I didn’t know how much I love Hollywood westerns until I saw a Roy Rogers movie titled My Pal Trigger. It strikes the perfect balance between the medieval and modern era when guns existed but their technology was still very much in its infancy.

I have learned much of the Wild West from these movies. For one, most arguments used to be settled with old-fashioned fisticuffs, not guns. If guns were ever involved, they were used to disarm the other person, not to cave someone’s head in. No one really ever put a bullet inside anyone’s head.

In a shootout, the faster man usually won unless he was a very bad shot. Plus, the code of the fast draw was scrutinized as the Code Duello had been for centuries before. Most importantly, it appeared that everyone used a Colt Peacemaker or a Winchester Model 92, and pretended they were shooting a Winchester 73.

Of course, all of this was nonsense. There were fights that were punch-outs, but only a few. In reality, if guns were drawn, someone would be shot dead. It’s either the good guy or the bad guy, whoever was the fastest. The Fast Draw that was popularized did not exist, so were the equipment and code. The only thing a cowboy could rely on was his arms. Tense standoffs between two brave cowboys with a score to settle were rare. Both the good and bad guys prefer to shoot each other in the back or resort to ambush, as they regarded such acts as efficient and sensible. There was not much in the way of Code of Honor in the Wild West, after all.

When it comes to guns, as you expected, everyone did not have Peacemakers and faux Model 73s. Everyone tried to get by with the best gun they could get their hands on. This lead to some guns becoming the center of attention in the real Wild West, not the ones you see in Hollywood. These are the guns that truly deserve respect.

1. Colt Model 1851 Navy Revolver

We will start off with the Colt Model 1851. It was originally a percussion arm, but the Colt Navy was soon known for being one of the first six guns that you could wear on your belt without the need for a saddle scabbard. It weighs in at just 2 ½ pounds, which was very light for the time. It had a wonderful feel and balance as well.

The Colt Navy chambered .36 ball and its firepower was not that amazing. It was just as powerful as a .380. After the Civil War and the introduction of metallic cartridges, most of the Navy was converted to using the .38 Colt cartridge, which was also rather weak. But its underpowered ballistic performance did not make it any less popular. Colt made a quarter-million of these until it finally went out of fashion thanks to the Single Action Army in 1873.

There were a few notable figures who were well-versed in the arts of violence such as Doc Holliday, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and James Butler Hickok who loved the Colt Navy. In fact, Hickok carried a pair of Model 1851s, with ivory handles, nickel plates, engraved, and butts forward in a sash. Hickok was feared as he was the most lethal shootist ever, and he armed himself with the Model 1851. I think this alone serves as sufficient proof that the Navy was not a bad gun.

2. Remington Rolling Block Rifle

This one also did not get much screen time, if at all. This is surprising considering that this was basically the AK-47 of the Wild West. It was introduced in 1866 and it only held one shot. Now, you might say that this is probably why the gun did not get any screen time, but this is not your ancient musket. A well-trained user can manage 16 or 17 rounds a minute, or a shot every 3.5 seconds. A Springfield Rifle Musket can get only 3 out every minute, or 1 every 20 seconds.

The Rolling Block rifle was incredibly powerful. It made a successful transition from using black powder to smokeless without the need for any modifications. It was incredibly reliable, much like an AK-47, and chambered some powerful cartridges such as the .45/70 and the .50/70.

The Rolling Block was rolling out of production at the end of the Civil War up until the end of the First World War. During its career, it was issued to at least half of the world’s armies. Remington designed their Rolling Block to chamber a wide variety of cartridges and countless variations, including military muskets.

Buffalo hunters adored the Rolling Block. The only serious contender for it was the Sharps. Nelson Story bought 30 Rolling Blocks that chambered in .50/70 and a lot of ammo in preparation for his historic cattle drive from Texas to Montana. His companions fought in at least two major battles with the Native Americans along the way, expending some of the ammo reserves.

The Native Americans, after tasting the Rolling Block’s sharp snaps, pinpoint accuracy, and high rate of fire decided that they would be better off picking a fight with someone who did not have a Rolling Block.

George Armstrong Custer, who took pleasure in killing everything that moved, also owned a civilian sporting-rifle variant of the Rolling Block that also chambered in .50/70. He loved it to death. He took the rifle with him to the Little Big Horn, where it changed hands. The Rolling Block was a formidable firearm and it was so well-made that I’m sure that you can find many of these still in good condition today.

3. W.W. Greener Coach Gun

The coach gun used to be called the “cut-down shotguns” or “messengers’ guns” back in the day. They did not get the attention they deserve. Back in the TV Western Plague of the 50s, it got some screen time, but not what it deserved. The coach gun came from England in the early 17th century. That was also where stagecoach banditry originated. The coach gun was a blunderbuss, a brass barreled, smoothbore flintlock.

The coach gun got its name in the 1860s when Wells Fargo issued short-barreled 10- or 12-gauge black powder shotguns to its guards on stagecoaches carrying shipments, not passengers. As far as Wells Fargo was concerned, the passengers were on their own. It was the Wild West, after all. The guns had exposed hammers and were manufactured by many gun manufacturers such as Remington, Ithaca, Parker, Colt, and L.C. Smith. However, the best ones were made by the British firm W.W. Greener.

Sheriffs and marshals soon came to love the messenger guns. They understood that if a shootout were to happen, you would not use your handgun, much like law officers today. You take the shotgun out of the rack and jump into the fray.

A lot of people were not fazed when you point a pistol or a rifle at them. For they weren’t so crass when it came to shotguns. I’m willing to wager that many confrontations back in the day did not happen because someone brought shotguns.

One confrontation that involved the use of a shotgun was that of the homicidal ex-dentist named Doc Holliday. At O.K. Corral, he shot a thug named Tom McLaury in the chest at point black range with his 10-gauge shotgun, resulting in a palm-sized wound.

Wyatt Earp also killed an unfortunate fellow named Frank Stillwell using both barrels from a 10-gauge shotgun, possibly a Greener, in an Arizona rail yard. Soon after, he waltzed through a hail of gunfire with the same gun to put an end to Curly Bill Brocius in a gunfight at Iron Springs.

W.W. Greener opened up shop in 1829 and is still in business today. The messenger gun has evolved into the slide-action and semi-auto riot gun. They have also made tactical shotguns as well. Regardless of these changes, it still remains effective to this day.

4. Remington New Model Army Revolver

The gun was patented in 1858 but only started rolling out of factories in 1861. The Remington New Model Army was the one who put the Colt Model 1851 Navy and Colt Model 1860 out of action. Similar to the Colts, the New Model Army was made in .36 and .44.

Unlike the Colts, the Remington came with a top strap over the cylinder so the frame could be stronger and stuffer. This allows you to use heavier powder charges and clobber someone over the head without the risk of damaging your gun.

The Remington came in two models, the Army and the Navy. The Army variant received more love as it was a big, heavy percussion revolver. The barrel was 8 inches long and was known back in the day to have excellent accuracy, which was something the Colt could not provide. The New Model was sighted in at 75 yards, which goes to show how well it shot.

Remington had another ace up its sleeve. They milled slots between the cylinders to retain the hammer when the gun was in the holster. Another way to do this is to have the hammer resting on an empty cylinder or a percussion cap. This little yet effective safety measure was loved by everyone. After the Civil War and the introduction of metallic cartridges, many New Model Army revolvers evolved to use the .36 and .46 rimfire. It found adoption in nine countries but its career ended in 1875.

Buffalo Bill Cody loved the gun. He carried an ivory-handled .44 New Model from 1863 during his time in the Union Army, up until 1906 when he decided to hand it over to the foreman on his ranch with a note that said, “… It has never failed me.” Well, The Remington never failed anyone else either.

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