The Wild West is one of the most iconic periods in American history. It conjures up images of cowboys and Indians, lawmen and outlaws, adventure and intrigue, and more.
It also lays claim to some of the best and coolest guns ever made. Let’s look at five of the most iconic guns of the Wild West.
Colt Model 1851 Navy
More than a quarter million Colt Navy pistols were manufactured in a 22-year period, which comes out to almost 31 revolvers a day—365 days a year, seven days a week.
Even when cartridge guns came onto the market, many still clung to their cap-and-ball guns like the 1851 Navy. Part of it could be that the guns were familiar and they didn’t want to change; the other part was the added expense of either buying a new gun altogether or paying to have the 1851 converted.
“Wild Bill” Hickok is known to have carried a pair of percussion 1851 Navies long after the advent of metallic cartridges.
Winchester Model 1866
The Model 1866 was the direct descendant of the Henry rifle, and was the first lever-action to bear the Winchester name. That alone makes it worthy of this list, but there are other reasons, too.
Because of its distinctive brass frame, it was often called the “Yellow Boy” on the American frontier. Sioux Chief Sitting Bull is believed to have owned one of these guns. Chambered for the .44 rimfire cartridge, the rifles and muskets held 17 rounds; carbines held 13. Approximately 170,000 of these rifles were made between 1866 and 1898.
Winchester Model 1873
Sometimes called “The Gun That Won the West,” the Model 1873 was the first Winchester to use centerfire cartridges (as opposed to rimfire) and to have an iron frame (as opposed to brass) with a removable side plate.
The gun was a hit almost immediately, and endorsements rolled in for the rifle. In 1875, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody said, “I pronounce your improved Winchester the boss.”
Approximately 720,000 Model 1873s were made between 1873 and 1919 – the period regarded as the gun’s heyday.
Colt Single Action Army
The Single Action Army (also known as the SAA, Peacemaker, and Colt .45) is, along with the Winchester Model 1873, considered by many to be the “Gun That Won the West.” When combined with the .45 Colt self-contained, metallic cartridge, it was a match made in heaven.
The Colt SAA has since been offered in dozens of calibers and many barrel lengths over the decades, but it’s overall design and appearance has pretty much stayed the same since 1873.
Smith & Wesson Model 3
As was mentioned before, Smith & Wesson’s Model 3 was the other big military contender against Colt. It was a beefier gun and was faster to load and unload because of it’s top-break action. All of the spent cartridges could be ejected at once instead of having to be individually cycled and removed.
Despite this, Colt prevailed partly because of ammunition logistics. Even though the military didn’t embrace the Model 3, civilians did. Outlaws like Jesse James and John Wesley Hardin are known to have owned Smith & Wesson Model 3s.
So there you go, a look at five iconic guns of the Wild West. Original examples can be costly, but luckily, there are high quality affordable reproductions of each one so that you can channel your inner lawman or outlaw.
Article Written by T. Logan Metesh