Monday, June 27, 2005

More on the Old West

Due to overwhelming demand from my many(four) fans, I've decided to write something more about things western. This time, methods of carrying pistols.

If you've ever dug into it, you've found that the 'buscadero'-type belt common in movies was not common in the west, not until quite late. Most early holsters were basically pouches shaped to hold a revolver, with a loop on the back so you could hang them on a belt. The leather tended to be soft, not stiff and shaped to the piece. And despite all the movie 'evidence', most did not tie down their holster, or wear it slung low. Cowboys and other people doing hard work who carried one tended to wear it high, so it was out of the way. Crossdraw holsters were not common but were around. Depending on the wearer and circumstances, it might be worn anywhere from high and to the rear on the strong side, to right on the side or a bit to the front; it might be slung quite low or high or anywhere in between. The only almost universal thing about different holsters was a leather thong loop to hook over the hammer so the piece wouldn't fall out while you were working or if you were thrown from your horse.

The shoulder holster was around. Usually worn under a coat, sometimes in the open. They were found both as a standard holster that hung from a shoulder loop, to a later design with a cup to hold the muzzle and a leather-covered spring that snapped around the cylinder, very much like modern vertical-carry rigs.

Carry stuck through the belt or into the waistband was common; not the most favored as it gave little protection to the piece. Wild Bill Hickock generally wore a red sash around his waist, and he slid his Navy Colts into it, butts to the front. Note: he did not crossdraw; right hand grabbed the right pistol, left grabbed the left, and he drew and cocked the hammers as the muzzles snapped to the front(sometimes called a 'cavalry draw' because that's the way cavalry carried and drew their sidearms).

Long-Hair Jim Courtright had a different method; he had leather-lined holsters stitched into the legs of his pants. I don't know if he had hammer-loops sewn in, though I suspect he did.

At least one man came up with a pivoting holster. The holster hung from the belt on a thick leather thong; it tended to flop about as you walked, but you could grab the butt and cock the hammer as you pushed the butt down. This swung the muzzle up, allowing you to fire without drawing from the holster. A close-range method only, but quite fast with practice. A variation of this used no holster at all. A stud with a broad head was brazed to the side of the pistol frame; on the belt was a metal plate with a slot cut in it, open at the front and angled down at the back. The stud slipped into the slot and to the back, where the angle kept it in place. You could pivot the pistol up and fire from there, or slide it forward and out as your draw.

Derringers or small hideout pistols(revolvers or single-shots) were clipped in the crown of a hat; a wristband with a spring would hold it up a sleeve; there actually were rigs that held a derringer up your coat sleeve, and if you pulled a release a spring shot it forward into your hand(from what I understand late in the 1800's and rare).

This is not a complete coverage of the methods of carrying, but I think it gives a fair overall look at the subject. A very nice book to check out on gunfighters and methods is Triggernometry: A Gallery of Gunfighters. With the popularity of cowboy action shooting there are newer works on the market now on the subject, but I still like this one. So check it out.


Cowboy Blob said...

Excellent post! I got an earful from the Tombstone reenactors when I showed up on the movie set with a buscadero. The wardrobe folks gave it the okay, so I just blew off my detractors.

Mr. Completely said...

FIVE fans. KeeWee is a fan, too.....

H2SO4 said...

Great Post!!

I read a most interesting article in a little free magazine that is given away at the local gunsmith shop. It was about the famous gun rigs in the movies, from John Wayne to Audie Murphy. Your post really adds ALOT of context to it..

I'll shoot you the link if i can find it on the net...

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