Thursday, July 12, 2012

Packing Iron

The west was won by the ingenuity of the people who moved west and found ways to make their life easier. One such form of ingenuity was the ever changing gunleather.

The first gunleather used in the west originated in European military. It was the pommel bag.  This was made commercially and sold to the military. It was the easiest way to carry the large-bore, single shot handguns the frontiersmen used for hunting and protection. It's believed the pommel holster was developed during the California Gold Rush and used by Wells Fargo agents. As the revolving cylinder handgun was developed the sidearm belt holster became popular. The pommel bag remained popular to carry an extra gun, ammunition, and hard tack. It was easier to reach in the pommel bag than dig in a saddle bag on the back of the horse.

According to period photos the belt holsters began showing up in 1840. The holster held the smaller single-shot pistol, pepperbox, and revolvers.  Gun leather was made by eastern manufacturers and brought west by the settlers and immigrants. The belts were considered a specialty item made for the smaller more expensive handguns. The eastern products weren't tough enough or built to function as well in the western lifestyle. By 1850 saddlers began making holsters. They followed the eastern patterns but enhanced them to fit the western lifestyle.

The other popular holsters were hip pocket and shoulder. When towns became "civilized" in the mid to late 1800's the townsfolk didn't want visitors "packing iron". Towns passed ordinances against carrying firearms in town. This was when the hip pocket and shoulder holsters became popular. They could conceal a handgun in a pocket or under a duster. The hip pocket concealed a small derringer in a pocket making it readily available. This holster was more common in the east than the west. The shoulder holster held large caliber handguns. The holster held the gun close to the body, concealing it under a coat or duster. This type of holster was widely popular in the west and appears to have been developed around 1870. It hung under an arm in a vertical position with an oval-shaped shoulder loop. There were three types. The "Texas" developed by Texas shooter Ben Thompson. Then in 1890 a new version with a full back and closed toe was developed to make the draw faster. In the early 1900's a new design called the Half Breed came from the best of the other two versions.



  1. Paty,
    Interesting facts about holsters. I didn't know about the pommel bag. Makes sense and was probably very handy.

    Interesting how actual facts are different from fictional facts.:-)

  2. Jeanmarie, I found my research interesting and made me wonder if I've used fictional facts in the past...

  3. Paty, now I understand something about my family research. This one bad man carried his gun in his hip pocket. I didn't realize there were hip pocket-type holsters and wondered why he would do that. Sounded uncomfortable. Now I understand what he wore. Thanks!

  4. Caroline, This info was fascinating for me. I thought holsters were around since the invention of the handgun. So it was interesting to see that it didn't really come about until the west was being populated and that while I realized people int eh big cities didn't carry guns like the westerners they did have a means to carry them. Just concealed instead of out in the open which would make for a great scene...

  5. Hi Paty, I always learn the best stuff here. Thanks for the helpful information.


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