Did most men carry pistols in the Old West...

or is that a Hollywood invention?

For a brief period of time, yes. And by brief I mean maybe a decade or less. It was brief because people got tired of all the shootings. For example Tombstone, AZ prohibited firearms within city limits even before the shootout at the OK Corral occurred.

Most towns had similar laws.

A lot of people certainly owned pistols but they weren’t walking into the saloon with them. Pistols were common among people who spent a lot of time riding since they were easier to use on a horse than a rifle. Rifles were always more common and nearly household probably owned a rifle. Your stereotypical farmer would have a rifle but not a pistol. A shopkeeper or someone who rarely left town and didn’t go hunting might not own a gun at all.

The image of everyone wandering around town with a gun belt is very much an invented image, although one that existed before Hollywood got a hold of it. Wild Bill Hickok and pulp novels were all about the gunslinger/cowboy image. And Hickok knew full well how wrong it was even as he sold it. :smiley:

Almost everything you “know” about the Wild West is a Hollywood myth. Literally, at least 95% of it. In really, cowboys didn’t even wear cowboy hats, for chrissake! (Seriously. If you look at old photos, most men are wearing derby/bowler-type hats.) And the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral is pretty much the only known example of a real-life “showdown.” The most common way to get shot was being shot in the back. And as for getting killed at all, the major cities back East were far more dangerous places to live than your typical western frontier town.

“God made man, but Samuel Colt just made them equal.”

I doubt most men carried pistols outside of some particular locations and time periods. A rifle, or even a shotgun, would have been more generally useful.

Well of course law enforcement carried pistols, and probably anyone who was in the business of moving money around, although you would rather have a rifle on a stagecoach than a pistol.

If you were a bad ass who didn’t take crap from everyone you probably carried a pistol, as did most gamblers and outlaws. And many women carried derringers in their purses.

To say it was uncommon to see someone carrying a pistol in town in the 1860’s, 1870’s and even the 1880’s is probably not accurate.

Didn’t they have to shoot rattlesnakes with them? :slight_smile:

Smith Wesson made their first pocket revolver (the Model 3) in 1870. Looks much like their small J Frame revolvers they’ve made since 1950.

By 1880 the classic .38 and .32 revolvers were introduced.

Either a coat pocket or hip holster was all that was needed for concealed carry. There probably were cowboys with big holsters too. But someone mentioned in my Cafe cowboy thread that Wyatt Earp and his friends drew guns from pockets. The Clantons had cowboy holsters.

If photographs (usually posed, of course, due to the exposure time) show them with a revolver at all, it’s often just stuffed in the waistband of the pants (in an era when most men kept their pants up with suspenders). Holsters, if used at all, tended to be of the all-enveloping kind with a flap. The ‘Tom Threepersons’ type, which looks more like what we imagine a cowboy holster to be, didn’t come in until after the frontier era was over.

I’ve often wondered about the cost of ammunition. The movie depictions occasionally but rarely show persons buying ammunition. As a kid in the rural west a bit over a half century ago most persons were quite cost conscious when it came to ammunition but that could have been an attitude left over from WWII when many things were rationed.

An awful lot of ‘opinions’ in this thread being passed as facts that would have had my grand-pa rolling on the floor if he was not already gone. He grew up in those times.

My maternal Grandmother was noted for her ability to hit jackrabbits from the back of a running horse with her pistol while sitting side saddle in her fancy dresses. And she was a real lady, not a tomboy…

An opinion:
Back EAST was way more dangerous because already the push to make self defense only a police thing had most folks disarmed. Like today, the criminals just laughed at the fools.

Bad guys had real problems from really normal folks, heck Coffeyville Kansas made things too hot for bad guys. It was not even near Texas. Bawahahaha

They did not call 911… he he he


My grandparents told me a lot of stories too. I don’t pass them off as educated opinion or real evidence.


In A Journey Through Texas Olmsted states, “For arms, we selected a Sharp’s rifle, a double fowling piece, Colt’s Navy revolvers, and sheathed hunting knives…Two barrels of buckshot make a trustier dose, perhaps, than any single ball for a squad of Indians…but the combination of the two with Colt’s makes, I believe, for a traveling party, the strongest means of protection yet known.” He later describes the most common sort of gunfight between white men in Texas as being an ambush from behind with two barrels of buckshot.
Rip Ford describes the Texas Rangers who rode with Winfield Scott’s army during the Mexican War as carrying 2-3 Walker Colts and a Mississippi Rifle, the best armed cavalry ever to ride to war up to that time. A few years later even the Rangers had a hard time
getting their hands on a revolver, let alone finding a large population of Mexicans they could rape and murder with impunity. Probably more people carried revolvers than owned soap might be your best answer.

During the periodic gatherings of the “Mountain Men” of the previous few decades, the Grand Prize of the shooting contest was the stump all the targets had been attached to. It was full of lead that could be melted down and cast into new bullets. After the shift to cartridge ammo this practice died out, but ammo wasn’t all that cheap until much later. Then again, unless you were a bank robber, you probably didn’t burn through all that much in a lifetime.

My understanding is that revolvers were at the time considered sort of luxury. If You wanted useful tools You bought a rifle or a shotgun. There might be some old inherited pistol on bedroom drawer that was never carried outdoors.
Unless You were a bank robber or a sheriff, revolvers weren’t going to have enough usage to be worth spending at.

Just to clarify what “‘opinions’ in this thread being passed as facts” prior to yours would have your grandpa “rolling on the floor”. Please cite the ones you are referring to and why they are incorrect based on the new evidence you are bringing to the table.