Any study of peacekeeping, or frontier justice, or self preservation in the late 19th-century Idaho Territory has to include firearms. Side arms, pocket models, long guns were considered every day tools, if not every day carries, for men and women.
The so-called lawmen in Cat’s Cafe represent aspects of real-life Deputy Sheriff Ed. F. Winn and Sheriff Henry Plummer, my inspiration for Zane Gunther, who served as sheriff for Eagle Rock and the Snake River plains. By around 1870, it is reasonable to assume that both Winn and Plummer routinely used long guns as well as their “daily carry” sidearms – likely either a Smith & Wesson or a Colt six-shot revolver. These would have been single-action until 1870.
(Single-action wheel gun hammers are cocked before each shot. Double-action revolvers both cock and release the hammer in one trigger pull.)
In 1870, Smith & Wesson invented the first double-action revolver, the .44-caliber Model 3 “American” top break revolver which was adopted by the U.S. Army in 1870 for military use. In 1875, Major George Schofield added a locking system; this .45-caliber model became known as the “Schofield,” which the Army adopted specifically for use by the cavalry.
Considered a piece of true Americana from the Wild West, the Colt Single-Action Army “Peacemaker” was a widely used single-action six-round revolver, originally chambered in .44 caliber and then in .45 caliber. It was a hefty piece of wood and steel, approximately 13” long overall with a 7.5” barrel, weighing in at nearly 40 ounces.
From True West Magazine author and firearms historian Phil Spangenberger, “Undoubtedly one of the most recognized handguns in the world, Colt’s 1873 Single Action Army revolver was the hands-down favorite and the archetypical six-gun of the American frontier. Affectionately known as the ‘Peacemaker,’ it is considered the best balanced, most ergonomically perfect revolver of the age. Originally designed as a cavalry sidearm, it rapidly became the choice of cowboys, lawmen [and] outdoorsmen of all kinds.”
These were by no means the only handguns in use. They were manufactured in various lengths and calibers, some still using balls, others using cartridges; and both women and men considered firearm handling skill to be essential to protect life and property. True West Magazine’s “Top Twelve Guns That Tamed the Wild West,” by Phil Spangenberger, presents a variety of long guns, such as the Hawken Plains Rifle and 1873 Winchester Rifle, and several hand guns, including great photos.
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