In the history and mythology of the American West, the role of firearms is central to the conquest of the frontier and the fulfillment of America’s Manifest Destiny.
Told in history books, dime-store novels, movies, and television series, the story of how the American West was won inevitably involves firearms. Violence in the Old West – whether it’s a showdown, a firefight between rival groups, a battle with Native Americans, or a posse out to take the law into its own hands – centers on the use of guns.
To determine the guns that won the Old West, 24/7 Tempo reviewed sources such as True West Magazine, Field and Stream, Gun Digest, and Outdoor Life to compile a list of the most popular, effective, and innovative firearms of the mid-to-late 1800s.
By the second half of the 19th century, American arms makers Colt, Remington, and Smith and Wesson were churning out firearms, their production already boosted by the needs of the warring sides in the Civil War. The people who went West after the defeat of the Confederacy knew how to use these weapons because many of them were veterans of that conflict.
No single weapon “won” the West. Frontier men and women used an array of revolvers, rifles, and shotguns of every conceivable design, make, and model. These included the lever-action Winchester Model 1873, a gun so iconic that it was the title of a James Stewart Western. (These are the 30 best Western films of all time.)
Some of the West’s enduring legends are associated with a particular gun. Wild Bill Hickok and the James-Younger gang carried the 1851 Colt Navy Revolver. Buffalo Bill Cody, Butch Cassidy, and Billy the Kid preferred the storied 1873 Winchester Rifle. Doc Holliday did his work with the double-barrel shotgun. Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson packed the 1873 Colt Single Action Army Revolver, also known as the “Peacemaker.” (Today, these are 28 guns used the most to commit crimes in America.)
Some of the weapons are closely linked with American historical events. Members of the Sioux nation used the 1866 Winchester Rifle when they routed the U.S. 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
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