To Provide against Carrying of Deadly Weapons (1881)
Section 1. It is hereby declared unlawful to carry in the hand or upon the person or otherwise any deadly weapon within the limits of said city of Tombstone, without first obtaining a permit in writing.
Section 2: This prohibition does not extend to persons immediately leaving or entering the city, who, with good faith, and within reasonable time are proceeding to deposit, or take from the place of deposit such deadly weapon.
Here we go again; as our politicians work on gun control legislation, it might surprise you to learn that there was more gun control in the Old West than there is in modern times.
According to Adam Winkler, professor and specialist in constitutional law at UCLA School of Law, Tombstone had stricter laws on carrying guns in public in the 1880s than it has today. “Today, you’re allowed to carry a gun without a license or permit on Tombstone streets. Back in the 1880s, you weren’t.” This was true of many frontier towns.
According to Stephen Aron, professor of his history at UCLA, the first law passed when Dodge City formed a government in 1878 was one prohibiting the carrying of guns within town limits.
Leaders and merchants considered restrictive gun laws necessary for encouraging people to move to their towns and bring families. This was considered a necessary part of creating a stable community, rather than a transient one.
Gun laws were passed quickly in the Old West. That was because they were instigated at the local level rather than by Congress. The Federal government stayed out of gun battles.
The laws did not ban guns. Owning a gun in the Old West was a matter of survival. The laws simply stated where and how you could carry them. Guns and knives were not allowed within town limits. Visitors were required to leave their weapons with the sheriff, livery or saloon upon entering town. They received a token which they would exchange for their guns upon leaving.
Some challenged the laws in court, but most lost.
Did the gun laws work? If we use Tombstone as an example, the answer would seem to be no. In his book on crime in the Old West, historian Roger McGrath concluded that it was widespread gun ownership that deterred criminality in these areas in which law enforcement had little authority or ability to combat crime.
Then as now, there are no easy answers, and the battle rages on.
Would it surprise you to know that Hollywood exaggerated crime in the Old West? Scholars have established that it was not as violent as most movies and novels would have us believe.
Oliver Winchester bought the remains of the Volcanic Repeating Arms Company, started the New Haven Arms Company, reorganized it as the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in 1866, and manufactured some of the most famous firearms ever created. Today we’re going to look at one of their most revered rifles: The 1876 Winchester Centennial Repeating Rifle.
Introduced at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876 and named to commemorate our nation’s one hundredth anniversary of independence, Winchester’s lever-action rifle was the largest and among the most powerful repeaters on the frontier.
The Centennial was one of the first lever-action weapons to use larger caliber, center-fire ammunition. In the same way that “rim-fire” meant the hammer struck the rim of the projectile, center-fire means the hammer strikes the center of the bullet when the trigger is pulled. In this case, larger means .45-75 to .50-90 caliber bullets.
The Centennial Repeater was 48½” long with a 28” barrel, and weighed in at 9 to 9½ pounds! And loading it with shells adds at least another pound. A gallon of milk weighs only 8.6 pounds–try holding that out in front of you and keeping it steady enough to hit what you’re aiming at!
The bullets go into the magazine through a spring-loaded feeder on the right side of the rifle. Fully loaded, the 1876 Repeater held 12 total cartridges–11 in the magazine and one in the chamber. All you had to do was stuff the bullets into the feeder, rack the lever and pull the trigger. Confederate soldiers who faced a Repeater in battle referred to it as that “rifle you load on Sunday and fire all week.”
This sturdy, reliable rifle was favored by good guys and bad guys alike. There were many of them at the Battle of Little Big Horn (most in the hands of the Native Americans), and they were common among those who traveled and settled out west.
The Model 1876 was carried by ranchers and cowboys, Texas Rangers and the Canadian North West Mounted Police. President Theodore Roosevelt owned and used one; even notorious outlaws such as Johnny Ringo (left) and Tom Horn relied on this rifle during the late 1800s.
Hollywood loved the 1876 Centennial Repeater, too. Tom Selleck carried one as Rafe Covington (right) in Crossfire Trail (TNT, 2001) and as Monte Walsh in Monte Walsh (2002). Virginia Madsen used the 1876 Centennial when she saved the day–and her man– also in Crossfire Trail. It made an appearance Steve McQueen’s hands when he played Tom Horn in the 1980 movie of the same name. And characters Johnny Ringo and Sherm McMasters used it in Tombstone (1993).
Just for comparison, the pic at the left, from the final gunbattle in TNT’s Crossfire Trail, shows an 1876 Centennial in the back, an 1866 “Yellow Boy” or “Golden Boy” (because of the polished brass receiver) in the middle and a Winchester 1873 in the front.
The 1876 Centennial Rifle was the king of its day. Manufacturing was discontinued in 1898 after Winchester produced nearly 64,000 of this amazing lever-action rifle.
In 1972 the movie Jeremiah Johnson hit the big screen bringing with it an interest in the HAWKEN rifle, a gun that Jeremiah coveted and eventually acquired. This movie sparked considerable interest in owning a firearm of this sty le. Many companies in the muzzle-loading field quickly brought forth their rendition of a HAWKEN rifle. Not many people knew “HAWKEN” was the name of an actual man with a shop building rifles in St. Louis in the 1800’s. No, not many knew but there was one.
In 1960 after 20 years of military service my father opened a small gunsmithing shop on Whidbey Island in Washington state. I joined him in the business and began attending trade shows to see what was new in the firearms industry. On one such trip at a very large show I ventured down an isle and was surprised to see that among the men in sport coats and ties was a man in full buckskin attire.
He was standing in a booth amid racks of HAWKEN rifles with other men dressed in a similar fashion. The display tables were draped in buffalo skins with tomahawks, powder horns, knives and other accouterments set about. I felt as if l had taken a step back in time and was comfortable in the atmosphere it all created. Then I saw it, hanging high above it all, a sign that read The HAWKEN Shop. While talking with the men in the booth, I learned that these rifles marked HAWKEN really were HAWKEN rifles. These were not imitations, they were the real deal! I was hooked and the HAWKEN rifle was embedded in my mind. The HAWKEN rifle came about from a need of people moving westward for firearms capable of taking down game larger than the rabbits, squirrels, and deer they hunted in the east. Moving westward, they would encounter elk, bear, and bison. A larger caliber rifle would be in demand.
I learned that in the 1970’s this buckskin clad man had brought the HAWKEN SHOP back to life. He was an estate buyer in St. Louis and had purchased what was left of the shop from the 1800’s. His plan was to once again offer these rifles to the general public. This he did. He took original parts from the rifles and had molds made to assure that rifles of current manufacture would be a continuation of those built in the 1800’s. With letters from HAWKEN descendants attesting to their authenticity, he made the HAWKEN rifle again available. Rifles from the HAWKEN shop were carried by such men as Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, and other mountain men of notoriety. HAWKEN rifles found their way across the prairie, they accompanied trappers upriver in their quest for furs, and traveled on wagon trains heading for the gold fields. The rifle being of sturdy build could come in handy as a pry bar to loosen your wagon should it bog down in the mud. The HAWKEN rifle is as steeped in history as the men who carried it.
In the late 1970’s the proprietor of the HAWKEN shop experienced some personal difficulties, forcing closure of the shop, and it was again put into storage. The HAWKEN shop never totally left my mind, and I went in search to find it. In 1990 my partner and myself located the owner and purchased the HAWKEN shop and are again offering this historically correct rifle. We have traveled to museums, historical landmarks, and forts, following the trails of the mountain men. We continually strive to learn more of the man Sam Hawken and his rifle and continue efforts to preserve this part of our country’s history.
Claudette Greene is offering an historical board game she developed and sells in her store. It involves several years of research and is about the Hawken muzzle-loading rifle and the mountain men that tamed the West. Leave a comment for a chance to win.
If I asked you to name the maker of the oldest revolver in existence, who would you say made it? Colt? Smith & Wesson? You’d be wrong.
The oldest revolver know to exist in the world today was made in 1597 by German weapons blacksmith Hans Stopler and it is in the collection of the Maihaugen Folk Museum in Lillehammer, Norway.
The revolver belonged to Georg von Reichwein, a well-known officer who made his name defending Norway in the wars against Sweden in the early 1600s. Reichwein bought or received the revolver in 1636, according to the inscription on the gun stock, the year he was promoted to major and was put in charge of the forces stationed at the Bergenhus fortress in Norway. The gun is ornately decorated, with mother of pearl and engravings, so it’s doubtful it was meant for daily use.
Though it may be the oldest known revolver, it is definitely not the earliest one ever made, because the craftsmanship and sheer refinement of the weapon says it was built on well established conventions.
Like other guns of the era it is a flintlock, but instead of a single barrel and chamber, it uses a rotating cylinder with eight chambers and a fixed barrel. Each cylinder has a sliding cover to protect its flash pan and prevent chain fires — lighting up more than one charge at a time. That’s a bad thing!
The big difference in this revolver? It must be manually rotated! You point, pull the trigger, rotate the cylinder to the next chamber and repeat. According to the museum curator, the revolver was “made to injure other people. Not necessarily to kill, because in war at that time the most important was to injure other soldiers.”
I have to admit to being a rabid Olympics fan. I’m a mediocre fan of sports overall. I enjoy watching grand slam tennis events and am known to watch football and baseball games if my husband has them on, but rarely do I purposely turn on the TV in search of sports. Until the Olympics come around. When Team USA plays, I set my schedule around being in front of the TV to cheer on my country.
Our first gold medal of the 2016 games was awarded to a young, 19-year-old shooter by the name of Virginia Thrasher. Watching this cool-as-a-cucumber athlete, reminded me of Annie Oakley and all the talented shooters who came from an era when guns were necessary to keep food on the table and danger from the door.
As it turns out, shooting was one of the original events at the first modern Olympics in 1896. There were 5 different shooting events, 2 for rifles and 3 for pistols. And of the 8 athletes representing the United States at the games in Athens, 2 of them were shooters. Brothers John and Sumner Paine from Harvard. Lieutenant John B. Paine happened to be a member of the Boston Athletic Club, which was the organization that sent a handful of athletes to compete at the newly organized games. John’s brother, Sumner was in Paris, France at the time, working as a gunsmith. After deciding to make the trip to Greece to compete, John stopped by France on his way in order to invite his brother to come along.
Not knowing what weapons they would need, they packed an arsenal: two Colt army revolvers, two Smith & Wesson Russian model revolvers, a Stevens .22 caliber pistol, a Wurfflein, two pocket weapons, and 3,500 rounds of ammunition.* They entered all 3 pistol events. Unfortunately, they were excluded from the rapid fire pistol competition because their .22 caliber pistols were disqualified as not being standard issue.
The shooting house was built of white marble, and they shot at a black bull’s-eye with a white dot inside.
Using their Colt revolvers, John and Sumner dominated the 25 meter military pistol event. John took first place with a score of 442. Sumner took second with a score of 380. The next closest opponent scored 205. The brothers had decided privately that whoever won the first event would bow out for the second, so John withdrew from the 30 meter free pistol event, leaving Sumner to capture first place easily with the same score his brother had earned in the previous round – 442. They only needed 96 rounds from the 3,500-round stash of ammunition to win their events.
John and Sumner Paine were the first US athletes to win gold at the Olympics.
Where does the whiskey come in, you ask? Well, according to eye-witness accounts, the Paine brothers paused between rounds to sip whiskey from flasks when tensions ran high. By the next day, all the other competitors decided to follow suit.* I don’t think these fellows would have passed the anti-doping regulations of today.
Being an Olympic shooting champion has it’s advantages, though. One night in 1901, Sumner Paine came home to find his wife in bed with his daughter’s music teacher. He drove the man away with four shots from a .32 caliber pistol. He was briefly jailed and charged with assault, but Paine was released when the police found his medal and realized he must have missed on purpose.
I’ve always been interested in history and did a lot of research on the West while I was writing the Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes (Cengage, 2012). I also spent time in Arizona after my father moved to a ghost town near the Mexican border, and I was fascinated by the area around Tombstone, where much of the WANTED series is set.
In the first book in the series, Grace and the Guiltless,Grace is the lone survivor after outlaws massacre her family. She risks her reputation by entering the notorious Bird Cage Theater to report the crime to the sheriff:
Clouds of smoke enveloped Grace. Like the black, acrid smoke from the burning cabin that still clung to her pores and clothes, the sweetish cigar smoke and the sharper scent of burning tobacco from hand-rolled cigarettes suffocated her. Raucous laughter, the tinkle of a piano, and the clink of glasses pulsed through the room. The infamous alcoves, or bird cages, some with their red velvet curtains drawn, perched overhead like rows of fancy packages.
Her eyes stinging from the haze, Grace squinted to find the sheriff. So many black frock coats blurred into an indistinguishable mass…
Disentangling herself from pawing hands as she crosses the room, Grace irritates the sheriff by separating him from the painted lady keeping him company.
The heavyset man frowned at her. “So, what can I do for you, Miss —”
“Grace Milton, sir. Yesterday my parents . . . my whole family . . .” Grace’s tongue tripped over the words. If she said them aloud, it would make it real. But if she didn’t, those killers would get away with what they had done. “Elijah Hale and his gang . . . they shot my pa, and-and…”
The sheriff’s face paled at the mention of Hale’s name, but he leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers, though his hands shook slightly. “Mr. Hale is well known in these parts as a respectable man.”
Respectable man? A picture imprinted itself on Grace’s mind – Hale smiling, his gun pointed straight at her father’s heart.
The sheriff pulled a cigar from his vest pocket and rolled it between his fingers, avoiding her eyes.
“Did you hear me? Hale killed my pa. And my ma, and my—”
The sheriff chomped down on the cigar, twisted, and then spat the end into the nearby spittoon. The wad hit the brass with a wet ringing sound. “Any witnesses?”
“Me,” Grace choked out.
Sheriff Behan lit his cigar and blew a puff of smoke in Grace’s direction. “Not sure your word,” he said, his gaze raking her disheveled appearance, “would stand up against Hale’s.” He waved his cigar in a dismissive circle. “You bring me some proof, and I’ll consider looking into it.”
A white-hot volcano of rage erupted in Grace’s stomach. Did that badge glinting at her from across the table mean anything at all?
“My family’s dead in the ground.” She sucked in air to control the tremor in her voice. “I dug their graves myself.” She held out her blistered and bloodied hands. “Is that proof enough for you?”
Something flickered in the sheriff’s eyes. Pity maybe? But he quickly shuttered it. “That’s a sad story Miss Milton, but people die every day.” His voice loaded with fake sympathy, he continued, “Lots of Injuns ’round here. Renegade soldiers. Hermits. Even coyotes. Understandable you’d be a mite mixed up following such a tragedy. You being hysterical and all.”
“I. Am. Not. Hysterical.” Grace spat out each word. Furious, yes. Hysterical, no. Although he was rapidly pushing her in that direction. She’d get no help from this snake.
As Grace suspects, the sheriff is in cahoots with the gang, so she trains as a bounty hunter to singlehandedly track down the criminals. One reviewer calls her the “Katniss of the Wild West.” But when Grace falls for Joe, a?rugged range rider, can she give up her independence to take on a partner?
In book 2, Her Cold Revenge, Grace must prove her skills and stop a train robbery masterminded by the outlaws who slaughtered her family. And as she slowly opens her heart to both Joe and the Ndeh tribe, who take her in, her heartache begins to heal. Yet she’s still torn between revenge and love.
“Every second had me on the edge of my seat…”
“I’ve never been so moved by a book. You honesty made me cry…”
The books in the WANTED series came out in the UK first, and then in the U.S., with different covers.
Erin Johnson grew up watching classic western movies with her father, which fueled her lifelong love of horseback riding. She’s always dreamed of being a fierce-talking cowgirl, but writing about one seemed like the next best thing. She loves traveling, painting, and teaching, and she writes under several pseudonyms for both children and adults.
Giveaway! : Erin has a great giveaway with two separate winners! For a chance to win, leave a comment for Erin and you’ll be entered. One winner will receive a copy of Grace & the Guiltless and the second winner will receive a copy of the recipe book, Feast on Fiction!
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.
The Civil War burned Texas…and fanned the flames of love.
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:
I find it hard to believe it’s been almost three years since dh and I decided to join the fun of Cowboy Action Shooting as part of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). It is an organization full of folks who love the Old West and want to relive just a little of it while making and enjoying new friends…
And shooting at steel targets and “making smoke” (that would be the cowboys and cowgirls who shoot black powder, like my dh to the right there). We call that goin’ to the dark side. lol
We spent a few hours this weekend enjoying the sport in gorgeous February weather. I had so much fun, I had to share some pictures.
When we shoot, we divide into “posses” of 15-25 shooters. That way we have someone shooting, folks getting ready to shoot (at the loading table, like the pic at left; I’m the one of the left), folks unloading and clearing guns, folks spotting—counting misses and procedural errors and helping keep the sport safe, another picking up spent casing and someone else keeping score. Then we trade off until everyone has their turn at the firing line.
The stages each have a scenario, or shooting sequence, and they’re never the same. Boothill Slim wrote the stages for Saturday and, boy, did he keep us all concentrating!
And Remi here (to the right) is going to show up in an upcoming story. [He just laughed when I told him he’d be a hero, but that it was going to take some doing to bring him in line!]
Most of all, Cowboy Action Shooting is about the friends and sharing time doing something we all enjoy. These cowboys and cowgirls are some of my besties.
If there’s a SASS club in your area, (www.sassnet.com) go check them out. You don’t have to shoot, just put on some eye protection and ear protection and stand clear of the mayhem. You just might get hooked like I did.
I’m Jane Porter and new here, but not a new author. I’ve written 50 stories since I sold my first book to Harlequin Presents in January 2000, including 10 women’s fiction titles and 40 romances.
With that first sale, I launched my career writing about alpha heroes and glamorous, international settings, but long before that, I wrote cowboys. Lots of cowboys. None of them sold, even though I did win a Golden Heart from Romance Writers of America for Best Long Contemporary with my western romance, ALL-AROUND COWBOY, so I shelved my cowboys when a London editor encouraged me to write a story for her. I did, and I built a career writing sexy Greeks, Sheikhs and Italians, but I began to miss what I knew best: small towns, ranches, and independent, rugged men who love the land.
You see, I’m a small town girl myself, growing up in Central California with miles of farmland stretching in every direction, spending vacations on my late grandfather’s cattle ranch near tiny Parkfield, California. My grandfather Lyles was from Texas, just like his grandfather was from Texas, having moved there as a young boy from Mississippi following the end of the Civil War.
According to those that knew him, that great-great-great grandfather, William Durham Lyles, was big and physically tough. He stood 6’4”, had dark hair, dark-eyes and an intimidating stare. He also had a reputation for being able to work as hard, if not harder, than any professional cowhand.
According to an article on the front page of the New York Times in May 1889, he was a desperado.
That sounds bad. And there are plenty of newspaper articles claiming that he was a cattle rustler, stealing cattle and horses in Texas and crossing state line to sell the stock in Louisiana.
There is no proof he did it. We, his descendants do know he settled in Vernon, Louisiana because he fell in love with my great-great-great grandmother, married her, moving to her hometown to raise a family. My great-great-great grandmother came from a wealthy family. William Durham Lyles wasn’t wealthy. Just big, and powerful, as well as fast with a bullwhip and gun.
Not everyone liked him. In fact, the wealthy establishment really disliked him. He was so disliked, that he was murdered at the age of 37, when a group of concerned citizens (vigilantes?) fired 18 rounds of buckshot, peppering his body, leaving him to die on a bridge six miles from his home.
His death would have been just one of many in the still wild west, if his murder hadn’t created tremendous controversy, with his close friends and family vehemently protesting Lyles’ innocence, while the media reported that he was “inclined to murderous aggressiveness”. True, he nearly always carried a gun, a rifle or a pistol (or both), and famous for his adroit use of the bullwhip, but he was a farmer, a rancher, and the border of Louisiana and Texas was still little more than a frontier.
William’s younger brothers rode over from Navarro, Texas to investigate the death, and things got pretty tense in Vernon, Louisiana. It didn’t help that one of William Durham’s friends was an editor at a small newspaper called People’s Friend, and the editor, Sorrell demanded justice for William Durham Lyles. “The editor of the People’s Friend, attacked State Senator E.E. Smart, a prosperous and influential citizen, demanding punishment. The Vernon News defended the Senator. The parish speedily divided into factions, the old element supporting the News and the border ruffians the Friend. Sorrell, the editor of the latter, has made himself very conspicuous and its feared he will be killed.” (NYT May 4, 1889)
The media loved this story. The New York Times was just one of a dozen papers to report on the “Texas Border Town on the Eve of Bloodshed”.
The newspapers focused on Lyles’ aggressive personality, repeatedly sharing colorful gossipy tidbits like, “He was said to have struck several parties with his rifle and deliberately stepped upon the toes of men while entering stores.” But family and friends claimed Lyles was definitely tough, but also fair. I can’t help wondering if part of the problem might have been that he wasn’t local, and he wasn’t born into money. And yet his gravestone in the Vernon cemetery is impressive. Someone must have loved him.
Was he a cattle rustler? A criminal? A desperado? Or was he a fierce, independent Texan who rubbed the wealthy and influential the wrong way?
I won’t ever know what really did happen, but I do know this. William Durham’s first born, my great grandfather William Murray Lyles, attended LSU where he ran track and played football, and earned a law degree.
My great-grandfather “Pap” was a brilliant, athletic, kind man. I don’t know how he could have turned out quite so wonderful if his father had been such a ruthless, terrifying desperado.
I love history, ancestry, and stories. Especially stories with tough heroes and the strong women who love them.
What do you like to read? I’d love to know. And I’d also love to hear if you have any juicy stories in your family. I can’t be the only one with a desperado in the family tree!
I’m giving away three digital copies of Take Me, Cowboy so leave a comment, share your thoughts and you could be a winner!
By the late 19th century, the Winchester Repeating Arms Company was well known for their lever-action firearms. Though designer John Browning—who designed most of the lever-action rifles that “won the west”—recommended the new shotgun be pump-action, Winchester management wanted to capitalize on their previous success. Early brand recognition! The result? The Winchester Model 1887 Lever-Action Shotgun. [That’s mine, a reproduction, pictured above.]
That brand recognition even extends into modern-day Hollywood — Arnold Schwarzenegger carried a Model 1887 in The Terminator.
The Model 1887 loads from the top or breech (picture on right). It had a magazine tube that would hold six shells plus one more in the chamber. Patterned after their lever action rifles, the shotgun lever design included an internal safety innovation that minimized the possibility of accidentally firing: the firing pin cannot strike the primer of the shell until the breech block is completely closed. That means the shot will go down the barrel and not up into the shooter’s face.
The lever is exactly that—a lever. [See picture on the left] Opening it or pushing it down ejects the spent shell and moves another shell from the tube into firing position.
When a man or woman could carry multiple weapons that used the same cartridges, that meant more variety of firearms and less weight in lead to haul around. Winchester produced lever-action rifles that could fire several pistol-caliber cartridges (from right to left in the picture): .32-20, .38-40 & .44-40, all worked in the Model 1873 rifle; and they made the Model 1886 rifle to use higher powered big game cartridges like the .45-70, the original “buffalo” cartridge.
Since shotgun shells of the time used black powder, the Model 1887 was designed and chambered for these less powerful shotshells. And, while both 10 and 12-gauge model 1887s were offered [two left shells above, respectively], it was quickly realized the 1887 wasn’t strong enough for the more powerful smokeless powder shells. That prompted a redesign that resulted in the Model 1901—but that’s another blog.