Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Peacemakers Didn’t Win the West Alone

By Kathleen Rice Adams

1873 Colt .45 Single Action Army, the Peacemaker
When you think (or write, or read, or watch a movie) about the Old West, what’s the first weapon that comes to mind? If Peacemaker isn’t the first, it’s likely near the top of your list. Thanks to western novels and movies, the Peacemaker—formally known as the 1873 Colt .45 Single Action Army—is one of the most famous guns in history, and for good reason. The six-shot revolver was lighter than its predecessors and competitors, exceptionally well balanced, and accurate in the hands of someone who knew what he or she was doing. Not to be overlooked among its characteristics: A .45 slug makes a big hole.

Though known as “the gun that won the west,” Peacemakers weren’t alone in helping stalwart individuals tame the wild frontier. Several other sidearms and long guns also played roles. Here are a few of the lesser-known weapons carried by folks on both sides of the law.

Remington Frontier Army

1875 Remington Frontier Army
In 1875, E. Remington & Sons began manufacturing a single-action revolver meant to compete with Colt’s Peacemaker. Nicknamed the Frontier Army or Improved Army model, Remington’s Model 1875 Single Action Army six-shooter never attained the Peacemaker’s commercial success or legendary status, partly because Colt got the jump on Remington by two years, the U.S. Army already had adopted the Peacemaker as its official sidearm, and many lawmen and outlaws preferred the Colt’s superior balance and lighter weight. Remington’s Frontier Army had its devotees, however, including Frank James.

In my novel Prodigal Gun, heroine Jessamine Caine carries an 1858 Remington New Model, which differed from the Model 1875 only in the type of ammunition it chambered: The 1858 was a cap-and-ball pistol, while the 1875 employed metallic cartridges. Both featured a cylinder that could be removed on the go, which made for easy reloading: Just pop out the empty and pop in a fully loaded replacement. For that reason, the 1858 model was popular with both Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War.

.45 Schofield

1875 Remington .45 Schofield (courtesy Bob Adams)
The Smith & Wesson Model 3, which began production in 1875, saw service during the Indian Wars in the Southwest and the Spanish-American War. Favored by Wyatt Earp (who used one during the gunfight at the OK Corral) and Wells Fargo road agents, the Model 3 was ordered in quantity for the U.S. military, providing Smith & Wesson modified the 1870 Model 3 according to Major George W. Schofield’s specifications. The contract ended early when the modifications, primarily having to do with the ammunition the revolver chambered, caused confusion and inconvenience in the field.

Though heavier than both Colt’s Peacemaker and Remington’s Frontier Army, the Schofield’s range and muzzle velocity were superior to both its competitors. Prodigal Gun’s Col. Boggs keeps one in a desk drawer.

Winchester Model 1873

Winchester Model 1873 carbine (courtesy Bob Adams)
Also called “the gun that won the west,” the Winchester 1873’s carbine model saw extensive use all over the West because of its portability. The shorter barrel length—20 inches as opposed to the rifle version’s 24 inches—made the carbine easier to carry and fire on horseback. The Model 1873’s ammunition also made it popular: The rifle and carbine chambered Colt’s .44-40 cartridge, which meant users of both handguns and rifles needed only one kind of ammunition.

The Winchester Repeating Arms Company developed the first lever-action repeating rifle in 1860. Known as the Henry, the musket version was employed by the Union Army during the Civil War, to the Confederates’ extreme consternation. Rebs called the Henry “that damned Yankee rifle they load on Sunday and shoot all week.”

Calhoun, the titular prodigal gun in Prodigal Gun, carries a Winchester 1873 carbine, as does his comrade, Latimer. Calhoun also carries twin Peacemakers.

Prodigal Gun, a western historical romance, releases Nov. 20. To celebrate, I’ll give an ebook version, in the winners’ choice of formats, to two folks who comment on today’s post.

A dangerous man. A desperate woman. A love no war could kill.

Widowed rancher Jessie Caine buried her heart with the childhood sweetheart Yankees killed on a distant battlefield. Sixteen years later, as a Texas range war looms and hired guns arrive to pursue a wealthy carpetbagger’s agenda, Jessie discovers the only man she ever loved isn’t dead.

At least not yet.

Embittered by a brother’s betrayal, notorious gunman Calhoun is a dangerous man, come home to do an unsavory job. A bushwhacker’s bullet nearly takes his life on Jessie’s land, trapping him in a standoff between the past he tried to bury and the infamy he never will. One taste of the only woman he ever loved puts more than his life and her ranch in the crossfire.

With a price on his head, a debt to a wealthy employer around his neck, and a defiant woman tugging at his heart, Calhoun’s guns may not be enough to keep him from the grave. Caught between his enemies and hers, Jessie faces an agonizing choice: Which of her dreams will die?


  1. You know your guns, Tex. I can't wait to read your novel. Congratulations!

  2. Thanks for posting this fascinating read. Great info on weapons. I get a catalog from Rock Island Auctions and there are a few of these old guns out there for sale from collectors. Very pricey, but wouldn't it be cool to own one?

  3. Thank you for the interesting and informative post. Your book sounds great too.

  4. Boy, y'all snuck in here awfully quickly. :-D

    Connie, I write outlaw heroes. They ALL carry guns. Keeping up with those yahoos keeps my nose buried in research materials. :-D

    Elizabeth, I know you write about guys with guns, too. I got some great railroad info and sources from you here a while back, so the least I can do is share a bit of gun "stuff." Yeah, wouldn't it e cool to own some of these? :-)

    Gini, thanks for dropping by! I hope folks will like the book, and I've got your name in the hat for the giveaway. :-)

  5. Wow, what great information. I would get hung up doing research and never get a story written. Looking forward to your new book Kathleen.

  6. Thanks, Carolyn! Actually, I have that problem with research. I'm constantly finding myself in Manchuria when I was trying to get to Dodge City. :-D

    Got your name in the hat for the drawing!

  7. Loved this article on guns from the frontier. I've seen reruns of the TV show, The Rifleman, with Chuck Connors. Was that a Winchester he used?
    My dad gave me a BB gun that resembles a Colt o.45 Peacemaker for my birthday when I turned 12. I still have it.
    I liked the excerpt from Prodigal Gun. I know it's going to be a wonderful book to read. I always enjoy your stories, Kathleen.
    I wonder; can you use a Winchester to shoot a turkey?
    All the best of everything to you.

  8. Great info, Kathleen. My current WIP is set in 1875, and I'm wondering what kind of rifle my sheriff hero would carry.

  9. Caroline, it depends on your sheriff's background, where he's located, and how he uses the gun. For lever-action repeaters, a Winchester '73 would be a good bet. Even out in the sticks, he'd probably have been able to get his hands on one within two years. Lots of folks who fought in "The Late Unpleasantness" hung on to their Henry rifles after the war, because the guns were very reliable and tough as nails. Rebs figured they'd captured a real prize if they could scrounge one off a dead Yank on the battlefield. A ton of Henry rifles were manufactured after 1864. They carried 17 rimfire cartridges, which made them formidable weapons. :-)

  10. Sarah, Lucas McCain's rifle in The Rifleman is an interesting bit of trivia. The show was set during the decade between 1870 and 1880. McCain carries a Winchester 1892 -- which wasn't manufactured until 12 years later. Gotta love Hollywood! :-D

    How cool that you still have your BB gun! I wish I still had the cap pistols we got as children. They were modeled after Peacemakers.

    My dad had an honest-to-goodness Peacemaker. My brother has custody of it now.

    We need to ask Tracy Garrett about using a Winchester to shoot a turkey. Being a Cowboy Action Shooting competitor, she may have done exactly that! :-D

  11. Great post, Tex, as always! I love when the museum gets firearms (in fact I think I make people nervous about my love of weapons). :) Can't wait to snatch up a copy of PG!


  12. I still get weapons, pistols and rifles, confused as to name and caliber. You do have a tight grip on each and every make and model.
    I know the rifle used in the tv show The Rifleman was custom made, not a real rifle anyone used, but on the character could twirl and fire. And that's all I know.
    I have..or did have...a website to check kind of guns to use, and if all fails, I will email KP. She'll tell me anything I need to know. Haha.
    My little sister and I got cap pistols and holsters for Christmas when we were about 5 and 7. Wow, did we love those guns.
    Thanks so much for the lesson on weapons. Very interesting and your new release has got to be good.

  13. I loved the post and answers to some of the comments. I have loved guns from a young age. I found out I shoot left handed from the bb rifle I got one year because I couldn't close my right eye. I had twin holsters and cap guns as a child too. Went hunting with my dad and grandfather. Was the lefty on the range as I qualified for my shooting part of my basic peace officer qualification. I was good enough and better one the academic side. My department took all the accolades t basic as my partner won the shooting award and I got the academic award. Miss shooting, I'm going to have to find a range and go sometime.

  14. Dear lord! How did I get so behind on responding to y'all's kind comments? I should be horsewhipped.

    Rustler, you with a gun is downright scary. I'm surprised they don't sound the Civil Alert warning system when the museum gets a new firearm! :-D (Do they have those big Civil Alert/tornado warning siren things up there?)

    Celia, weapons confuse the life out of me, too. I've got a collection of reference books about firearms that are extremely helpful. If you'd like the list, let me know. I'll email it to you. :-)

    Thank you for the kind words about Prodigal Gun. It went up on Amazon for pre-order last night. I think I left a hole in the ceiling when Livia me know -- and my house has 14-foot ceilings! :-D

    Connie, I so glad you stopped by. I'm sure you know a heckuva lot more about guns and other weapons than I do, and it sounds like you're a formidable shot! It also sounds like you and your partner made a great team.

    Thank you for your service as a peace officer. We say that to soldiers frequently, but I imagine peace officers don't hear thanks as often as they should. :-)


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