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Famous American Cowboy Guns of the Old West; 1859 Sharps Rifle, 1873 Colt Peacemaker & More

Many of us enjoy reading western fiction, literature depicting cowboys, cavalry and desperados. While the story lines follow a formula to a degree, most of us get caught up in the action and don’t pay a lot of attention to details. For those of us who appreciate firearms it is distressing to find that the author misinterpreted data or out-right ignored it on shooters.

Sharps Rifle

Take the Sharps, a weapon that had a far reaching and controversial history, especially in the great buffalo hunts. During the Civil War the Sharps played a roll with Berdan’s Sharpshooters, essentially snipers. The Sharps 1859 was the Union weapon of choice. It was a breech loader and used caps for ignition. The cartridge was a paper round treated with potassium nitrate that made the paper cartridge combustible. The falling block had sharp edges the sheared the back of the paper case exposing the powder charge, add a cap, cock and fire. Few if any metallic cartridge Sharps where around until after the war. Sharp rifles with metallic cartridges and still using caps have appeared in some western literature. But metallic cartridges are self-contained and include the primer with the case. No cap needed. However, it must be acknowledged that the falling block action of the Sharps readily lent itself to conversion to metallic cartridges and many where converted to metallic cartridge for the Indian wars in 50-70, the US cartridge from 1866-1873 when the Army adopted the .45-70 as standard. The Sharps was introduced in 1850, no Sharps where available prior to that. All models from the 1851 to the 1859 uses combustible paper cartridges and where primed by cap or had a self-priming mechanism that auto primed the rifle on cocking but still could use caps. The buffalo hunters used the 1869 and 1874 models, all metallic cartridge rifles. By 1881 the buffalo was gone and so was Sharps who filled bankruptcy that year.

1860 Henry Rifle, 1873 Winchester, 1873 Colt Peacemaker & 45 Colt

The 1860 Henry ruled until the 1866 Winchester was introduced, but they both used the 44 Henry Rimfire cartridge. The 44 Henry was an anemic cartridge with a weak case. The rim is folded to accommodate the priming charge. With 35 grain powder charge the 200-grain bullet exit the barrel at about 1100 fps. The 44 Henry was adaptable to revolver cartridge conversions from cap and ball. The 1873 Winchester was introduced with a new cartridge the .44-40. This is the gun and cartridge combo that truly won the West. This was a powerful round for the time and coupled with the Colt 1873 Peacemaker was a good cowboy combo, more reliable and powerful than the rimfires, reloadable too. Colt introduced the 45 Colt the same year and it overshadowed the 44-40 in the revolvers. Rule of thumb, the 44-40 performed best in rifles, the 45 Colt was best in the handgun.

Webley Bulldog & 1876 Winchester

But many writers tend to confuse .44 cartridges. The Webley Bulldog was double action revolver with a pipsqueak round the churned up hardly enough velocity to penetrate clothing. Strictly a short range ‘belly’ gun for self-defense and was a popular urban environment pocket pistol. The cylinders were to short for any other cartridge.
The first lever-action rifle to duplicate the single shots power was the 1876 Winchester in 45-75 a bottlenecked cartridge designed to duplicate the 45-70 Government round in a lever gun. 1876 was later chambered in 50-95 Express the only repeater rifle endorsed by the buffalo hunters.

Smith & Wesson 44 Russian

The Smith & Wesson Russian was the most powerful of the Model 3 chambering. 44 American was a bit shorter and could be chambered in the Russian. The Russian was too long for the 44 American chambers. The 45 Schofield was a shorter version of the 45 Colt, and probably where the inaccurate alias 45 Long Colt was adopted to distinguish the to chamberings. The lower power Smith and Wesson chamberings where offset by the faster reload speed of the Number 3 S&W.

Custom Portable, Modular Indoor Shooting Ranges

Enjoy the story and don’t spend time dwelling on the mistakes you see in Westerns! Shooting Range Industries offers custom shooting ranges that can incorporate an old time Western cowboy feel or a much more modern finish! Contact us for more info.