Gun Smoke and Black Powder

Gun-Smoke-and-Black-Powder-blog

Reading the pulp westerns one would conclude that the Colt revolver was the only pistol used in the Old West. Remington built a fine six-shooter and so did Starr and Smith & Wesson. At times Wyatt Earp carried a Smith & Wesson. Frank James packed an 1875 model Remington and also owned a Smith & Wesson Schofield, as did his brother Jesse. Buffalo Bill Cody was also a great admirer of the Smith & Wesson revolver. Besides his trusty Colt, Jesse James carried a .44 Starr revolver.

Black powder was used until the 1890’s and it threw out large puffs of white smoke that could quickly engulf a saloon. That might explain why some of the shooting in confined places like saloons seemed so poor. A gunfight in the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City on April 5th, 1879, is a good example. Cockeye Frank Loving and a buffalo hunter named Levi Richardson got into a row, chasing each other around a gaming table, shooting all the while, their pistol barrels almost touching. Richardson, fanning his pistol, fired all five rounds, missing five times, succeeding only in setting Cockeye Frank’s clothing on fire. His clothes trailing smoke, Cockeye finally hit Levi with a fatal bullet.

One couldn’t always count on the cartridges to fire. When Jack McCall shot Wild Bill Hickok in Deadwood on August 2nd, 1876, the pistol he used misfired on every cartridge in the cylinder except the first one–the one that fired the fatal bullet.

The two-gun fighter was mostly a creation of Hollywood. Few could do any more than waste ammunition with their off-hand. Even the ambidextrous Hickok wasn’t as good with his left hand. During a shooting exhibition when the left hand didn’t perform as well as the right, his only comment was he’d never shot a man with his left hand anyway. The real purpose of a second gun was to have a weapon in reserve. In the early days of the revolver extra weapons were carried because it took a painfully long time to reload. If they didn’t carry extra pistols, they often had an extra cylinder or two loaded and ready to insert.

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