22 Guns that Won the West
Shootists used a double-deuce of firearms when
the West was young and restless
The “Gun That Won the West” is a subject that
many firearms and Old West aficionados love to
discuss and debate. Was the so-called West-winning
gun given this coveted title because of the great
numbers in which it was produced, or for the work it
accomplished? Or was it simply because of who used
it during those tumultuous times known as the Wild
West? Although some firearms manufacturers
advertise their lead-dispensing products as having
rightfully earned that distinguished title, such a
claim is not to be taken as gospel. While some folks
feel that a single model firearm was most
responsible for taming our raw frontier in the late
19th century-such as the 1873 Winchester repeater,
1874 Sharps buffalo rifle, double-barreled shotgun,
or perhaps The Peacemaker, the legendary 1873
Colt Single Action Army revolver-most serious
students of the American West agree that it was
not a single model gun or type of firearm that “won
the West.” Rather, they believe it was an assortment
of rifles, shotguns and handguns, in the hands of a
diverse and colorful crowd of men and women, that
brought both violence and law and order to our
Western territories.
While there were hundreds of different makes and
models of firearms used to tame the frontier, let’s
take a brief look at a double-deuce-just 22-of the
more famous and infamous guns from the Old West,
along with some of the good, and the bad, men and
women who painted the canvas of America’s Wild
West in such bold and vivid colors.
1 / Colt Paterson Revolver
Patented in 1836 and manufactured circa 1837 or
1838 until around 1840, the Paterson Colt was the
first practical “revolving pistol,” and revolutionized
handguns for all time. Despite its failure as Samuel
Colt’s first firearms business venture, this
percussion five-shooter gained fame when it was put
to deadly use against the Comanches by the early
Texas Rangers, most notably by Ranger John
Coffee Hays when he used a pair of them to
successfully hold off an overwhelming party of
Comanches in 1841, during what became known as
Hays’ Big Fight at Enchanted Rock. The Paterson
went on to see service in Florida’s Second Seminole
War (1835-1842), the Mexican War (1846-1848)
and during the California Gold Rush. The .36 caliber
Paterson, with barrels up to 12 inches long, earned
the sobriquet of the “Texas Paterson.”
2 / U.S. Model 1841 Rifle
More commonly known as the “Mississippi Rifle”
because of its use by Jefferson Davis’s Mississippi
volunteers in the Mexican War, this handsome
percussion muzzle-loader was also known in its time
as the Windsor, Whitney or Yager (adopted from
the German word jaeger for hunter). Considered one
of the more handsome of military percussion
longarms with its brass patchbox and mountings, this
.54 caliber rifle was issued to the Regiment of
Mounted Rifles in the 1840s (later the 3rd Cavalry)
and favored by Confederate sharpshooters in the
War Between the States. Buffalo Bill Cody claimed
to have carried and used one during an 1850s cattle
3 / 1847 Colt Walker Revolver
Although only around 1,100 revolvers were ever
produced in1847, too late to have much impact on
the Mexican War, and despite its number of
mechanical deficiencies, Colt’s largest six-shooter,
weighing 4 pounds, 9 ounces unloaded, remains a
milestone in handgun development. This behemoth
.44 cap and ball’s power, accuracy and great range
helped spread the word of Col. Colt’s “repeating
pistols,” and put him back in the gun business after
his Patent Arms Manufacturing Company
(manufacturing the Paterson revolver) failed in
1842. Texas Ranger Captain Sam Walker helped
design the Walker as an improvement of the
Paterson. Colt personally sent him a pair of Walker
Colts, which he used effectively before he was killed
while leading his troops in the battle of Huamantla,
Mexico, in October 1847.
4 / 1851 Colt Navy Revolver
Considered by many to be the best balanced,
smoothest handling and handsomest of cap and ball
six-guns, nearly a quarter million of these .36 caliber
revolvers were made between 1850 and 1873.
Named for the Republic of Texas Navy, it was one
of the more popular sidearms-with both North and
South-during the Civil War. (Confederates made
several copies for southern troops.) By the 1870s
many Navies were converted to take .38 caliber
metallic cartridges and for decades the Colt Navy
was one of the most popular handguns in the West.
Known as the favored six-gun of James Butler “Wild
Bill” Hickok, other noted users include Col. Robert E.
Lee, during his service with the 2nd U.S. Cavalry in
Texas in the 1850s; John Wesley Hardin; the
James-Younger gang; the Pawnee scouts; Maj.
Frank North; Tiburcio Vasquez and the Pinkertons.
5/ 1852 & 1853 Slant-Breech Sharps Carbine
The U.S. military purchased more than 15,000 of
both models, with most of the ’52 carbines going to
the 2nd U.S. Dragoons serving on the frontier. The
1853 model was nicknamed the “John Brown
Sharps,” for his use of them in his bloody anti-
slavery crusade. They were also called “Beecher’s
Bibles,” after anti-slavery minister Henry Ward
Beecher was quoted as saying there was more moral
power in one Sharps carbine than in 100 Bibles. Both
sides favored this percussion arm in “bleeding
Kansas” and the 1850s border wars. Government
mail contractors and stage lines operating in the
Southwest of the era relied heavily on the Sharps;
“Pathfinder” John C. Fremont carried a pair of them
in his fifth and final Western exploration. The
sporting model rifles were used by the early buffalo
hunters and both models were also made as

6 / Colt’s Dragoon Revolvers
More than 21,000 of Colt’s first, second and third
models were turned out between 1848 and 1860,
with their massive, heavy and powerful “revolving
horse pistols” especially favored by Western horse
soldiers and civilians alike. A goodly number of these
big six-shooters made their way to the California
gold camps with miners as well as by bandit Joaquin
Murrieta and his men, and later by California outlaw
Tiburcio Vasquez. Others saw service with the Texas
Rangers, and pistoleer “Wild Bill” Hickok was known
to have owned one and may have used it in 1865 to
kill Dave Tutt in Springfield, Missouri.
7 / 1860 Colt Army Revolver
The 1860 Colt Army was the primary revolver used
by federal troops during the Civil War with about
200,500 produced from 1860 through 1873.
Whether in cap and ball or converted to metallic
cartridge, this .44 six gun saw much use west of the
Mississippi. As the successor to the big Dragoons,
this sleek and handsome hogleg packed plenty of
power but was easier to handle. Colt’s ’60 was used
by the U.S. Cavalry, the Texas Rangers and General
Ben McCulloch’s Texas Confederates, Wells Fargo
detective James Hume, Mormon “Avenging Angel”
Porter Rockwell, El Paso City Marshal Dallas
Stoudenmire, the James brothers, Wes Hardin, Sam
Bass and scores of good and bad men alike.
8 / Smith & Wesson Model 3 Revolver
Introduced in 1870, this .44 caliber “American”
single-action six-shooter stands as the first
practical big-bore, metallic cartridge revolver and
laid the groundwork for future successful top-break
S&Ws like the .44 Russian, .45 Schofield and the
Double Action Frontier models. Issued to the U.S.
Cavalry for a short while, the Model 3 was also
favored by William F. Cody, El Paso City Marshal
Dallas Stoudenmire and General William J. Palmer,
builder of the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad. The
Model 3’s identical-looking “Russian” variation in .44
S&W Russian caliber was packed by John Wesley
Hardin, James-Younger gang member Charlie Pitts,
Sheriff Pat Garrett and gunslinger King Fisher.
9 / Henry Deringer Pocket Pistol
If there was ever a single gun that had an impact on
the history of the West, it was the vest pocket
Deringer pistol used by John Wilkes Booth to
assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. The single
shot fired by this .41 caliber caplock unleashed an
unfriendly federal policy on the Southern states,
which added to the frustration of devastated ex-
Confederates and caused great numbers of
Southerners to head west in search of a new life.
Thousands of them were packed in the gold camps
of California or concealed on the persons of
riverboat gamblers and soiled doves, as well as
respectable citizens. Available in a variety of sizes
from palm-sized to larger belt pistols, it was the
smallest model that helped coin the generic term
“derringer,” meaning a small, hideout pistol.
10/ 1866 Winchester Rifle
Originally dubbed the “Improved Henry” because of
improvements like the addition of the King’s Patent
loading gate on the receiver’s right side (rather than
being loaded from the magazine’s muzzle end), a
fully enclosed magazine and a wood forearm, over
170,000 of these brass-framed .44 caliber lever-
actions left the factory between 1866 and 1898,
long after stronger centerfire ammunition had
eclipsed the ’66’s weaker rimfire fodder. Whether in
full rifle or carbine form, the so-called Yellowboy
’66 was a favorite with California Sheriff Harry
Morse; many Native Americans, including Sioux
medicine man Sitting Bull; and Custer’s favorite
Arikara scout, Bloody Knife; along with members of
the Powell Geographic Expedition of the Grand
Canyon in 1869; and 1890s outlaw Bill Doolin, to
name a few.
11 / Springfield Allin Conversion 1866 Rifle
At the close of the Civil War, the federal
government converted thousands of 1863
Springfield percussion rifle/muskets from muzzle
loaders to breechloaders able to handle self-
contained metallic cartridges, first in .58 rimfire,
then by lining the .58-bore barrels to .50 caliber
centerfire. Dubbed the “needle gun” because of its
long firing pin, it is credited with the U.S. Army’s
ability to withstand attacks along Wyoming’s
Bozeman Trail in the Hayfield and the Wagon Box
fights in 1867 and paved the way for later trapdoor
rifles and carbines like the 1873 Springfield. This
powerful single-shot arm was employed by the hide
hunters during the early post-Civil War buffalo
hunting years. Buffalo Bill killed hundreds of the
shaggy beasts for meat and affectionately called his
.50-70 Allin Springfield “Lucrezia Borgia,” because
like the renaissance-era femme fatale duchess, Cody
considered it beautiful but deadly.
12 / Double-Barrel Shotgun
Although the rifle and six-gun usually take the bows
for winning the West, it was the double-barreled
shotgun as much as any firearm that was responsible
for bringing civilization to the frontier. Many of the
early pioneers invested everything they had, in order
to make the overland trek out West, leaving little
money for weaponry. The best and certainly one of
the most economical and versatile firearms for
hunting and defense in a wild, hostile land was the
twin-barreled scattergun. Whether muzzle loader or
breech-loading cartridge gun, many thousands of
shotguns from a variety of makers and countries
were the mainstay of settlers, lawmen, express
companies, Native Americans, soldiers, ranchers and
hunters. Gunmen like Indian Territory lawman Heck
Thomas and gambler John H. “Doc” Holiday also
used scatterguns. Virtually everyone, good or bad,
who needed a weapon recognized the value of the
old side by side.
13 / 1873 Colt Single Action Army Revolver
If any gun conjures up images of the Old West, it’s
Colt’s 1873 single-action Army revolver. This
smokewagon was the best balanced, ergonomically
perfect six-gun of the age, and from the time of its
introduction in late 1873, it became an instant
frontier favorite with good and bad hombres alike.
Originally designed and used as a cavalry sidearm, it
quickly became the choice of cowboys, lawmen,
outlaws and outdoorsmen of all breeds. Produced in
many powerful chamberings, most notably .45 Colt
and .44-40, it outsold all competitors with 192,000
made by the end of the 19th century. Also known as
the Equalizer, Hogleg, and other monikers, it was
best known as the Peacemaker-a moniker given it by
Colt distributor E. Kittredge of Cincinnati. It was the
preferred sidearm of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson,
the Texas and the Arizona Rangers, John Selman,
Wes Hardin, the Daltons, John Slaughter, Elfego
Baca and countless other Westerners. It was and
still is truly the six-gun of the Wild West.
14 / 1873 Winchester Rifle
Perhaps the most famous and certainly the most
recognizable rifle of America’s frontier period, this
iron-framed lever-action rifle was Winchester’s first
centerfire arm and was manufactured from 1873
until 1919, with well over a half million turned out by
1900. A favorite with Westerners since its debut,
the ’73 was eventually teamed with the Colt Single
Action revolver and other six-guns of the time that
had been chambered to take the Winchester’s
proprietary .44-40, .38-40 and .32-20 ammunition.
Easy to operate and care for, its slab-sided design
made both the rifle and carbine versions ideal for a
saddle scabbard, and the ’73 repeater was the
premier choice of the post-1874 Texas Rangers, as
well as a favorite of Pat Garrett, William F. Cody,
Montana rancher Granville Stuart, and outlaws
Butch Cassidy, Belle Starr, Pearl Hart and Billy the
Kid (William Bonney), just for starters.
15 / 1874 Sharps Rifle
Best known as the “buffalo rifle,” due to its heavy
use by hide hunters, it was made from 1871 until
1881. Sharps’ 1874 model didn’t get the ’74 moniker
until after the introduction of later Sharps rifles.
Only 12,445 of the various model 1874 Sharps were
produced by the factory, with several hundred
additional ’74-style guns converted from altered
Civil War percussion carbine actions by the Sharps
factory and by E.C. Meacham of St. Louis. It was
offered in such powerful big-game loads as .44-77,
.45-70, .50-90 and .50-110. An 1887 government
survey cited the Sharps single-shot rifle with
shooting more buffalo than any other gun during the
hide-hunting years of 1867 through 1882. It also did
more to destroy the Plains Indians’ nomadic way of
life than any other firearm. Among its famous users
were lawman Bill Tilghman, during his buffalo
hunting years; the Union Pacific Railroad; and
Martha “Calamity” Jane Canary. At the Battle of
Adobe Walls in June 1874, hunter Billy Dixon used a
.50-90 Sharps to make a 1,538-yard shot, dropping
an Indian and effectively ending that fight. To the
Indians, the Sharps was known as the “shoots far,”
or “shoot today, kill tomorrow” gun.
16 / 1875 Remington Revolver
When E. Remington & Sons, of Ilion, New York,
introduced its “New Model 1875” or “No. 3
Revolver,” a Colt Peacemaker lookalike, the firm had
high hopes of competing with the ’73 Colt’s instant
popularity, and while sales were initially brisk, the
revolver never achieved the desired success or
official acceptance by the U.S. government.
Chambered in .44 Remington Centerfire, .44
Winchester Central Fire (.44-40) and .45 Colt, only
around 25,000 of the model were ever produced
from 1875 through 1889. It did gain some popularity
out West with the Republic of Mexico ordering
1,000 revolvers during the 1880s, and in 1883 the
U.S. Interior Department purchasing 639 nickel-
plated 7 1/2-inch ’75 Remingtons for issuance to
various Indian Police agencies on frontier
reservations. Gunman Frank Loving carried one, but
perhaps the 1875 Remington’s most notable
proponent was Missouri outlaw Frank James.
17 / 1876 Winchester Rifle
A giant of a rifle, this enlarged version of the ’73
model, the 1876 Winchester was originally dubbed
the Centennial Model, with nearly 64,000 produced
between 1876 and 1897. Designed as a big-game
hunting rifle, it was chambered for more powerful
black powder loads than the medium-powered ’73
model, including the .40-60, .45-60, .45-75 and .50-
95. The massive ’76 was a favorite with Theodore
Roosevelt, and he used it extensively during his
Dakota Territory ranching days. The 1876
Winchester is one of the few lever-action rifles to
actually see use on the buffalo ranges by the hide
hunters. Its unique full-stocked carbine (in .45-75
caliber) was issued to Canada’s North West Mounted
Police and used by them into the early 20th century.
18 / 1877 Colt Double-Action Revolver
Although Colt’s first attempt at producing a double-
action revolver was less than stellar due to a
complex and inefficient lockworks that was easily
broken and difficult to replace, the 1877 model was
light and handy and gained a fair amount of
popularity on the frontier. Nearly 167,000 were
made between 1877 and 1909. In new condition the
’77 was an efficient arm but, if the six-gun was put
to much work, the inherent weaknesses in its design
became all too obvious. Initially called the “New
Double Action, Self Cocking, Central Fire, Six Shot
Revolver” by the factory, Colt distributor B.
Kittredge of Cincinnati coined the more colorful
nicknames of Lightning for the .38 Colt caliber and
Thunderer for the .41 Colt chambering (a couple
hundred were also made in .32 caliber). Notable ’77
packers included Pat Garrett, Billy the Kid, John
Wesley Hardin, Cole Younger and lady bandits Belle
Starr and Pearl Hart.
19 / 1886 Winchester Rifle
A vast improvement over the 1876 model, the ’86,
with its vertical locking bolts and streamlined frame,
was distinctively different from previous
Winchesters, and was the first repeater from
inventive firearms genius John M. Browning to be
adopted by Winchester. It was also that company’s
first lever gun to be chambered for the powerful
.45-70 Government cartridge, along with other black
powder big-game chamberings, such as .45-90 and
.50-110 Express. As such it was one of the big-bore
repeaters that helped spell doom for single-shot
rifles. Another of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorites, it
was also a crucial part of Arizona’s Commodore
Perry Owens’ arsenal as well as army scout Al
Seiber’s. A number of ’86s were used by the
“invaders” brought in by the cattlemen in Wyoming’s
1892 Johnson County War. Produced from 1886
through 1935, around 120,000 were turned out by
20 / 1887 Winchester Shotgun
This early repeating shotgun, first introduced in the
West in the spring of 1888, was not the first
repeating scattergun manufactured but is
considered the first successful one. The brainchild
of John Browning, the ’87 lever-action was available
in 10 and 12 gauge. The six-shot ’87 quickly became
a success with just fewer than 64,000 turned out
before 1899. A favorite of Arizona Sheriff John
Slaughter, this smoothbore was also used on Feb. 15,
1900, by lawman Jeff Milton, who used his 10-gauge
1887 Winchester shotgun to kill Three Fingered
Jack Dunlop during an attempted holdup of the
Southern Pacific Railway in Arizona Territory. The
Denver & Rio Grande Railroad also issued a number
of ’87s to its messengers.
21 / 1892 Colt New Army & Navy Revolver
One of the early swing-out cylinder, double-action
revolvers, the 1892 Colt’s cylinder revolved counter
clockwise (unlike the company’s earlier single-action
six-guns). Although it wasn’t introduced until 1892,
with a total production of around 291,000 guns,
about 115,000 of them were turned out before the
end of 1898 in a series of models with minor internal
improvements and dubbed the 1892, 1894, 1895 and
1896 models, and later the Model 1901 and Model
1903. Besides their use by the U.S. Army and Navy,
including Teddy Roosevelt and many of his Rough
Riders in the Spanish-American War of 1898,
several were purchased by Wells Fargo & Co. and
the gun was packed by conman extraordinaire
Jefferson “Soapy” Smith during his Skagway,
Alaska, days.
22 / 1895 Winchester Rifle
Another unique firearm from the inventive genius of
John Browning, the 1895 Winchester was the first
successful box-magazine lever-action rifle
manufactured. Made to handle the then-new
smokeless powder ammunition capable of taking big-
game worldwide, with chamberings such as the .30-
40 Krag, .30-06, .303 British, .40-72, .405
Winchester and the 7.62mm Russian calibers, its box
magazine, located beneath the frame, held five
rounds. The ’95 model became standard issue with
the Arizona Rangers, and was also popular with the
Texas Rangers of the era. A few were put to use by
some of Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Cuba
during the Spanish-American War. With nearly
426,000 Model ’95s made between 1896 and 1931,
the gun quickly became so popular that almost
20,000 were produced before Jan. 1, 1899.

Source - True West Magazine -