This is a continuing series discussing the commonly and not so commonly used guns found in the Old West. My novel, The Hardest Ride, is used as a mechanism to examine these firearms as many weapons used in the 1880s and earlier are mentioned.
Bud Eugen is a young cowpoke and the main protagonist in The Hardest Ride. He has some strong ideas about guns and their use. Bud had the habit of immediately reloading after firing even one shot. He believed in lots of gun practice, if able to afford the extra ammunition. He also liked any firearm that gave him a range advantage.
The first firearm mentioned in The Hardest Ride is Tío Pancho’s old Colt Navy conversion revolver, which he pointed at Bud for almost shooting him and “wounding” his saddle. A popular Colt Army and Navy conversion was the Richards-Mason. So, what were the difference between Colt Army and Navy models, or for that matter, other makes Army and Navy models? Most major handgun manufacturers produced revolvers in both Army and Navy models. The main difference was that the Army model was .44-caliber and the Navy .36-caliber. The Navy model usually had a slightly shorter barrel than the Army and were popular with civilians as they were lighter and more compact than the Army model.
Colt Navy conversion .36-caliber Model 1861 revolver
These were cap-and ball-pieces. The bullet and powder were contained in a paper or linen cartridge loaded into the front of the cylinder and percussion caps inserted on the nipples on the cylinder’s rear, a slow loading process. After the Civil War and into the 1870s many of these cap-and-ball revolvers were converted to load metallic (brass or copper) rimfire cartridges into the rear of the cylinder, thus a Colt “conversion.” Regardless of being called “cap-and-ball,” they used conical bullets by the Civil War. 36-caliber Navy model revolvers were used as much by the Army as was their own .44-caliber.
Bud’s choice of weapons is also mentioned in the first chapter, but their models are not spoken of until much later. For a shoulder arm he uses a Winchester Model 1873 rifle in .44-40 Winchester. That model was also made in other calibers. The Winchester ’73 has been tagged “The gun that won the West” and rightfully so as its use was almost universal. There were not many other good lever-action repeaters available. It was preceded by the Winchester Henry rifle and carbine of 1866, still seeing some use in the 1880s, known as the “Yellow Boy” owing to its brass receiver. The Henry’s drawback was it used an obsolete and short-ranged .44 Flat Henry rimfire cartridge. Bud makes it known that he prefers a rifle with a 24-inch barrel for the longer range over a carbine with a 20-inch barrel. He’d rather keep any enemies as far away from him as possible. The rifle also gave him a few more rounds in its tubular magazine, fifteen rounds, compared to the carbine’s ten. Bud tends to prefer his rifle over his revolver, but he’d not hesitate to draw the Remington hogleg when necessary.
As an aside, the carbine most often seen in Western movies is the Winchester Model 1892 in .38-40 or .44-40. Of course most Western movies take place well before 1892, but the Model 1892 looked similar to the 1873 and were easier for studios to acquire. Remington makes a special blank cartridge called the 5-in-1 or “Hollywood” blank since the 1930s. This one blank can be fired in both .38-40 and .44-40 rifles and revolvers and the .45 Colt revolver, thus 5-in-1.
His revolver was a Remington Model 1875 single-action in .44-40, an excellent weapon not as well known as the Colt Peacemaker. Appearance wise, its butt, cylinder and frame were similar in profile to the Peacemaker’s and when holstered could be mistaken for a Peacemaker. Often Remington’s had a longer barrel—7-1/2-inches in Bud’s case—and the cartridge ejector rod beneath the barrel had a heavy protector making it appear more look the old cap-and-ball revolvers with the cartridge tamping lever. Again, he prefers its long barrel and range. Peacemakers typically had a 5-1/2-inch barrel.
Remington .44-40 Model 1875 revolver
Bud tends to be a practical sort and him and many other cowboys preferred to have a rifle and handgun firing the same cartridges, plain old horse sense. Tío Pancho mentions a long ago Indian-fighting incident when Red, another old-timer hand of the Triple Bar got shook up and accidentally loaded one of his .45 Colt cartridges into an 1873 Winchester, which was .44-40. This is a fact; the .45 Colt could be loaded into the magazine loading gate of a .44-40 or .38-40 Winchester, and then stuck. They were about the same length and even though the .44-40 had a slightly tapered case, they looked similar, especially if one was a bit stressed. The right side plate had to be removed in order to extract the cartridge stuck in the feed way. We also find that Bud is a believer in target practice.
Winchester .44-40 Model 1873 rifle
The .44-40 Winchester was an extremely popular cartridge. It was not particularly long-ranged, but it did the job at optimum ranges with the help of its heavy 200-grain bullet. The .44-40 is said to have killed more men—good and bad—and more game—big and little—than any other cartridge. The “.44” was of course the caliber (bore diameter) in hundredth of an inch and the “40” was the black powder load in grains. In 1895 they were loaded with smokeless powder and rebranded as the .44 W.C.F.—Winchester Center Fire. To this day, however, they’re still called the .44-40. Next time we’ll talk about Marta’s shotgun and some other odd weapons Bud encounters on the road to Eagle Pass.
Next time we’ll talk about Marta’s shotgun and a few oddball weapons mentioned in the story.