Here’s a rundown of some of the more famous guns—and their modern replicas—from before 1873, when the Old West was young.


In the decades leading up to 1873, when the famed .45 Colt Peacemaker and the ’73 Winchester .44-40 made their appearance and the U.S. Government adopted the .45-70 Springfield “trapdoor” rifle, cap and ball firearms still reigned supreme. Illustrating the popularity of percussion arms, these two frontiersmen each pack caplock Colt revolvers. The hombre at left also sports a double-barreled sidehammer, cap and ball shotgun and a huge Bowie knife at his side. True West Archives


The year 1873 could be called “The Year of the Gun,” because of the introduction of such iconic firearms as the 1873 Colt .45 Single Action Army revolver (SAA), the 1873 Winchester rifle in .44-40 caliber, and the U.S. military’s adoption of the powerful .45-70 Springfield rifle and carbine. However, when these game-changing firearms debuted, much of the American West’s story had already been acted out, much of it with what were then considered “state of the art” guns. The “hardware” available to the frontiersman in the last two decades before 1873  ranged from percussion arms to a handful of then-latest metallic cartridge firearms. Let’s look at a few guns that blazed their way across our Western territories during that colorful period and explore which replicas are available, and who offers them. 


Two of the most famous arms of the Old West are Colt’s 1873 Single Action Army revolver and Winchester’s 1873 model lever-action rifle. Both guns have become icons of the American West, and are still available from Colt and Winchester today. Colt offers a .45 Colt caliber six-gun with a 4 ¾-inch, 5 ½-inch (shown) or the original 7 ½-inch (cavalry-length) barrel, while you can get the ’73 lever action Winchester in a variety of carbine (shown) or rifle models in original .44-40 caliber, .38/.357 or .45 Colt chambering. Photos Courtesy Colt and Winchester


Yesteryear’s Hardware

As America entered the decade of the 1870s, cap and ball firearms were rapidly being replaced by the newer, more reliable metallic cartridge guns. Nonetheless, whether due to economics, availability, or simply a lack of trust of these newfangled “ca’tridge” guns, there were holdouts still clinging to their tried and true caplock arms. Guns like the Hawken Plains rifle, and military muzzleloading rifles like the 1855 or 1860s Springfield and British Enfield rifle-muskets, or breechloaders like the older Sharps, Smith, Maynard and other Civil War-era rifles and carbines remained popular, continuing to see much usage out West.  

Professional hunters, scouts and the military who ventured into hostile lands, however, were finding that the then-new cartridge conversion firearms were worth their weight in gold. They favored guns like the .50-70 Allin conversion of the percussion 1861 Springfield and the 1859 and 1863 Sharps, altered to take that same round, along with some newly introduced rifles like Remington’s Split Breech carbine, or their No. 1 Sporting rifles. The famed Sharps Buffalo Gun big-bore rifles were also added to their arsenals, for game hunting, defense and for warfare. In addition to these conversions of the older single-shot guns, the fairly new repeaters that entered the scene during the late war, including the Spencer and the Henry, were guns one could depend on without reserve. The single- and double-barreled percussion and some pinfire shotguns remained the choice of many who needed a good small game or defensive firearm. For lawmen and express men too, the trusty twin-tubed scattergun still ruled. Ironically, it was not uncommon to see a frontiersman with perhaps a metallic-cased longarm and a sidearm in percussion ignition, or vice versa. All said, the guns of the pre-1873 West were often juxtapositions of firepower.


The Hawken rifle of St. Louis, Missouri, rated tops among the most coveted Plains rifles in the later years of the fur trade. Today’s mountain men and muzzleloading enthusiasts can enjoy Pedersoli-made fully finished rifles from Dixie Gun Works and Taylor’s & Co. However if you prefer custom building and hand fitting your own smokepole like the Hawken Shop’s finished kit rifle shown here, check out offerings from the Hawken Shop, a quality company that’s been turning out great Hawken kits for decades. Courtesy The Hawken Shop


The handgun—especially the revolver—an important piece of hardware to any frontiersman, went from percussion to cartridge conversions to newly designed metal-cased ammo during this era. Popular arms were any of Colt’s open-top cap and ball Army, Navy, Dragoon or Pocket five- and six-shooters, or Colt lookalikes including the Manhattan and Cooper revolvers. Remington’s top strap revolvers, Whitney six guns and Starr single and double-actions, along with myriad wheelguns of the day kept the frontier lively. A small number of single-shot pistols still had a presence in the last few years before 1873, but by that time, they had pretty much had their day. The various cartridge conversions of the caplock revolvers held great appeal—even for several years after the introduction of Colt’s ’73 Army—largely because of the lower prices these conversion arms sold for. 

In 1872 Colt produced about 7,000 Open Top revolvers, just prior to the introduction of their legendary 1873 Colt SAA, and S&W produced several small bore five- and six-shooters like the .32 Rimfire No. 2 Army (one of James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok’s choices). Too, civilian gunsmiths were converting many cap and ball guns in a variety of creative ways. Between the Civil War and 1873, a host of metallic cartridge firearms made their appearance. There were far too many to mention here, but for example, and undoubtedly the most famous revolvers with completely bored-through chambers in their cylinders came from Smith & Wesson (S&W) when that firm broke ground for big-bore six guns with its Model No. 3 American in .44 S&W American caliber. This was quickly followed by its various .44 Russian models. 


Whether packed by the Anglo emigrant or the Native American, percussion arms could be found throughout the West in the years prior to 1873—and for several years thereafter. This colorfully dressed Indian warrior displays his brace of 1860 Army Colt .44s, along with his feathered fedora and full-flapped holsters on the floor of the photographer’s studio. Reproduction revolvers like this (below) and more can be found at most replica arms outfitters like Cimarron Firearms (shown in full-fluted, original finish), Dixie Gun Works, Taylor’s & Co., and Uberti USA. Historic Photo Courtesy Phil Spangenberger Collection/Modern Photo Courtesy Cimarron Firearms


Also in 1872, England’s double-action, easily concealed and powerful British Bull Dog was introduced and gained a fair amount of notoriety with Americans—including Lt. Col. George A. Custer. American arms like the Moore, Reid’s Knuckle Duster, Prescott and several other pocket pistols undoubtedly saw use out West. Let’s not forget the little derringers too. These palm-sized pistols ranged from Henry Deringer’s Philadelphia single-shot percussion pistol to the .41 rimfires like Remington’s famed metallic cartridge Double Derringer, or the one-shot Southerner from Brown (and Merrimack Arms), to multi-round pocket pistols from Colt, Remington, S&W, Connecticut Arms Co. and others. From Mexico to Montana, any of these concealable handguns could be found hidden among the pockets and folds of a Westerner’s clothing—regardless of gender.

As we can see, there was a vast selection of shooting irons pioneers could choose from in order to be “well heeled.” Nowadays, thanks to the manufacturers and importers of replica firearms, history buffs and Western gun enthusiasts can enjoy a great variety of quality reproductions of the guns of yesteryear—and at affordable prices—especially when compared to purchasing an original in safe, shootable condition. These replicas are made to be fired and enjoyed at the range, during reenactments, or in the hunting fields—and they can also serve as self-defense arms if needed. While I’m not advocating the use of a historical replica arm over a modern gun, remember that just because it is a replica of an old-time gun, it can serve for protection if no modern arm is available. Defense or offense were the primary reasons many of the originals were designed for, and they have a notable history of serving their purpose.


It was not uncommon in the late 1860s and 1870s to see frontiersmen packing both metallic cartridge rifles and percussion revolvers. This nattily dressed Westerner has outfitted himself with a .50-70 Allin conversion Springfield rifle and a pair of cap and ball 1851 Navy Colts, along with his trusty skinning knife. Today’s Old West enthusiasts can easily do the same with replicas. True West Archives


Pre-1873 Guns Live On

If you are looking for a muzzleloading Plains Rifle like the Hawken, the favorite of frontiersmen like Kit Cason and Mariano Modena, you’d do well to contact either The Hawken Shop in St. Louis, Missouri ( which offers “Do it Yourself” Hawken rifle kits along with component parts, so you can custom-make a Hawken of your own just the way you want it. For a fully finished quality replica Hawken, imported from Italy’s Davide Pedersoli & C., you can check with Dixie Gun Works ( or Taylor’s & Company ( and look at their selections of Hawken rifles, Kentucky rifles and other front-loading longarms of the early West. As a personal sidelight, this writer can say that from my own experience, hunting with a Hawken rifle is a challenge and a thrill any vintage firearm buff would enjoy. Maybe you have a hankering for one of the Civil War-era, single-shot percussion breechloaders like the 1863 Sharps or a Smith carbine. If these breechloaders appeal to you, look to EMF Co., Inc. ( or Taylor’s & Company for a percussion/cartridge Smith carbine replica or an 1863 Sharps clone. Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Co. ( only offers the 1863 Sharps model in carbine or infantry rifle configuration. Remember, all replica muzzle-loading arms are made strictly for use with black powder.


Among professional buffalo hunters and sport hunters, the Model 1874 Sharps rifle was king of the hill for long-range, hard-hitting shooting. Although called the 1874 Model, this powerful rifle was actually introduced in 1871. This designation was not applied by the Sharps rifle Company until a few years afterward. True West archives


If you’ve set your sights on single-shot, metallic cartridge guns of the post-1865 period, which are capable of handling factory smokeless powder ammunition, there is an arsenal full of choices. To find rifles such as the 1871 Remington Rolling Block, or the 1874 Sharps (which was actually introduced by Sharps in 1871), you’d do well to look up Cimarron Firearms (, Chiappa ( Dixie Gun Works, Uberti USA ( or EMF to see what Pedersoli imports they offer. Home-grown companies like Shiloh and C. Sharps Arms Co., Inc. ( both produce exquisite reproductions of different 1874 models (Sporters, Creedmoors, etc.). Shiloh, of course, is well known for creating the famed Quigley Sharps from Tom Selleck’s Australian/Western movie Quigley Down Under, along with other superb Sharps clones. I’ve handled and hunted with the Pedersoli import replicas as well as the American-made Shiloh and C. Sharps’ rifles with much success.

Lever-action gunners have several newly produced frontier-style Winchester rifles (1873-95 models, manufactured by Miroku Corp. of Japan) to choose from by Winchester Repeating Arms Co. (, and several companies also import replicas of the different frontier repeaters such as the 1860 and the 1865 Spencer carbine, and the 1866 “Yellowboy” Winchester clone—including the 1860 Henry repeater. You’ll need plenty of time to check out all the various models available from Cimarron, Dixie Gun Works, Chiappa, EMF Co., Taylor’s & Co. and Uberti USA (


Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Company, makers of the famed Quigley Model Sharps replica of the rifle in Quigley Down Under, offers a variety of beautifully crafted percussion and metallic cartridge Sharps reproductions, including 1863 caplock carbines and sporting rifles, and 1874 metallic-cased ammunition buffalo guns, Creedmoor target rifles and more. Here is Shiloh’s popular Sporter No. 1 model. Courtesy Shiloh Rifle Manufacturing Co.


Speaking of the 1860 Henry rifle, a handsome version of that “Damned Yankee rifle that you load on Sunday and shoot all week” is being made in the good old USA by Henry USA ( along with their many traditionally inspired, but more modern Henry rifles, like the Golden Boy .22 or their Big Boy in .45-70. Scattergunners will find a selection of double-barreled shotgun offerings in pre-1873 configuration (exposed sidehammers) and in full-length or the shorter-tubed coach gun models from most of the above importers listed. There are too many variations to list here, so hit the ol’ internet trail for a quality Old West shotgun.

Percussion revolvers like the various Colt and Remington models are offered by most of the replica outfits that sell black powder revolvers. These include Cimarron Firearms, Dixie Gun Works, EMF Co., Taylor’s & Company and Uberti USA. Dixie Gun Works also offers replicas of the Starr single- and double-action percussion revolvers and the big LeMat, although it’s not likely many LeMat revolving hand cannons would have been seen on the frontier. Cartridge conversion revolvers have enjoyed favor in recent years. Six guns, like the handsome copies of the Colt Richards and Richards-Mason style Army and Navy models and the Remington conversions, are being packed by more and more Old West reenactors and sport shooters.


Looking every bit like an original Sharps buffalo rifle in new condition is this C. Sharps Arms Hartford model. Custom built from scratch, these handsome Montana-made single-shot rifles are among the very best Sharps reproductions and are custom-built to your specifications in a variety of authentic frontier chamberings. Courtesy C. Sharps Arms Co.


Among the pre-1873 guns that were made strictly as metallic cartridge revolvers, is Cimarron’s  Uberti-made copy of S&W’s First Model No. 3 American revolver, introduced a couple of years ago. Historically, it was the first practical large-bore (.44 American caliber) U.S.-made (manufactured in 1870-72), metallic cartridge six-shooter. Cimarron and others, including Dixie Gun Works, EMF Co., and Taylor’s & Company, are importing clones of the later S&W Russian model with its unique spur on the trigger guard. These companies are well worth looking into for your next piece of frontier hardware. Even though I’ve devoted this article strictly to the guns that were in use before 1873, I feel the game-changing and original 1873 Colt SAA should be mentioned since it is still being manufactured and offered by Colt ( Contact them for details on acquiring a newly manufactured, but historic, Colt .45 Peacemaker.


Documented as the second-most used rifle by professional hide hunters, Remington’s No. 1 sporting rifle was produced in both centerfire and rimfire calibers. Replicas of this rugged single-shot rifle are available in centerfire cartridges only and can be purchased from Cimarron Firearms and Dixie Gun Works. Courtesy Dixie Gun Works


Care and Feeding of Replicas

If you’re hunting for a metallic cartridge replica firearm, there are a number of sources for commercially manufactured, smokeless powder factory ammunition, including some who offer lower recoil Cowboy Action loads for the guns listed in this piece. Ammo ranging from small bore to the large caliber and Cowboy Action offerings are available from Aguila Ammunition, Atomic Ammunition, Black Hills Ammunition, Cowboy Choice, Fiocchi, Hornady, HSM, Magtech, Remington, Sellier & Bellot and Winchester. If you shoot a lot, you may eventually find the need for replacement parts. VTI Replica Gun Parts can supply over 10,000 different rifle and handgun components for replicas, including those from Armi San Marcos, Uberti, Pietta, Pedersoli, IAB and others. I’ve obtained component parts from VTI several times and have always been happy with the parts and the service. Keep them in mind if you need replacement parts for your replica firearms.


Uberti USA offers an extensive selection of cap and ball, cartridge conversion and metallic cartridge frontier-era revolvers. A popular choice with shooters and reenactors alike is Uberti USA’s eight-inch barreled, 1858 Remington New Army cartridge conversion six-gun in .45 Colt caliber, as seen here. Some outfits like Cimarron Firearms offer the model as well, and most companies stock the cap and ball version, while Taylor’s & Co. also offers conversion cylinders for the ’58 Remington. Courtesy Uberti USA


Although many of the modern replica houses sell accurate copies of actual models of frontier firearms, nearly all of them also offer guns that are not copies of actual known factory-manufactured models from that era. Rather, they are imported variations of revolvers with non-original features such as birds-head grips, snub-nosed or octagon-barreled models and six-shooters with brass—rather than blued steel—back straps and other non-historic modifications of caplock and metallic cartridge guns in order to appeal to various shooters. If it’s a realistic, historic copy you want, rather than one altered with non-factory touches, a bit of research would be in order before making a purchase.

Now you know the types of guns used before the introduction of the 1873 Winchester .44-40, the Colt Single Action Army .45 and the U.S. Government’s .45-70 Springfield trapdoor. Firearms from the decades when the Old West was young represent some of the most interesting frontier shooting irons. 

EMF Co.’s Hartford Coach Gun is a classic clone of the early 1870s double-barreled shotguns with their cut-down tubes for easier handling aboard a bouncing stagecoach. They feature exposed hammers and 20-inch side-by-side smoothbore barrels. Now known as Coach Guns, replica scatterguns made to look like those with sawed-off barrels are well liked by today’s Old West crowd. Courtesy EMF Co., Inc.


Along with its vast selection of traditionally inspired, yet more modern lever-action rifles, Henry USA produces an authentic copy of the original 1860 Henry in both historically correct brass-framed or color case hardened, iron-framed models like the one pictured here. Most replica companies offer quality import copies of this famous repeater—the rifle that paved the way for all future lever guns. Courtesy Henry USA


Above: Illustrating the popularity of cartridge conversion longarms like the Sharps, this period photo shows Donald McKay, chief of the Warm Springs scouts during the Modoc War (1872-73) cradling his .50-70 Sharps carbine. Left: Taylor’s & Co. offers both the 20-inch barreled Model 1865 Spencer repeating carbine and the rifle model with its 30-inch round barrel, as shown here. Courtesy Library of Congress/ Courtesy Taylor’s & Co.


In 1870, the first practical, American-made, big-bore metallic-cased ammo revolver was manufactured by Smith & Wesson. Dubbed the Model No. 3 First Model, it was originally chambered for the .44 American cartridge. Cimarron Firearms offers a spitting image replica of this historic six-shooter in .45 Colt. It sports an eight-inch barrel, walnut stocks and is fully blued.
Courtesy Cimarron Firearms

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