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Southern Magic - History Tidbits

The American Gunfighter

By Carla Swafford

The term "gunfighter" did not come into use until 1874. Before then, common references for these "Knight Chivalric of the Plains" were "man-killer," "shootist," or civilizer.

Tales of 21-year-old Billy the Kid killing one man for every year of his life and Wild Bill Hickok killing over 100 men were only myths. Actually, it was perhaps six for the Kid and ten for Wild Bill.

Favored weapons for the man-killers were Colt and Remington revolvers. Winchester and Sharp for shoulder arms (rifles).

Double cartridge belt was often worn to readily supply rifle and pistol ammunition.

Long hair on a man was referred to as "frontier style."

Texas Rangers established 1823 but ended 1861 and reinstated 1874 to present day. The Rangers were first established to fight Indians.

The term "man-hunter" was more often used than the term "bounty-hunter."

The butt of the pistol facing forward is called a "reverse" or a "cross-draw."

Earlier revolvers were heavy and often carried in pommel holsters over the front of the saddle. In the 1850's, the body belt and holster became popular. By the 1870's, pistols became lighter weight and shoulder holsters became available.

Shotguns with the barrels cut down to two feet were favorites of sheriffs, U.S. Marshals and other officers of the law.

As tax evasion is used to discourage present day criminals, "vagrancy" charges were used to discourage gunfighters from staying in town.

Many gunfighters carried two or more pistols. The basic purpose of the second pistol was to have a reserve, in case, the first was emptied or misfired.


Taken from Magic Moments - September 2000 Volume 3/Issue 9