Friday, December 12, 2014

Shooting Irons, Part 2: G

What would the Old West be without the gun? From the Hawken of the Mountain man to the Peacemaker of the gunslinger, we just can’t imagine our protagonists any other way. A gun was not just a means of war between men, but a way to put food on the table and protect against wild animals. Of course, there was that ever-present incentive to politeness we’ve already discussed…

Here’s the second round of our gun glossary.

Greener: a shotgun, from the maker of superlative shotguns in London.

Gun-hung: armed with holstered gun(s)

Gun-caps: percussion caps used to ignite the powder charge of a cap-and-ball pistol.

Hardware: a belt gun

Heeled: armed with a gun – however, “armed heels” meant wearing spurs

Hawken: Jacob and Samuel Hawken made these rifles in St. Louis from 1822-49, when Jacob died. Samuel carried on alone until 1861, then sold out. Hawken began as a mountain rifle, specially made for the fur trade. Carl Russell (1967) described it as “a heavy 34-inch octagonal barrel, about .53 caliber (1 ½ -ounce round ball, 214 grains), low sights, set trigger, percussion lock with a peculiar basket of steel (the ‘snail’) enclosing the nipple, half-stock, ramrod carried under a metal rib, sturdy butt stock, crescent-shaped butt plate, and the total weight of the piece 10 ½ to 12 pounds.” By that time, it had developed into the Plains rifle, the frontier man’s ideal weapon.

Henry: starting manufacture in 1860, this repeating rifle was the forerunner of the Winchester, and gave way to that gun in 1866. It was conspicuous in being all metal from muzzle to stock, with a tubular magazine under the barrel which held 15 rimfire shells and loaded from the front. The lever-trigger guard ejected empty shells, inserted a fresh round into the chamber, and cocked the trigger.

Iron: a gun, especially a revolver

Jewelry: firearms, especially a belt-gun

Lead: bullets; this resulted in got leaded (got shot) or swap/swing leather (to shoot it out). My personal favorite is leaned against a bullet going past.

Lead-chucker, lead pusher: a pistol

Leather: a revolver holster (to slap leather was to grab for your gun)

Le Mat: a strange and formidable belt-gun that found its way West after popularity during the Civil War; a nine-chamber, single-action cap-and-ball revolver which fired conventional shots through a rifled, .40-caliber upper barrel and a load of buckshot through a smoothbore, .66-caliber lower barrel. This gun was originally made in France, but copied by a number of makers in the Confederacy.

Long Tom: a long-barreled, large-caliber rifle sometimes used in buffalo hunting

Meat in the pot: the rifle or revolver with which the hunter shot for the pot

Navy Model: a revolver by makers like Colt and Remington, supplied to Navy specification, with a slightly shorter barrel and smaller caliber than the Army model. Navy models were popular with civilians for their comparative lightness and slightly smaller size.

No beans in the wheel: an unloaded revolver

Old Reliable: a Sharps rifle

Packing, pack iron: to carry a revolver

Peacemaker: the Colt Revolver Model 1873. The innovation that helped make this the finest and most famous weapon of its kind was that the .44 ammunition fit the Winchester repeating carbine made in the same year.

Pepperbox, coffee mill:  an early development of revolving pistol, in which the cylinder consisted of a number of barrels consolidated into one moving part. This gave the appearance of a pepperbox. These were cap-and-ball guns.

Persuader: a six-gun, bullwhip, or spur

Plains Rifle: the original requirement was for a “plain rifle,” a utilitarian weapon for use on the plains and for trade with Indians. This developed into the Plains Rifle, a name which took the place of the Mountain Rifle. The Mountain was a long-barreled, long-stocked weapon, while the Plains was short-barreled and short-stocked. Shortening the barrel was probably due to the scarcity of steel on the plains, but also, when the muzzle was damaged, it was just sawn off. Many manufacturers made several types of rifles in this category.

Powder-burning contest: a gunfight

Pup: a Mountain Man term; a single-shot percussion pistol

Quick-draw artist: a gunman proficient with the fast-draw

A Dictionary of the Old West, Peter Watts, 1977
Dictionary of the American West, Win Blevins, 1993
J.E.S Hays


  1. Henry is still one of my favorite companies, manufacturing nice, new versions of the Yellowboy and even a Mare's Leg like Steve McQueen used on TV. They have a swell web site chock full o' stuff.

    1. Thanks for the information - I'll check out their website!

  2. Thanks for all this great information! I share your personal favorite: "leaned against a bullet going past." Cowboys embraced understatement like a lover. :-D

  3. Thank you for the great post on guns. It is always nice to learn the fine points about the equipment my novel characters use.

    Robyn Echols writing as Zina Abbott

    1. Glad to be of assistance - part 3 will be next month!

  4. Glad you're posting these. I've compiled an extensive list of gun-related terms, phrases, and metaphors and this helps flesh it out. Thanks much.

  5. Thank you for continuing this series. Most intersting. Doris