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Old September 2, 2018, 09:12 AM   #1
Doc Hoy
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One for you historians

Lets say that the year is 1880-1885 and the place is somewhere west of the Mississippi. A man presents himself to a rancher asking for a job as a ranch hand. I have read that when a long arm was needed, it was generally provided by the owner of the ranch. I don't know how often that is the case. Lets talk about handguns, though.

Here is the question part of the post:

The man seeking a job is most likely:

1. In possession of a presumably high end revolver such as a Colt, Remington or Smith and Wesson or comparable.
2. In possession of a lower quality revolver such as one manufactured for use in the civil war or comparable.
3. Not in possession of a personal firearm.
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Old September 2, 2018, 09:29 AM   #2
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In for the interesting discussion! It's often been said that when it came to show downs and gunfights, the Wild West wasn't quite as wild as history, lore and Hollywood has made it out to be, so I find it interesting how prevalent arms were in that day and age.
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Old September 2, 2018, 09:31 AM   #3
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Good handguns of that time were costly, but civil war "left-overs" were all over the place. A "hand" was paid very little, but got room and board. Top hands got 50 cents a day. New hands were often paid ten cents a day. In 1886 a Colt SAA cost $20.
So the likelihood of one ever being able to afford a high-end handgun would be slim.
I hear re-enactors say "I won it in a card game".
Ok,,,, logic asks what you would bet against a $20 dollar handgun in a card game that would prompt the owner to gamble it. Doesn't make sense.
Also keep in mind that Civilian sales of the SAA didn't open up for some time after the Army bought all Colt could make in the early years. I don't remember the date, but I think it was close to 1880 before any SAA in civilian hands was not considered stolen. Someone else may have to correct me as to when that date was. The Remington 1875 however was available from the first run. As was most of the S&W line. All of these guns were costly then.
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Old September 2, 2018, 01:06 PM   #4
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"...when a long arm was needed, it was generally provided by the owner of the ranch..." It was when any firearm was needed it was provided by the ranch owner. So was the horse the guy rode. Firearms were far too expensive for any cowboy(lot of whom were ex slaves) to own. Pay scales ran from $20 per month to about $30 per month and 'found'(food and a bed). No firearms allowed in the bunk house either.
The idea that everybody was running around carrying a firearm of any kind is a Hollywood inspired myth. If a guy showed up looking for a ranch hand job carrying a firearm, of any kind, he'd immediately be suspected to be a criminal.
"...civil war "left-overs" were all over the place..." Still far too expensive for any cowboy to buy.
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Old September 2, 2018, 01:09 PM   #5
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card game scenario; You have 4 aces, but can't afford to call me, so you throw your Colt on the table and use it's value to call me, because you know your going to win with 4 aces right. I show my cards and it's a straight flush. Hey, I just won a Colt in a card game!
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Old September 2, 2018, 01:40 PM   #6
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Haha, another wild myth that NEVER happens. Two different guys at a poker table, one has four aces and the other has a straight flush?

Remind me, WHICH version of poker now? Texas Hold 'Em? Or you'll see this showdown in a game of 5-card draw?
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Old September 2, 2018, 01:50 PM   #7
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I did an analysis some time ago

I ran the total population of folks (I think it was 1880 census or something like that) in states and territories west of the Miss.

Then I calculated the total number of handguns manufactured beginning with the bulge of Civil War requirements. Plus that number multiplied by a factor to represent firearms acquired from sources other than American manufacturers. Then I went on to allow that virtually every pistol that was made or imported found its way into the hand of a member of the "west" population (which of course is impossible.)

I am sure I missed some number of firearms and I am sure that the census was likely not an accurate portrayal of the actual number of people who lived in the west. (Which I admit actually included places east of the Mississippi.)

I think I recall coming up with not more than one revolver for every fifty males. And that included a huge fudge factor for revolvers from undetected sources. I do hope I am remembering the numbers correctly.

I can tell you that when I finished the brief number crunching I was left with the conviction that there simply were not even close to enough weapons available for every Tom Dick and Harry to have one.
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Old September 3, 2018, 12:10 PM   #8
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If you look at those Civil War daguerrotypes you'd think that almost all soldiers had pistols and bowie knives.

Then you find out they were the photographer's props for improving the martial appearance of the person in the image. For soldiers that had these things, they discarded them along the march to lighten their load.
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Old September 3, 2018, 04:52 PM   #9
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Firearms were EXPENSIVE in relation to what the average low paid worker made. When you see pictures of a farm like in the 1880's, cameras had been around since the Crimean war mid 1850's there was USUALLY an old shotgun, to keep food on the table, but VERY, VERY few luxuries.
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Old September 3, 2018, 06:46 PM   #10
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Haha, another wild myth that NEVER happens. Two different guys at a poker table, one has four aces and the other has a straight flush?
Very unlikely but not impossible. Having four aces rules out the other player having a ROYAL flush but a king high or lower straight flush is still possible.
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Old September 5, 2018, 07:22 AM   #11
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guy had four aces in 2008 World Poker Championship, winner had straight flush. Aces went all in, straight flush called. Not allowing for bottom dealing card shavers, this occurs about once in 2.5 billion hands. I know I would be comfortable betting a Colt on 4 of a kind in an honest game.
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Old September 5, 2018, 10:40 AM   #12
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Ok,,,, logic asks what you would bet against a $20 dollar handgun in a card game that would prompt the owner to gamble it. Doesn't make sense.
Logic doesn't drink too much whiskey and gamble with strangers....

Daddy getting drunk and losing the ranch or the mine to a card sharp, often getting gunned down outside /in the alley so he couldn't win it back later, is a plot device used so often in westerns its become cliché.

BUT, clichés, like stereotypes originate from real world occurrences. SO, saying it never happened, isn't really accurate. Like the gunfights, they did happen, just no where nearly as often as movies and tv portray.

And, the card game may not have been poker. There were other popular card games and gambling games where people often bet and lost even their clothes. Where do you think the saying "losing your shirt" came from??

No, the average "ranch hand" probably didn't own his own gun, horse, tack, or much else. And no, it wasn't like the movies/TV with everyone but the preacher and the schoolmarm packing a revolver or a Winchester.

but that doesn't mean nobody did, either. Also, one should not take the period records as being all inclusive, or all that accurate, really.

A few years back a fellow did a study of Colonial America, and concluded that the presence of a firearm in nearly every settler's home, and widely common in towns and cities was a myth. He based his conclusion on period records, primarily wills. Since firearms were very rarely mentioned in people's wills, he determined that they must not have been as common as popularly believed, today.

Anyone else see the flaw in that logic???

Jump forward a century to the settling of the west, and look at the records (wills and such) and you still won't find much mention of firearms there, either. Not because they weren't around to be owned and passed down, but simply because it wasn't the custom of the time to list them (on their own) in the will.
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Old September 9, 2018, 06:31 PM   #13
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Here, y'all; right out of the horse's mouth, an eye witness account of the cowboys and their gear, with revolvers, on Theodore Rooseveldt's ranch in the early 1880's; just read pages 10-12 to stay on topic: https://archive.org/details/huntingtripsranch04roosrich



Of course, we kinda covered this topic before: https://thefiringline.com/forums/arc...?t-578466.html
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Old September 10, 2018, 10:38 AM   #14
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He most likely had a Colt's Peacemaker pistol IMHO. Most cowboys did at the time.
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Old September 10, 2018, 11:47 AM   #15
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Most traveling ranch hands had some type of pistol in their saddlebag, but few had the high-quality models like the SAA or Remington. Most had small, cheap, break-top revolvers in .32 or .38 calibers like Iver John, H&R, and Bulldogs.....the Hi-Point and Taurus of that time.

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Old September 10, 2018, 08:03 PM   #16
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In my Time-Life series of books its stated that if you stayed out of saloons you could cross the length and breadth of the county and never need a gun. I would still at least like a shotgun for game on the trail.

I suspect that by the time the civil war was over handguns would have been more previlent than before the war. Most relied on rifles or shotgun/smoothbores.

The same time-life series stated the most valued possession a cowboy owned was his saddle. Guns were expensive and not allowed in the bunkhouse. A bunkhouse is for a ranch hand. Cowboys guided the herds north to the railroads. It was the worst of jobs and paid very little. Most cowboys were just kids or late teens. Most trailed cows once and once was enough. There were not a lot of jobs back then.

More jobs were opening up because slavery had been done away with. So jobs chopping cotton, picking cotton and other jobs were now available to whites that were once done by slaves. Its where the term "HoBo" came from. Short for Hoe Boys. Traveling workers who owned there own hoe and hired out as field workers. And they carried their possessions in a bindle(bundle) tied to the hoe handle just like in the drawings you have seen. And I doubt they had enough disposable cash to buy guns. If they did it would have been a cheap shotgun of some sort.

So yes handguns were owned and used but probably not as much as hollywood would have you believe.
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Old September 10, 2018, 08:25 PM   #17
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Quote:
Most cowboys were just kids or late teens.
I reckon that's why they were called cowBOYS.

They worked for cattleMEN.
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Old September 10, 2018, 09:29 PM   #18
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Makes perfect sense.
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Old September 11, 2018, 05:38 AM   #19
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I think one of the silliest Hollywood western cliches was the saloon brawl scenes. A couple of guys get in a fight and suddenly everybody in the saloon is breaking chairs and punching the person next to him and wrecking the saloon, as if everyone in the room was just looking for an excuse to fight the other people in the room.
In the real world, if two people get in a fight, everybody else stands back and watches or somebody jumps in to break up the fight.
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Old September 11, 2018, 06:46 AM   #20
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"Most traveling ranch hands had some type of pistol in their saddlebag, but few had the high-quality models like the SAA or Remington. Most had small, cheap, break-top revolvers in .32 or .38 calibers like Iver John, H&R, and Bulldogs.....the Hi-Point and Taurus of that time."

Exactly. As a matter of fact my family still has a couple of these carried by both of my G-Grandfathers maternal and paternal. Both traveled extensively all over the U.S. in the late 1800s
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