) the likelihood that the individual might need one
2) the ability of the individual to afford to buy one and maintain it

Firearms and ammunition were not cheap by 19th century economic standards. A revolver might represent the most technologically advanced contrivance that most citizens owned. The knowledge of how to maintain it might not have been well ingrained.

In post Civil War America The transcontinental railroad, along with other railroad projects occupied a lot of labor. In Steven Ambrose' book he describes how work crews fought off attacks by small bands of Indians with Civil War era firearms. He did not say what percentage of the crews might be armed but it seems as though the number was not large. Where grade crews or track crews were working, an economy followed. When work was complete the economic structure subsided and gravitated to settlements which eventually became towns and cities. Companies of cavalry were detailed to protect the work occassionally but far more often the workers were left to fend for themselves.

This is going to be an interesting thread because there are some folks on the forum who are very familiar with the history of the use of firearms in western America.

Mining operations absorbed people

February 6, 2011, 06:44 PM
Mostly from books and history shows. Guns were expensive and cowboys didn't make much. Ranchers supplied a lot of the working guns when they were needed. In the early days they were more prolific but by the 1880's not so much. Those that did have them usually carried them in saddle bags. Most that did have them would have a rifle or a shotgun.

Doc Hoy
February 6, 2011, 08:27 PM
I am smart enough to know that they do not represent history.

I am with Hawg on this one but not because I have studied it, only because it seems right from a logical standpoint. One of my favorites is "Open Range" but I would have been happier to see the free grazers spending most of their time without the side arm, at least while they were working the cattle. I have been required to carry a .45 for long periods and it isn't fun. The police officers in the group will have more accurate information here.

I have heard people say that "cowboys" side arms were handy for snakes. I have also been told that the best load for snakes is birdshot. Not likely a cattle worker would have had a round for snakes and a round for wild Indians and a round for dishonest gamblers etc.

My limited experience is that most snakes will avoid humans whenever possible. I actually stepped on a small rattler while walking in the Badlands National Monument. I think I surprised him more than he surprised me. He did not strike but permitted me to open the distance. I also saw a water moccasins with a very bad temper. He struck an excavator operator who was retreating. I guess he was not moving fast enough.

With the expense of ammunition, my thought is that more snakes were killed with shovels than revolvers. Again I want to emphasize I have not studied this but my guess is that some of the "factual information" is just factual to the author or to the person who told it to the author.

Ben Towe
February 6, 2011, 10:31 PM
I agree that westerns don't represent history, but I find it difficult to believe that most people would not have carried a gun. It is simple economics. Average wages for a cowboy in the 1870s was $30 and board. A Colt revolver cost about $17 dollars. Two weeks pay. A box of ammo was 50¢ and a Winchester rifle cost $40. I don't know about everyone else but I have spent two weeks pay on a gun. Many times.

February 6, 2011, 10:41 PM
I was watching a program about the Old West a few years ago,and it stated that a Colt Peacemaker cost about 2 months wages for the average Cowboy at the time,so I wouldn't be suprised if many Cowboys were unarmed.Don't forget we have been told about the Old West by Hollywood for the last 100 years.

February 6, 2011, 11:12 PM
The most affordable firearms were war surplus. A lot of cowboys carried cap & ball revolvers til way into the late 1870s. Most of the Colt '73 Peacemakers went to the Army and few into civilian hands until the army contracts were filled first. If a fellow didn't have a lot of loose change a C&B was still affordable and available.

February 6, 2011, 11:25 PM
I’m not sure my family can be called “Cowboys” (where horse people from Virginia) but in five generations, I’m the first one whom has ever been around handguns, or even bought one. Before that the military handed one to them and that was the first time they ever carry or had one . I’m the first one who ever carried one regularly. This covers from the “War of Northern Aggression” up to Gulf War 1.

I’ve always carried a handgun, but my ancestor carried rifles or shotguns.

February 7, 2011, 12:05 AM
Colt manufactured 215,000 51 Navies, 200500 60 Armies, 47000 62 Police models and 340,000 49 pocket pistols. That doesn't include the Remington percussions. I suspect that the vast majority of these guns that survived the Civil War and were not kept as souvenirs made it into the civilian market, and quite a few were converted to cartridge pistols in the 1870s. Between 1873 and 1900, Colt made almost 200,000 SAAs invarious calibers. Obviously there were a lot of other guns around, including of course the Smith & Wesson Scofield, and foreign manufactured arms as well. I'd ballpark it well over a million sidearms in the US at the beginning of the twentieth century, with a total population of around 76,000,000. And rifles were probably more prolific as hunting was not a sport for people from the Appalachians west, it was necessary to survival.

Doc Hoy
February 7, 2011, 06:58 AM
Welcome to the forum and thanks for the numbers.

I was considering this concept as I was making the comment that I did not know how many of the railroad grade crew people had firearms but did not take the time to compile the list. The number of firearms available divided by the population gives you a somewhat usable ratio but there is a lot of room for variance.

On one side, the population includes a lot of folks who never needed a firearm. On the other hand, the number of firearms available might not be anywhere near the number manufactured or introduced through other sources. I think it would also be worthwhile to consider the distribution of the population geographically (mostly in the east), the logistical system which made weapons available in various parts of the land (which in many places might not have included the availability of new weapons.), and the distribution of the likelihood that the individual would encounter a need for the weapon. (I think that if five percent of the people in New York City felt as though they needed a revolver, it may not be a good assumption that a similar percentage of the people in Abilene felt the same way.)

February 7, 2011, 10:10 AM
I really don't have a dog in this fight but as a cattle owner of many years, I never traveled into the herd without a gun somewhere close. Not on my body but certainly in the truck.Too many situations from dispatching a predator to dispatching a "down" animal to be without.

February 7, 2011, 11:54 AM
Here's an interesting take on the subject (http://books.google.com/books?id=H_RrLyV9rDUC&pg=PA222&lpg=PA222&dq=frontier+gun+ownership+-control&source=bl&ots=OpR2HSudnY&sig=cXdTi38JQs0EZPuoLvQtzm5QUMw&hl=en&ei=MRxQTduQMo34sAOs7siRCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CC0Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=frontier%20gun%20ownership%20-control&f=false) from Google Books.

February 7, 2011, 11:55 AM
I don't have any cold hard facts for ya all however having grown up in Kansas in a family who's been here since before 1900 (on both sides) and hunting on farms and ranches who's roots go back to those days. I can say with some assurance that "most" cowboys did own guns however "most" did not own a handgun.

February 7, 2011, 01:03 PM
I'll agree with Mavracer. I believe the lack of money limited most "cowboys" and people of the frontier,to just a rifle & maybe a shotgun.

My father,born 1918, worked as a ranch hand in the Del Rio TX area before WWII for various large ranches. His jobs included riding the fences, repairing fence as needed, and sometimes sleeping in line shacks or out in the open when he had to check miles of fences. He often did not have two nickels to rub together. The horse belonged to the ranch, the saddle was his, as was a model 94 Winchester which was always carried while he was horseback. He told me once that one needed to always have a rifle back then while horse back because of the dangerous animals (hogs, javalina, cougar, a few black bear). Also it was useful to shoot supper with.

He owned no handguns until the 50's. Before that, he only owned shotguns and rifles, and not too many of those, just enough to hunt with. Sometime in the fifties he bought a S&W .38 for home protection since he was living in the city by then.

My grandfathers (born before 1900) only had rifles and shotguns out in the country/ frontier. The guns were for food gathering and livestock protection. They lived on the frontier and traveled by wagon the first half of their lives. Much of the meat was what they shot or raised.Where they lived, other people were not feared so the firearms were not for protection against others.

My great grandfather (back down in the Del Rio TX area in the latter 1800's) was also a ranch hand (cowboy). I have his old model 92 Winchester 44-40. It is well worn with saddle wear, yet is in very good working shape. It was made in 1895 and saw Indian and bandit conflicts along the border as some of those troubles were still happening at the turn of the century. No one ever knew if great-grandpa ever had any handguns, but it is confirmed that he shot nine men with that rifle in defense of bandid raiders and Indians. No handguns were ever handed down.We just all assumed they were lost over time. I suspect he may have never had a handgun because he had very little money, but the rifle was always in the scabbard when he was horseback.

February 7, 2011, 03:05 PM
Well both my great Grandfathers were in Wyoming/Western Nebraska in the 1880's. To the best of my knowledge just about everyone carried a gun. If you were a cowboy it was a fairly large revolver like the Colt SSA. Townsfolks often carried the smaller stuff like a 32 Rimfire. One of my great grandfathers was a carpenter and carried a 32 rimfire (I have the rig). Twice in his life he needed it in self defense while riding between places.

February 7, 2011, 08:18 PM
I'm going to play it safe in responding to all of this and make the same statement I do when a woman asks if the dress she's wearing looks nice . . . basically I've learned the best reply is . . . . "I am a man . . I have no opinion." :D

February 7, 2011, 11:47 PM
I suspect that handguns were owned mostly by city folk and lawmen. they aren't much good for hunting anything but manimals. Cowboys were very practical people; a rifle would have far greater utility when riding herd that a handgun. Even when you ran into bad men, it was usually at range. Miners on the other hand, seemed quite fond of handguns, especially short barrelled types that could be carried without getting in the way. You still see any number of sawed off Colt "belly guns" o the antique sites. As that Google book review noted, handguns were used more often when in town than elsewher.

Now I really have no idea anymore what population densities were, but you can safely assume that, with the exception of Oregon and California (starting with the gold rush), densites were pretty thin for everything west of Denver.

February 8, 2011, 05:13 AM
...... were Colt percussion revolvers. Staying alive is universally popular. In a dangerous world people will find a way to arm themselves. Before the advent of cartridges, repeating rifles just weren't practical. That's what made revolvers catch on. If I understand correctly: at the end of the Civil War, there were quite a number of fellows drifting westward that were armed to the teeth with battle-field pick-up weapons. Having survived the war, (with no small assistance from revolvers), they were changed men. Once good repeating rifles were readily available, the revolver became a little less important. Until the Indians were subdued, being armed was a matter of life or death. Many of the Indians were both hostile and very well armed. Custer was not only out-numbered; the Indians were better armed. Guess what? The Oregon Trail was dangerous. Here's what was on the way:Isaac Coates, General Winfield S. Hancock's surgeon, observed a verbal confrontation between Hancock and Roman Nose outside Fort Larned in April 1867. Coates wrote in his journal; "of all the chiefs, Roman Nose attracted the most attention. He is one of the finest specimens, physically, of his race. He is quite six feet in height, finely formed with a large body and muscular limbs. His appearance, decidedly military, and on this occasion, particularly so, since he wore the uniform of a General in the Army. A seven-shooting Spencer carbine hung at the side of his saddle, four large Navy revolvers stuck in his belt, and a bow, already strung with arrows, were grasped in his left hand. Thus armed and mounted on a fine horse, he was a good representative of the God of War; and his manner showed plainly that he did not care whether we talked or fought..."
Here's a good link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Nose In an armed conflict a percussion revolver has advantages over muzzle loading rifles that must not be overlooked.

Mike Irwin
February 8, 2011, 09:17 AM
I have my Great Grandfather's "cowboy gun" from when he was a ranch hand in the Dakotas in the late 1890s and early 1900s...

It's a .32 Smith & Wesson made by H&R.

Apparently he never had much use for guns of any type.

I wonder if the other cowboys teased him.... :)

Actually, I suspect that a LOT of cowboys actually owned little inexpensive revolvers like this, not the brace of fancy engraved S&Ws in the Mexican tooled low ride belt that the movies show.

As others have mentioned, a large-frame Colt or Smith & Wesson very well might cost a quarter year's salary, whereas one of these little guns would cost less than a month's salary, saving money that could be put toward a truly useful and necessary firearm - a rifle or shotgun.

The myth of cowboys being armed with a hogleg at all times - in town, in the saddle, in the bunkhouse - are just that, especially when rounding up cattle, branding, etc.

In those situations when you're working with a rope and a thoroughly ****** off chunk of beef, a handgun in a holster could be a significant liability if the rope got caught behind the holster.

It's also not uncommon to see period photographs of cattle drives where a few of the members might be armed, but most are not.

February 8, 2011, 03:42 PM
check out these prices from 1875:


February 8, 2011, 05:27 PM
More prices from 1875 (check out the prices of the old cap and ball revolvers).

February 8, 2011, 07:20 PM
It's important to keep in mind that several of the trail's end cow towns enacted gun carry restriction ordinances within town limits. Did cowboys wear hoglegs? Apparently enough did to be a problem!

February 8, 2011, 08:54 PM
I'm not saying nobody wore them. I originally said a lot didn't.

Mike Irwin
February 8, 2011, 09:52 PM
A cowboy going into town to blow off steam, get drunk and blow a couple months wages is a LOT different than a cowboy working on the range.

The 1875 ad... What model Colt pistol would that have been? New Line? New House? Those were all spur trigger revolvers, weren't they?

I'm assuming that they're also referencing the .38 Long Colt, which came out in 1875...

February 8, 2011, 09:54 PM
Here's the ad (if you can see it)

February 8, 2011, 10:07 PM
maybe the statistics is a factor when they look at history: like one gun per family or something?

people didn't own as many, and it took longer to acquire but I think many people worked towards the goal of purchasing a firearm with their hard-earned cash(it doesn't have to be hard earned as much now with credit cards as an example // sort of like when our relatives purchased boobtubes or cars). also, there were places and times when people couldn't lawfully carry for whatever reason.

February 8, 2011, 10:32 PM
A cowboy going into town to blow off steam, get drunk and blow a couple months wages is a LOT different than a cowboy working on the range.

Time to restate the original post:
In the thread about cowboy guns it has been put forth that few cowboys even owned guns in the 19th century.

They either owned them, or they didn't. If they were coming into town with them, I think it's safe to assume they also had them on the trail. If they had them on the trail, they likely owned them.

Mike Irwin
February 9, 2011, 01:13 AM
Well, you'll note in my first post in the thread that I postulated that handgun ownership amongst cowboys was probably pretty high, but it wasn't what we typically see in Westerns - large and expensive Colt SAAs, Remingtons, or Smiths.

I suspect that most cowboys who owned handguns actually owned relatively small and inexpensive breaktops and solid frames made by companies like Iver Johnson, S&W, H&R, Forehand, etc.

I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that for every large frame "cowboy" gun sold to any buyer anywhere there were upwards of 100 of the small revolvers sold.

There were literally dozens of companies producing small, cheap revolvers at this time, and in enormous numbers.

Hell, from 1884 to 1895 Smith & Wesson made over 200,000 .38 Double Action Third Models, and at the same time they were making other versions that didn't have hammers, versions in .32 S&W, and versions in single action, as well.

Just a rough guess (I've got the book with the numbers, I just don't feel like going page to page adding the numbers up right now), but it looks like between about 1875 and 1900 Smith & Wesson alone made over half a million of these guns; Iver Johnson and H&R made even more if their serial numbers are reliable.

On the other hand, from 1873 to 1940, Colt only made about 357,000 Single Action Armies.

Anyway, yeah, I think cowboys owned handguns, probably in substantial numbers. But not exactly what we normally are led to believe they owned.

February 9, 2011, 09:15 AM
How many of you guys prefer to carry a gun when out in the woods or back country? Why wouldn't a cowboy feel the same?

February 9, 2011, 10:42 AM
Mike, I think that's a great point! If I put myself in the boots of a poor cowboy, I'd probably feel comfortable with a pistol in my pocket, but I sure wouldn't want to spend a ton of money on one, especially if I had a family to support or whatever other necessities that I didn't really have enough money to buy anyway.

But if I could get a .32 revolver for a couple of bucks, that might not be such a bad deal.

It's all conjecture on my part, but since I'm a pretty cheap guy, if I was a cowpoke back then, I might want a flashy SAA, but I'd have to feed that champagne dream on a soda pop budget. Besides, packing around an expensive hogleg like that just might be an invitation to less salacious types to take an interest in my wallet. No sense advertising, especially if you ain't got nothin'!

Doc Hoy
February 9, 2011, 11:27 AM
If the employer had a small armory from which a rifle or shotgun could be withdrawn when the hand was out and about, then the hand himself is releaved of the need to purchase his own.

I realize that the OP spoke of "cowboys" "carrying" firearms and also that I am splitting hairs but you have to admit that the mindset could be really different. I know that my attitude toward any weapon issued to me from the ship's aromory was significantly different from my attitude toward a weapon which I purchased myself. But then I never carried my own handgun, because I thought I was threatened. I just wanted to have it. And I spent a lot of time in the woods. Sometimes I took it, most of the time, I did not, opting for a .22 rifle instead.

February 10, 2011, 09:20 PM
Just go look at a old mail order catalog from the 1880s. Last winter here one of the horses kicked up a old belgen made pocket gun in .310 tranter. It had 5old factory .32 smith short BP loads in the thing. There is a old fallen down line shack about 1/4 further back out in the woods here from when it was a cattle ranch here.

February 10, 2011, 11:41 PM
What a great find! I wonder if it fell out of a saddle bag, holster or pocket. Hmmmm.:confused:

February 13, 2011, 09:08 AM
My grand father wagoned to texas from chicago in 1871. He thought he needed a hide out gun so, brought a smith and wesson #2 in 32 rf. Elmer Keith claimed that cowboys wore revolvers to defend themselves against livestock or to shoot the horse if they got tossed and stirrup dragged.
J. Fran Dobie wrote on western and rural themes in the 1950s. He told a story proported to be from a cowboy who had gone on a trail drive. This individual got a revolver for the purpose- apparently it being recommended trail equipment or just something that cowboys thought they should have. The cb indicated he found it an inconvenient thing to wear and when he finally did pull it out to shoot a snake, it had rusted into immobility. seems he was unclear on the concept of gun cleaning.

Bill Akins
February 13, 2011, 09:42 AM
Another thing we sometimes forget about is that many people were smaller back then so a smaller cartridge would kill them more efficiently than it would today. The average height of my father's WW2 generation was 5' 8" tall. In WW1 and the civil war many guys were around 5' 5" tall thereabouts. Women were even smaller getting into the 4' plus range of height. So maybe one reason all those .32's that we kind of think of as pop guns today were in such proliferation, was because people were smaller so the smaller calibers were larger in proportion to their bodies than those same calibers are today to many of our bodies.

I believe the reason many of us are bigger and taller today is because of what we have eaten growing up. Chicken, turkeys, beef, in ours and for the past several generations have all been fed growth hormones to make them plump up for sales. They didn't have those chemicals and hormones in the old days. I believe those growth hormones and chemicals over our lifetimes of eating food with them in it, have had an effect on our modern bodies to make many of us much larger than many of our cowboy ancestors. It HAS to have a cumulative effect on our bodies, I don't care WHAT the FDA says about it being safe. I don't trust the FDA. They collude with big growers and big corporate farming. We are what we eat and we have been eating growth hormones in our food that was fed to the chickens, turkeys, cows etc for several generations now.

So a .22 or .32 would seem like a much larger caliber to their smaller bodies than it does to many of us today. Simply put, cartridge size is relative to body of target size.

Just something that occurred to me that I wanted to share.


February 13, 2011, 09:48 AM
My son has an antique .32 rimfire revolver and he thinks that these small caliber guns were little more than "suicide specials". :D

Bill Akins
February 13, 2011, 10:16 AM
Arcticap wrote:
My son has an antique .32 rimfire revolver and he thinks that these small caliber guns were little more than "suicide specials".

Tell him it's only a pipsqueak caliber until someone shoots him with it. Lol.


Mike Irwin
February 13, 2011, 03:52 PM
The suicide specials (that's what they were actually called) are generally thought of as a class to themselves. There's at least one book on the subject.

I've not counted those in my numbers above.

Guns termed suicide specials are almost universally:

1. Spur trigger.

2. Very short barreled - 3" is long.

3. Chambered for rimfire cartridges, most commonly .22 Long or .32, but some were also available in .30, .38, and even .41 (I've never seen one chambered in .41).

4. Have a loading notch, but no loading gate.

5. Rarely have a maker's name.

6. Often have a "brand name" that might be shared among several makers.

Most makers were relative unknowns, but Iver Johnson, Forehand and Wadsworth, even Marlin made suicide specials.

Here's a great page that talks to makers and names used: http://www.gun-data.com/suicide_specials.htm

My personal favorite brand name is Tramp's Terror. Just love the imagery that one suggests. :)

As far as I know, there are no figures for how many guns like these were produced, but some sources think the numbers were pretty massive, possibly in high hundreds of thousands, or more.

These truly were the bottom of the bottom for both price and quality, but most would fire a cartridge when the trigger was pulled.

February 13, 2011, 09:39 PM
I guess this qualifies as a slight step above a "suicide special". H&R "The American". This one was made between 1888 and 1897. I've got 50 rounds of BP .38 S&W Short, but I'm not gonna even try.




Mike Irwin
February 13, 2011, 10:03 PM
Yep, a bare step above.

True suicide specials are generally held to be spur trigger and single action.

February 14, 2011, 06:50 AM
In those situations when you're working with a rope and a thoroughly ****** off chunk of beef, a handgun in a holster could be a significant liability if the rope got caught behind the holster.

Actually, that handgun close at hand could be a lifesaver for a cowboy with a particularly angry piece of beef on rope (why do I get the mental image of a steak being lassoed...).

Elmer Keith (pbuh) specifically mentions in his autobiography a few episodes of needing to use his sidearm against angry and out of control animals while working cows or horses. He wasn't a cowboy in the traditional sense, but could call those guys his mentors by virtue of being born as that era was winding down.


February 14, 2011, 07:00 AM
I've worked with cows and trust me if you get an angry piece of beefsteak on a rope you won't have time to think about a gun much less actually try to get it. All you'll be doing is trying to get the Hell out of its way.

February 14, 2011, 07:06 AM
These are quotes from EK's Autobiography Hell, I Was There!
On two occasions I had to stop mad cows I had roped. They wound me up and threw my bronc and came for me with sharp horns. On another occasion I had to get out of bed, saddle up a bronc, and go to the rescue of a local butcher who had tried to kill a big Durham ball with a Colt by planting the slugs in the forehead. The beast had put the butcher up a tree and, as it was cold weather, he was fast freezing when the neighbor called. When I rode up close to the tree, the bull charged. A single 265 grain 45-cal. Ideal slug, backed by 40 grains of black powder, in the forehead from my old 5 1/2" Single Action Colt did the trick. The bull stuck his nose in the ground and turned over on his back with all four legs stiff in the air, his tail stretched out toward my bronc, then he relaxed in death.

There are more at the site listed above.


Mike Irwin
February 14, 2011, 07:44 AM
Close at hand and on your waist are two different things.

I'd be really curious to know if Keith either had the gun on his hip or if he had it across the saddle.

If he did actively wear a six gun while working cattle in an enclosure (branding and the like) as opposed to open range work (there you would wear a gun), he would be, I think, a very rare exception to the rule.

Most times when cowboys were actively working cattle in an enclosure there were a several assigned to just "guard" to make sure that one of the cattle didn't get out of hand while being worked.

My Great grandfather, the one with the .32 H&R, worked as a ranch hand in the Dakotas from the mid 1890s to about 1910 or so, not long before Keith.

He became a writer in later life, and one of his stories about life in the Dakotas was a description of a bull being worked in an enclosure goring a black cowboy to death before the guard could kill it with his rifle.

As for the story about the bull chasing the butcher up the tree... He knows there's a problem, so of course he's going to go armed. If the bull is mad enough to have someone treed, you're not going to rope it and lead it back to the paddock all quiet like.

Bill Akins
February 14, 2011, 07:58 AM
Hardcase, I see that your no loading gate double action's recoil shield's right side edges captures the cartridges when the hammer is fully back or fully down. But what happens when you cock it if it is slightly angled upward, like as if you were shooting uphill or upward at a coon in a tree, is the cartridge next to the loading slot will either fall out or most likely get jammed trying to fall out of the cylinder. Obviously the only correct way to cock that gun is to always point it downward to cock it and then raise it up.

I mean how much could a simple and inexpensively made lousy loading gate have cost the manufacturer? That is the height of manufacturing frugality. Dangerous too because in the heat of the moment if a mountain lion or bobcat was in a tree about to pounce on you and you forgot to point the revolver downward first to cock it (and thereby capture the cartridges from falling out), you'd be cat food when that cylinder advanced and the round in front of the cutout slot jammed trying to fall out the slot thus jamming the cylinder until you backed the cylinder up to remove the jammed cartridge.
But by that time.....cat food. Lol.


February 14, 2011, 09:54 AM
Based on what I read and the pictures I've seen, I would say EK wore a gun from the time he got up in the morning till he went to sleep in the evening. Outside of that, I don't have any knowledge.

The bull and tree story wasn't my focus. I just grabbed the entire quote from the site. At that site, there was also an anecdote about his having to shoot an angry bronco while being dragged along the ground by a stirrup. In that case, he definitely had the gun on his hip.


Mike Irwin
February 14, 2011, 10:20 AM
There aren't that many period photographs of cowboys actually working cattle in enclosures given the state of camera equipment and film at the time.

The posed photos that are available, though, generally show most cowboys gunless.

On a cattle drive on the open range I'd suspect it would be a bit different. Cowboys wouldn't be expected to use their ropes nearly as much during a drive as when they were branding or otherwise working cattle, and the possibility of needing a gun would, I think be somewhat higher as per Keith's example of having to kill his horse.

"The bull and tree story wasn't my focus."

Yeah, I thought it was a rather unfocused addition to the discussion at hand. :D

February 14, 2011, 10:29 AM
Hardcase, I see that your no loading gate double action's recoil shield's right side edges captures the cartridges when the hammer is fully back or fully down. But what happens when you cock it if it is slightly angled upward, like as if you were shooting uphill or upward at a coon in a tree, is the cartridge next to the loading slot will either fall out or most likely get jammed trying to fall out of the cylinder. Obviously the only correct way to cock that gun is to always point it downward to cock it and then raise it up.

Bingo! Yes, if it's pointing too far up and you aren't quick about cocking it, a round will get jammed in the slot. It's a double action gun, so I guess that they figured that you'd be aiming it level when you pulled the trigger.

Now, the nutty thing is that it takes all of about five seconds to pull the cylinder and dump the empties. I don't know why they even bothered with that cartridge slot in the first place - if a guy actually had to reload, there's no way that he'd do it with that slot. He'd just pull the cylinder, dump the empties and drop five new rounds in and put it back together.

February 14, 2011, 12:55 PM
Who cares if the bullets fall out in that scenario. If you're relying on a .38 S&W against a cougar you'd be cat food any which way! lol

So, I take it that the op question of cowboys owning guns has been settled enough to move on to how they carried what they owned?

February 14, 2011, 08:23 PM
Here's my son's .32RF suicide special that has the name "Hard Pan" on the barrel. The barrel is ~2.75" long and the gun cost $15 at the local Cabela's. According to the suicude special gun-data page it was made by:

HOOD FIREARMS COMPANY. Norwich, Ct. Manufactured Firearms from early 1870's to late 1880's .


February 15, 2011, 10:14 AM
Here's my son's .32RF suicide special that has the name "Hard Pan" on the barrel.

I love the names on these things - it's like a skinny, five foot tall guy being named "Brutus". :D

If you're relying on a .38 S&W against a cougar you'd be cat foot any which way!

Well, at least you could claim that you went out with a fight...sort of. :rolleyes:

February 15, 2011, 01:04 PM
What is "cat foot"?:confused:
Oh, I meant cat foodddd.:o

February 15, 2011, 01:18 PM
My question is where do you get your information?

My grandfather left home when he was 12 (acctually he was run off by his mother because she couldnt handle him) to work on the ranches in Neberaska and Colorado. His father gave him this Smith Model #3 in 44 Russian. He carried it as a cowboy, prospector and miner until he gave it to my father, and it will go to my oldest son.

Yeap cowboys carried guns, (but mostly in their saddle bags) they did in the late 1900s and they still do today (around here anyway).


February 15, 2011, 01:20 PM
Oh, I meant cat foodddd.

As an off and on remedial English teacher at the community college, it struck me as prose of the highest quality!

February 15, 2011, 05:05 PM
i don,t know how many people owned firearms or carried them,but i do know they knew how to use them, if the james and youngers were alive today they would tell you just how well they knew how to use them. eastbank.

February 15, 2011, 06:44 PM
As I said I'm a 4th generation Westerner who is now in Florida. It has always been my understanding anyone on the open range carried a large caliber revolver while on horseback. Maybe its regional, my family was from W. NE-E. WY and what kraigwy said is the same stuff I was told.
When branding calves, etc- totally different thing- you are in a safe area and no one wore a hogleg while doing that type of work. We also have to look at a time frame- are we talking about the cattle drive era or the latter fenced in ranch era?
There's some BIG ranches in Florida. One is 400,000 acres. Yep, 400K- it's chopped up into different tracts but that's the over all size. I bought a beat up Colt from a guy working on one of the ranches. $150- good price but the gun was REALLY in bad shape. He used it as a hammer to fix fences- no kidding- I always thought that stunt was pure Hollywood.
In any event the available evidence seems to suggest big revolvers were pretty common- as already stated by someone else- there are many tales of all the Texas cowboys going up to the Kansas cow towns- they all loved their revolvers, a lot of towns had them check the guns. I realize there's some wiggle room to all this but there seems to be more historical evidence carrying guns was common as opposed to historical evidence that carrying guns was uncommon. I can't recall anything of that nature.

February 16, 2011, 09:57 AM
East and West.

Mike Irwin
February 16, 2011, 10:04 AM
Uh, that first picture looks a lot more like a grizzled 49er from the California Gold Rush...

The second is a studio photograph. Problem with studio photographs is that they often kept props around for the subjects to use to add interest to the photograph, items like knives, guns, tools, etc.

February 16, 2011, 10:21 AM
First is Daniel Freeman, The "first homesteader", who settled in Beatrice, Neb. 1863.
The second is Nat Love, a real guy, a real cowboy who did happen to have his picture taken in a studio wearing his own clothes and carrying his own iron.

Mike Irwin
February 16, 2011, 10:23 AM
I knew the second guy looked familiar.

When I was a kid my Parents invested in the Time Life series of books on The Old West, and his picture is in it.

Looks like he's not carrying a handgun at all. The belt seems to be a cartridge belt for his rifle rounds.

Judging by the rifle and the cartridges in the belt, it looks like a Winchester model 1894.

February 16, 2011, 10:33 AM
Definitely a '94, Mike. The sharp angle at the bottom front of the receiver is distinctive.

He's got huge hands!

Mike Irwin
February 16, 2011, 10:55 AM
That must have been taken near the end of his working career as a cowboy.

February 16, 2011, 11:04 AM
Not that I'm any expert, but Nat Love also appears to have a Thunderer or Lightning stuck in his belt in cross-draw fashion. I can't see the grip very well (which would tell me for sure if it was on of these early DA revolvers), but the trigger guard looks like it's one of those. IMHO anyhoo.....:confused:

Mike Irwin
February 16, 2011, 12:02 PM

I had to look at that photo for a good minute or more to even see the handgun there.

February 16, 2011, 06:32 PM
Another thought......if we get back to the Texas cowboys heading up to Kansas on the trail drives, although they didn't get paid much- it all came in at the end of the trail. It must have been a fair amount of cash because of all the gamblers, dance hall girls, and other souls in various states of grace that showed up in such places to rid the cowhands of their hard earned pay. In any event it seems that they must have had enough cash to buy a nice revolver if they wanted to. Some revolvers had better grips, engraving, etc- probably more for the trail boss, etc.
I think the same can be said about the famous "$100 saddle on a $20 horse". The cowpokes were likely pretty easy with the cash when they got their hands on it.
I think both Colt and S & W have company historians. You send them $10 or whatever it is these days and they tell you Grandfather's Colt or S & W with serial number XYZ was shipped to Smith's hardware, Silver Cliff WY Terr 18XX.
In any event the amount of guns shipped West versus the population in the West could probably be compiled to get an accurate count on how many guns per person were in the area.
In the 1900-1910 period even my Grandmother went around with a small handgun for self defense. I think it was pretty common in those days.

February 16, 2011, 07:16 PM
In any event the amount of guns shipped West versus the population in the West could probably be compiled to get an accurate count on how many guns per person were in the area.

And you could add a pretty fair number of eastern and mid-"western" addresses to those as well. The settlers and cowhands had to come from somewhere, and they likely planned ahead.

P.S. Colt factory letters on SAAs run $100+ these days.

February 16, 2011, 08:29 PM
well i come from a long line of farmers and ranchers (my family was in western Nebraska before 1880) and it seems logical that most westerners would have had working guns. Its already been pointed out a couple times but the possibility of getting thrown from a horse and having a foot stuck in the stirrup is a very real event. In fact i grew up on a ranch in northern Wyoming and i know for a fact that at least one man was drug to death in one of the pastures as late as the 1950s. Now the practicality of being able to draw a pistol and shoot the horse while being drug would be extremely difficult but people have done more extreme things when its life or death. I also now several people who use guns to work difficult cattle, my dad used a 22lr with shot shells regularly to work the bulls and ive heard other stories of sawed off .410 shotguns to work problem cattle. However my grandpa owns several rifles and a couple of shotguns but he no longer owns any pistols (he used to have wore out broken revolver that must have got lost along the way). I am no historian but from growing up in the ranch lifestyle it makes sense to me that a lot of cowboys would have had a rifle for hunting and a pistol for emergencies. Now that being said i doubt that there where many large caliber guns. In fact most of my grandpas guns are 22lr that they shot 22 shorts in because it didn't tear up rabbits as bad.