Question concerning bullets/guns in westerns

The family was watching the movie Rio Bravo last night. John Wayne carried a carbine, but also wore a holstered revolver. His holster belt had those loops containing bullets. In 1 or 2 of the loops (in the middle of the back, and - I believe - towards the left side) his ammo belt contained a bullet that were substantially larger than the others. In the words of my son who knows a little about firearms, “That is one big ass bullet!”

Any idea why this fictional character in this fictional movie might have carried one or two different caliber cartridges on his belt?

While we’re on the subject, although it seems just about every western character wears that type of gunbelt, I can’t recall ever seeing a character either taking bullets from his belt to, or putting new bullets in his belt to replace used ones. Did western “gunslingers” actually wear this type of ammo belt? If so, was it mainly for show, or was it the preferred method for carrying extra ammo?

The Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson characters (Dude and Colorado!) wore double gun belts, but I noticed they always used just one gun at a time. How common were such double holsters? Was the second gun simply a spare, for show, or would anyone in reality ever have cause to use both simultaneously?

Final digression, that movie has to be at or near the top of films showing improper firearm usage. The Duke was excessively casual about the way he carried his always-cocked carbine, pointing it at anyone and everyone. I finally had to say something when he placed the butt of his carbine on a table, and rested his chin upon the end of the barrel! :eek: My son said it had been bothering him all thru the film.

No cite to hand, but I remember from an old anthology of stories that Wyatt Earp (according to someone who worked with him for a bit) said that they were for show, you could aim better with one.

Damn, I’m so proud of myself. A determined effort to ignore my work allowed me to find an image showing the different sized bullets in the Duke’s gunbelt. The top image where “Chance” shoots his carbine pretty clearly shows 2 big honkin bullets amidst the smaller ones on the left side of his belt.

COMPLETE WAG: the larger bullets are for a rifle - maybe a hunting rifle ? The lever action rifles could be loaded up with a number of bullets. But I’m thinking the old bolt action rifles might not have been able to carry many bullets. So it might make sense to carry some spares.

Larger bullets for the carbine. Probably a 30-30.

Two pistols, 12 shots instead of six. Not used at the same time.

Maybe, but they never referred to any long gun other than carbines and shotguns.

When they went towards the final shootout, Duke and Ricky brought along a couple of boxes each of “extra shells.” I don’t think the movie ever showed Duke drawing or firing his revolver.

And tho I am quite ignorant on the subject, I thought the most common level action rifles - Henrys/Winchesters - used ammo of similar caliber to .44 revolvers.

Cool. In my ignorance I thought a 30-30 was a somewhat larger gun than Duke was swinging around.
Do you know of anywhere on-line where I could find photos comparing various ammo?
Finally - what is the proper term for the objects in the gunbelts - bullets or cartridges?

They are cartridges. “Bullets” are the chunks of metal that fly out of the gun. A cartridge contains a bullet, propellant, and primer.

Thanks. That’s what I thought was the technical distinction, but not being a shooter I did not know how closely casual usage acknowledged this distinction.

Police officers in the USA used to routinely carry their extra ammunition in those belt loops. That was back before the invention of the speed-loader, when the typical police weapon was a Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver.

Wouldn’t it be more convenient/efficient to carry extra cartridges in some kind of pocket or pouch, where you could reach in and grab several at once, instead of slipping each one out of its individual loop?

Note that in the early days of firearms, these things were all separate. A bullet was just a piece of lead. You loaded in the gunpowder propellant, loaded in the bullet, then loaded in the wadding to make sure the bullet didn’t roll out of the gun. Then you primed the pan with finely ground gunpowder. Pull the trigger and a little flint strikes sparks into the pan, the primer ignites, which ignites the propellant, and the bullet shoots out of the barrel.

The first cartridges were paper bags containing premeasured amounts of gunpowder and a bullet. You ripped open the bag, poured in the powder, loaded the bullet, and used the paper as wadding. Then came the invention of the percussion cap, which is an unstable chemical that will ignite when struck. So instead of a flintlock, you had a hammer that hit the percussion cap, which caused it to ignite, which then ignited the powder.

And then you get breach loaders, where instead of pouring everything down the muzzle, you open up the gun and put everything in on the breach end. And now every component is contained in one solid cartridge. You have a brass case, a bullet on the end, gunpowder packed inside, and a percussion cap on the butt.

Probably, but it looked cool :). Some people would argue that if you couldn’t get the job done with the six rounds in the revolver, you have more serious problems.

Loading is pretty much a one cartridge at a time thing. Easier to have the next one right there on your belt than rolling around in your palm.

My son does Am. Civ War re-enactment as a British loyalist. He carries a Brown Bess, and his kit includes a cartridge box, with a wooden insert containing individual slots for the cartridges he rolls himself.

The wadding, or ‘patch’, was often a piece of ticking lubricated with beeswax or grease. Its main purpose was to provide a seal between the ball and the barrel. That’s why the balls were undersized. In a musket the patch provides the seal. In a rifle it provides the seal and grips the rifling.

There were also ‘combustible cartridges’. Here is a photo that shows a couple I made. To load the revolvers, simply put the whole cartridge into the chamber and seat it with the loading lever. Then put the percussion cap on the other end. Much quicker than measuring the powder, pouring it in, and then seating the ball. FWIW I made the cartridges from rolling papers. I also soaked them in a nitre solution and dried them to make sure they’d burn completely.

IIRC there were also combustible cartridges for the early breechloaders.

I can’t tell from the photo what he’s shooting, but a common movie gun was the Winchester Model 1892. This was not chambered for the .30-30. (Incidentally, .30-30 implies a .30 calibre bullet propelled by 30 gr of black powder; but the .30-30 was actually loaded with smokeless powder.) A common chambering for the Model 1892 was .32-20. Other calibers were available. Another lever-action rifle that was used in the movies of that era was the Model 1873. I believe it was capable of using more powerful rounds than the Winchester 1866 or its predecessor the Henry. I think it was also stronger than the 1892, though I know I’ve seen them in .32-20 chambering. On a second look, The Duke’s carbine seems to be an 1892.

ETA: Some people had rifles or carbines chambered for the same rounds as their revolvers, such as .44-40. This way they would not have to carry two kinds of ammunition.

I believe the advantage to the loops is that all the cartridges are primer side up. That way, you can load a gun in the dark, or while you’re glaring manfully at the bad guys. :wink: When a feller grabs cartridges out of pouch or pocket, he’s bound to also get bits of sagebrush, lint, or movie film among the ammo. Ya shouldn’t oughta put that stuff in yer shootin’ arn. :wink:

etaOh, and the big cartridges? Lip balm.

I can imagine it was well worth the effort, before sealed metal cartriges, to carry 2 or 3 loaded handguns into a battle even if you could only shoot with one hand, just to save on reload time. Not much help in a quick draw, but as Cecil notes, that didn’t really come up.

In the days of single-shot pistols some people did carry more than one. Blackbeard might have carried half a dozen pistols at a time.

With the revolvers, I think some people carried extra cylinders. To change a cylinder you knock out the barrel wedge, pull off the barrel, remove the empty cylinder, replace it with a fresh one, put the barrel back on, and knock the wedge in. Much quicker than reloading the cylinder in the gun. I don’t know if the spare cylinders were capped. If they were, then they’d be ready to go. But caps can fall off, and they might be susceptible to impact wherever they were being carried.

ETA: I think it was in The Outlaw Josey Wales where Clint Eastwood is shown loading extra cylinders (as well as a number of pistols).

I seem to recall Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid reloading their revolvers during the final scene. Can’t remember where they carried the extra ammo though.