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, 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
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 Prodigal Gun, heroine Jessie 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. In fact, Bennett Collier—a Confederate cavalry officer who returns to his family’s Texas ranch at the end of the Civil War—brings a pair home with him. Ben is the hero in “Making Peace,” one of two related stories that compose The Dumont Brand.
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 in an alley near the OK Corral”) and Well 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, a sheep rancher whose barbed-wire fence touches off a range war, keeps one in a desk drawer.
Winchester Model 1873
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 long gun 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. For that matter, so does Quinn Barclay, The Second-Best Ranger in Texas.
A couple of days ago, I found out The Dumont Brand has been nominated for a Reward of Novel Excellence, or RONE, Award. The RONEs, given annually by romance magazine InD’tale, are judged in an unusual way: A jury selects nominees, the nominees go to a public vote, and then another jury selects the winners from among the books most popular with the public. I didn’t realize anything I’ve written was eligible, so that was a pleasant surprise.
Because I’m feeling magnanimous after that discovery, I’ll give an e-copy of The Dumont Brand to one of today’s commenters. To be eligible, answer this question: If you had been a denizen of the Wild West, what kind of weapon would you have carried? Revolver, rifle, shotgun? Maybe a derringer? Or perhaps something pointy would have been more your style. (All Petticoats and Pistols sweepstakes rules apply to this giveaway.)
Here’s a bit about the book, in case you’re curious.
On the eve of the Civil War, family secrets threaten everything a ranching dynasty has built…until one son finds salvation in the wrong woman’s love. In the aftermath of battle, a woman destroyed by betrayal brings peace to his brother’s wounded soul.
The Big Uneasy
To escape the unthinkable with a man about whom she knows too much, New Orleans belle Josephine LaPierre agrees to marry a Texan about whom she knows nothing. Falling in love with his brother was not part of her plan.
After four long years in hell, Confederate cavalry officer Bennett Collier just wants to go home—assuming home still exists. Widowed Jayhawker Maggie Fannin will hold onto her home at any cost…even if she must face down the imposing Rebel soldier who accuses her of squatting.
If you just can’t wait to find out whether you’ve won, you can find The Dumont Brand at these fine e-tailers: