The five deadliest weapons of the sheriffs and obnoxious outlaws of the Wild West

Updated:07/09/2020 23:20h


It is easy to imagine the beginning of the classic “far west” shooting. The ingredients are crystal clear: a bandit who arrives, angry and eager for revenge, to a mining town at sunset and a sheriff who goes out to meet him determined to enforce the law. Do you need more? Sad precedents such as the exchange of bullets in OK Corral, a confrontation that elevated the agent Wyatt Earp Back in 1881, they seem to attest to this. And if not, let them tell the Billy the Kid, Jesse James or Dalton brothers on duty; all of them, unscathed emblems that the Wild West and the firearms left behind rivers and rivers of blood.

But once again, kind reader, there are lights and shadows around this image so prevalent in Hollywood and private label cowboy movies, the “spaghetti westerns.” Not; Although it is hard to believe, and according to the academic Robert McGrath As early as 1993, offenses such as “murders and break-ins” occurred infrequently in cities. And the same thing happened with bank robberies, rapes or mass shootings. Although that does not mean that they existed and that they were the perfect shortcut for rustlers and outlaws to get a good sum of money or an orphan herd to exchange for bills. Palpable crimes, indeed, but by no means massive.

Billy the Kid
Billy the Kid

More true is that, to guarantee their safety in borders where it cost as much as a bathroom to enforce the law to the few agents who wore the star, it was customary for every neighbor’s child to wear a revolver on his belt or a rifle in the back. At least, and as they explain in their works authors like Stephen Aron (professor of history at the University of California) or Adam Winkler (specialist in American constitutional law from the same center), in private ranches, mines, forts, or the towns furthest from civilization. The most dangerous places, go.

So revolvers like the famous Colt Single Action de 1873; rigles like the Springfield and the old Henry; double-barreled shotguns or pistols such as Vulcanic they assisted law enforcement officers, outlaws and Indians alike in their adventures in the “far west.” And, thanks to them, tasks such as transporting mail, taking cattle from one place to another or protecting a forgotten ranch on the border became much easier. Although, curiously, they were not so useful when it came to protecting themselves in the large cities located in Nevada, Kansas, Montana The Dakota del sur, where its use on the streets was restricted in a vain attempt to ensure safety.

Massive use of weapons

Much has been written about the conquest of the Wild West, although most of it outside our borders. The true history of the “far west” began in the 19th century, a time when warfare had settled on a continent still unexplored and still dominated by the native americans in good part. The border – the territory known and in which Americans lived – was in 1845 at the height of Montana. Oklahoma and Louisiana, which still left a good pinch of the country to be annexed. In principle, this territory was not given greater importance, but the overcrowding of the cities and the lack of work caused this region to be seen with different eyes.

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Little by little, slowly but surely, hundreds of pilgrims set out to conquer this unexplored territory who, starving in their homes, had little to lose. In short, the taking of the American Wild West had just begun; a barely planned movement that included emigrants from Europe, East The Mexico and, less than a decade later, also to military units with orders to protect travelers and expel the natives from their lands with the blow of a rifle and a revolver. And thus the border and mining towns were also born (the latter, favored by the 1848 gold rush), the ranches, the forts and, ultimately, all those locations that feature films have portrayed over and over again.

Winchester 1873
Winchester 1873

On these pillars it is not difficult to understand why weapons became widespread among settlers and the military. As explained Gregory doval in its “A Brief History of the Wild West”The obligation to protect oneself from Native Americans was soon added to the need to safeguard wealth from the hundreds of “rustlers, scammers, ruffians, hustlers, and thieves” that existed. Subjects whose only means of subsistence was robbery and who, in many cases, had given themselves a bad life after failing in their search for gold. Among his favorite objectives was the south-west, whose inhabitants devoted themselves en masse to raising cattle to feed the new peoples that emerged like mushrooms.

In the words of Doval, one of the most dangerous territories after the Civil War (occurred between 1861 and 1865) was Texas. «The renewal of many local officials, who had been faithful to the Confederacy, and the imposition of the military law generated great resentment and many thought of compensating themselves by taking justice into their own hands, ”he reveals in his work. Its cities and towns soon became the perfect breeding ground for those who longed to live outside the law, flee from it or contravene it. And what better way to achieve your goals than to use weapons such as revolvers or shotguns.

Finally, the rapid colonization of regions as large as Kansas, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, Idaho The Wyoming, which the agents of justice were slow to arrive, also motivated the massive use of weapons. “This situation, obviously, was very favorable for crime to flourish in lands that had become the paradise of impunity for thieves, robbers and murderers,” completes the Spanish author. For residents in these areas, Colt and the Winchester they became tools as basic as picks and lasso.

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Five deadly weapons

Among the most famous firms in the Wild West was Colt. Although not in its initial moments. An example of this is that its founder, Samuel, was forced to close his factory after unveiling what was his first prototype, the Colt Paterson, in 1836. It was useless at that time that his was the first «rotating gun»Effective history. Luckily for him, the weapon quickly became the most widely used throughout the “far west” thanks to its low cost, its resistance and his great firepower. As if that were not enough, the mythical Texas Rangers finished forging their legend when they repressed the Comanches with it in 1841.

Much more famous is the Colt Single Action Army Revolver (better known as “Peacemaker»). The same one with which agent Pat Garrett took the life of Billy the Kid in New Mexico back in 1881 (in the middle of the night and at his house, yes, and not during an epic shooting). Considered by many officers to be the most balanced and ergonomic of the time, it became since its sale became general in 1873 in the favorite of bandits and lawmen. Not in vain were up to 192,000 manufactured in the 19th century. And that, despite the fact that, in its beginnings, it was designed for troops on horseback.


Among its most prominent users were the Dalton brothers or the same Wyat Earp. And no wonder, it was quite cheap for the time (just $ 17) and light (about three pounds, less than a kilo and a half). In addition to the huge sales, what was a weapon adored by the “cowboys” is evident in the infinity of models of this revolver that Colt brought to the market. For example, one that fired .45 caliber bullets (the first), another with a short barrel or, ultimately, one of calibre .44-40 (ideal for gunmen who carried the rife Winchester 1873, as he used the same ammunition). In turn, it became famous among sheriffs because it was tough enough to hit outlaws in the face with its cannon without damage.

Perhaps her biggest flaw was that she was simple action: had to cock it after each one of the shots. Something that firms alleviated in the years to come by producing the double action revolvers (those in which this process was done by the trigger). On the night he was killed, both Billy the Kid as his executioner, Patt Garret, they carried one. The first, a Colt 1877 that he wore on his belt; the second, a Merwin & Hulbert & Co that he used only in extreme cases.

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It is curious that these weapons had a hard time winning the love of the cowboys due to their poor initial reliability. This is how the historian explains it Joseph A. Rosa in «The Gunfighter: Man or Myth?», where he narrates that when a salesman advised a cowboy to take a double-action revolver in New Mexico back in 1884, he sent him to hell: “It’s not worth a few beans. Nobody wants something like that. Give me an old weapon, but one that has always been reliable, and you will see how I chill someone who has been fooled. ” In any case, it is known that, during batalla de Little Bighorn, Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer fought with two of them. And that did not help him much …

When it comes to long ranges, the most famous weapon in the Wild West was the hand lever rifle. Winchester 1873 .40-44 caliber. With more than half a million units manufactured, this weapon became a favorite among western cowboys, agents and outlaws thanks to its high rate of fire (one bullet every three seconds, something prodigious for the time), its ease of use , to its resistance, to the fact that it was extremely easy to clean and that its small dimensions made it ideal for carrying it on horseback. Its most famous users were Patt Garret, The outlaw Butch Cassidy or the president Teddy Roosevelt.

The firepower in the Wild West was provided by double barrel smoothbore shotguns. Experts at the time such as the editor of the magazine «True West», Phil Spangenberger, confirm that, in the first months of the conquest, this type of weapon was chosen by the colonists. Reliable and very cheap (talk of up to two dollars if you buy multiple units) they were versatile and easy to maintain. Their biggest handicap was that they had to be recharged very frequently; A failure that Winchester overcame in the spring of 1888 when he designed the first repeating shotgun that was successful with his customers. Available in two calibers, this model was used by Jeff Milton to take down one of the last train robbers in the far west, Jack Dunlop.

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