"Draw, podnuh!" Or not.
February 27, 2017 12:08 AM   Subscribe

The iconic western image cultivated by TV and film includes one ubiquitous element. The large (.44 or .45) handgun carried on a belt made for the purpose, in a low slung holster strapped to the leg for fast draw. This means of carrying a firearm is called the "Buscadero Rig." We have all seen it worn by Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autrey, John Wayne, James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Clint Eastwood, the Magnificent Seven, Pallidin, and every member of the Cartwright family. It didn't exist in the 19th Century.

Never mind that most towns didn't allow the carrying of firearms and almost no one carried one anywhere else either. The purpose of the Buscadero rig is to get that shootin' iron out quick! How often does the average citizen need to do that? But the Cartwrights wouldn't go out to the barn without the artillery close at hand. Even Maverick, portrayed as a gambler who preferred to avoid a fight, is strapped for a quick draw. And everyone has enough ammo in bullet loops to defend the Alamo.

In western reality of the 19th Century, almost no one but a violent thug or a peace officer needed a five pound open-carry heavy sidearm. A cowboy on the range would more likely have a rifle. For anyone else who was armed, a concealed smaller weapon was much more likely.

The Buscadero rig was invented in the 1920s for film and later TV. The "walk and draw" duel never existed. There was no "Code of the West." Only a fool would let the other guy draw first. In reality, if you were in danger of your life from anyone and you were armed, you got the weapon out as soon as you spotted him and long before he was in range. You started shooting with a two handed grip as soon as you figured you could hit him before you ran out of ammo. You shot him in the back if you got a chance.

The history of Western holsters
is interesting even if most of what we think we know is seriously bogus.
posted by Repack Rider (50 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
 
Even taking into account the lack of necessity of a giant revolver in a quick-draw holster, there's also the profound lack of practicality. A holster's job is to hold the gun, and a quick-draw holster barely does that. The gun would be constantly falling out with all the bouncy horse riding, and getting pickpocketed by all the recently-transported Dickensian street urchins about.
posted by Sys Rq at 12:49 AM on February 27, 2017 [18 favorites]


Sys Rq: "Even taking into account the lack of necessity of a giant revolver in a quick-draw holster, there's also the profound lack of practicality. A holster's job is to hold the gun, and a quick-draw holster barely does that. The gun would be constantly falling out with all the bouncy horse riding, and getting pickpocketed by all the recently-transported Dickensian street urchins about."

Not to mention losing it while coughing up your lungs from TB.
posted by Samizdata at 1:15 AM on February 27, 2017 [13 favorites]


"podnah" sounds Yankee not Western
posted by thelonius at 2:09 AM on February 27, 2017 [5 favorites]


Han Solo too!
posted by Meatbomb at 2:32 AM on February 27, 2017 [5 favorites]


the profound lack of practicality

pffft
posted by flabdablet at 3:26 AM on February 27, 2017 [8 favorites]


flabdablet: "the profound lack of practicality

The Sundance Kid: "Can I move?"
posted by chavenet at 3:34 AM on February 27, 2017 [8 favorites]


Next you're telling me that King Arthur didn't wear Gothic fluted plate.
posted by pseudocode at 3:37 AM on February 27, 2017 [30 favorites]


While getting the tour at the Mount Moriah cemetery overlooking Deadwood SD, we were told that Will Bill Hickok thought holsters were too slow and liked to wear them reversed in a sash. That's pretty badass. Didn't stop him from getting shot in the back of the head but still, pretty badass.
posted by Ber at 4:29 AM on February 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


I do not believe that Roy Rogers, or Gene Autry, or Hopalong Cassidy did wear this kind of rig. As the linked pictures show, none of them wore their holsters "strapped to the leg," nor were they especially low-slung. As to the fallout problem, some later movies show a retaining loop over the hammer of the gun, which the gunfighter flicks off when readying for his showdown.

I am disappointed that the article did not present any pictures of authentic 19th-Century holsters.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:43 AM on February 27, 2017 [7 favorites]


Pjern's recent post on musical marksmanship led me to this video of intuitive shooting. Turns out that shooting from the hip requires a damn lot of practice and control.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:45 AM on February 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


I meant the first liked article not showing old holsters; I see that's done in the last one.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:52 AM on February 27, 2017


also, new york street gangs don't "rumble" each other in campy dance offs
posted by indubitable at 4:52 AM on February 27, 2017 [38 favorites]


Old styled single action revolver rigs I've seen had a simple knotted strap of leather that you would put under the hammer of the gun once it was in the holster. The hammer spring would make the hammer pinch the strap thus helping to retain the gun in the holster. When you are ready to take the gun out, you pull the hammer back into the firing position and slide the gun out. (Remember single action old west style revolvers require you to cock the hammer manually before you can pull the trigger to fire.)
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:54 AM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


also, new york street gangs don't "rumble" each other in campy dance offs

never take a historian to a Gladiator movie
posted by thelonius at 4:57 AM on February 27, 2017 [13 favorites]


Didn't stop him from getting shot in the back of the head but still, pretty badass.

Definitely a badass, but kind of a asshole too.

When in Springfield, MO Wild Bill Hickok and Davis Tutt from Yellville Ark. had several disagreements over a gambling debt and their mutual 'affection' for the same women. Tutt stole Hickok's watch for collateral, but when Hickok saw Tutt wearing it, Things went farther south. On July 21, 1865, the two faced off in Springfield's town square. Their quick-draw duel was recorded as the first of its kind. Tutt's shot missed, but Hickok's hit Tutt in the heart from about 75 yards. More at Wikipedia.
posted by ridgerunner at 5:07 AM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


Real cowboy junkies (heh) know if you're looking for more authentic rigs amongst fictional movie characters your go-tos are fellers like Capt. Gus McCrae or the outlaw Josey Wales.
posted by valkane at 5:09 AM on February 27, 2017 [9 favorites]


no one but a violent thug or a peace officer

But I repeat myself...
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:10 AM on February 27, 2017 [6 favorites]


Even John Wayne (in his later pictures) wore his hogleg high and at the 4:00 position.
posted by valkane at 5:11 AM on February 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


The term "cowboy" didin't exist. Cow hand, cow poke, probably just call hired hand or just 'hand', but the very language of the old west was an invention of east coast writers of pulp fiction.
posted by sammyo at 5:12 AM on February 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


cowboy (n.) 1725, "boy who tends to cows," from cow (n.) + boy. Sense in Western U.S. is from 1849; in figurative use by 1942 for "brash and reckless young man" (as an adjective meaning "reckless," from 1920s). Cowhand is first attested 1852 in American English (see hand (n.)). Cowpoke (said to be 1881, not in popular use until 1940s) was said to be originally restricted to the cowboys who prodded cattle onto railroad cars with long poles.
posted by slkinsey at 5:23 AM on February 27, 2017 [9 favorites]


> " The 'walk and draw' duel never existed."

> "Their quick-draw duel was recorded as the first of its kind."

ILLOGICAL! ILLOGICAL! PLEASE EXPLAIN!
posted by kyrademon at 5:30 AM on February 27, 2017 [7 favorites]


I think there is a real historical reason why handguns get so much attention in books and stories. Since repeating handguns were invented first, there was a short time period when they really were the most effective firearms. Once the first lever action rifles began to work reliably though, rifles never stopped being best.
posted by Bee'sWing at 5:33 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I haven't fingered out why my IPad just posts sometimes.

When you are ready to take the gun out, you pull the hammer back into the firing position and slide the gun out.

That's scary, I don't like messing with the hammer when the gun is pointed at my foot. My open topped holsters have a loop in the front that goes over the hammer's thumb spur, it holds the revolver in and the hammer down.
posted by ridgerunner at 5:45 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think there is a real historical reason why handguns get so much attention in books and stories.

I would disagree. Carrying a pistol keeps your hands free for other uses (drinking, gambling, fondling) necessary for a story, whereas carrying a long gun pretty much takes all of your attention. It also places undue emphasis on the gun facet of the story.
posted by BWA at 6:28 AM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


When you are ready to take the gun out, you pull the hammer back into the firing position and slide the gun out.

Yes, I bet that produced an epidemic of guys shooting themselves in the foot, leading to the common use of the phrase.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:38 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


Next you're telling me that King Arthur didn't wear Gothic fluted plate.

Frankly, I'm not convinced that Camelot was even lit that way!


I saw Boorman's The Emerald Forest with a gun nut friend once. There's a scene where the armed heroes wandering deep into the uncharted Amazon come across a group of very aggressive cannibals intent on killing them. The hero shoots one with his AR-15 type rifle to show they shouldn't do that. And these guys have never seen a white man before, much less a gun. So they're a little taken aback, but not nearly as much as the hero hoped.

Then the chief goes to examine his dead soldier, feels around in the hole, takes out the bullet, and licks the blood off it. It's a pretty badass move, but my friend was losing his shit because to show up on camera they used like a .50 caliber bullet, massively too big to have come from that gun.

Basically, John Boorman is a filthy, stinking liar and the reason for everything that's wrong in the world today. Don't even get me started on Zardoz. NONE of that shit is accurate.
posted by Naberius at 6:39 AM on February 27, 2017 [7 favorites]


I've also been told that the can o' beans around the campfire was also false, and that it was more likely to be a canned chicken, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
posted by furtive at 6:41 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also, explosions don't go "Boom!" in space.
posted by happyroach at 6:41 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


For anyone else who was armed, a concealed smaller weapon was much more likely.

Even lightweight, small modern pistols made out of polymer and meant for concealed carry are awkward to carry. I like action movies as much as the next person, but movie gun portrayals are almost always silly, fun to watch but not very relevant in real life.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:48 AM on February 27, 2017


> " The 'walk and draw' duel never existed."

> "Their quick-draw duel was recorded as the first of its kind."

ILLOGICAL! ILLOGICAL! PLEASE EXPLAIN!


I'd say there were quite a few people actively inventing the legends of the Wild West rather than the legends organically evolving. "Buffalo Bill" Cody strikes me as one of the types explaining to eastern rubes how the West "really was" even as the west was still existing.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 6:50 AM on February 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


Ok I've read all this but I could still use a few pointers on the Westworld timeline kthx.
posted by rokusan at 7:10 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


never take a historian to a Gladiator movie
What about a Turkish prison?
posted by xedrik at 7:24 AM on February 27, 2017 [6 favorites]


They all wore ten gallon hats though, surely. Oh, come on.
posted by Segundus at 7:32 AM on February 27, 2017


The archeological record shows that horses actually had feathers.
posted by Artw at 7:35 AM on February 27, 2017 [14 favorites]




also, new york street gangs don't "rumble" each other in campy dance offs

MY ENTIRE LIFE IS A LIE
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 7:43 AM on February 27, 2017


> " The 'walk and draw' duel never existed."

> "Their quick-draw duel was recorded as the first of its kind."

ILLOGICAL! ILLOGICAL! PLEASE EXPLAIN!


There are a handful of incidents that contain elements of the Western Movie quick draw duel, but none that contain all of them. The Hickok-Tutt shootout is probably the closest, but it was most emphatically not a duel, in the sense of being a pre-arranged combat with agreed-upon rules. Hickok walked up to Tutt with a drawn gun, they stared each other down for a few moments and then started shooting. Westerns built up the quick-draw duel as an elaborate ritual, with combatants marching into the middle of the street and firing on some pre-arranged signal. It's that ritual that never existed.
posted by firechicago at 8:42 AM on February 27, 2017 [6 favorites]


The archeological record shows that horses actually had feathers.

Well actually, it was the horses that were named Frankenstein, not the archeologists. Common mistake.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:50 AM on February 27, 2017 [6 favorites]


Westerns built up the quick-draw duel as an elaborate ritual, with combatants marching into the middle of the street and firing on some pre-arranged signal.

Yeah, this kind of formal pistol duel was really more of a late-1700s/early-1800s thing. And even then, mostly in Europe, though there were some notable ones in the US. (Hamilton/Burr being the one almost everybody knows about.)

The ritualised duel is definitely more exciting to watch on film than shooting somebody in the back in an ambush. Much more heroic as well.
posted by tobascodagama at 9:09 AM on February 27, 2017


There was no "Code of the West."

"You're not a good guy at all!"
"I'm a lawyer, you idiot!"
posted by nickmark at 9:37 AM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


If Quick Draw isn't real, what about El Kabong?
posted by TedW at 9:43 AM on February 27, 2017 [3 favorites]


Don't even get me started on Zardoz. NONE of that shit is accurate.

It's an absolute true friggn future documentary! There exist special arrangements to freeze Sir Thomas Sean Connery with his costume battle uniform to prevent future temporal disruption. ALL REAL.
posted by sammyo at 9:56 AM on February 27, 2017 [4 favorites]


I know Chuck Wagon. Good guy. Little dogs chase him around a lot though.

Man, I’d like to tend to a cow. I’d call him Norman and feed him carrots. Prod him onto railroads. That’d be sweet…

A lot of those cowboy movie holsters seem to be WWI Sam Browne’s with the flap torn off (the half flap instead of the earlier, more useful to cavalry, full flap like Arvo Ojala ). One of the big things about using big pistols against humans (apart from tradition) seems to be the "psychological" sort of “you’re shot” angle so you get them to quit fighting.

You look at WWI where you had conditions in trench warfare that would be equal to the desperate close quarter conditions staged in cowboy movies ('cos why retreat to distance when you have a rifle?)
Doughboys carried big heavy spiked clubs, spiked knuckle dusters, short spear/sticks, big pistols, big knives, big pistols with big knives on them (no, really) all designed for inflicting immediate and unsubtle grievous harm.

The trench shotgun being the pinnacle there for short range firepower (the Germans arguing, in WWI, that it should be illegal in warfare because scatter shot caused a painful and prolonged death).

Many people argue for shot placement (the British at the time of WWI had the very smooth shooting Webley’s that would blow a barn door through someone, so best of both really), and penetration, all that, but a lot of those arguments revolve around killing rather than “stopping.” And there’s no – I see I’m gun geeking out here but bear with me – real scientific (repeatable) standard in those terms because bullets spall and frang in different ways depending on body structure.

That whole thing aside, having a big loud gun that blows a big bleeding hole (whether it kills you or not) in someone in a close quarter combat situation where they’re aware they might get shot, can psychologically stop them because they will pause to stop the bleeding, wait for medics, or be captured if they have that luxury, or at the very least, stop being a target for the enemy (big obvious wound) long enough to recover themselves.
It’s the obviousness of the wound that’s key. It's why cowboys always fall down dead immediately when shot (although perversely they can shrug off a flesh wound and not bleed out after a few minutes. Nor do they crap their chaps, despite eating all the beans...)
The real world example is giving up after being shot so they don't follow up with another shot. (Doughboys would straight up kill snipers, but there was a lot of work to try to spare other wounded. They'd use mercy dogs f'rinstance. Dogs with medical supplies on them trained to find casualties. Rin Tin Tin was born from one of these)


Which brings us to -

There was no "Code of the West."

Apart from the variety of cultures with ritualized forms of combat , there’s the Code Duello from the Irish, adopted in 1777, was (arguably) the most important document for the western world on dueling. Plenty to google on there (there are 26 commandments) but the gist is this whole ritualized system of honor that drew from recognized laws of war to limit violence between powerful landholding families (as with most things, back to the Romans) and sword duels – stuff like “the parties engage until one is well blooded, disabled, or disarmed, or until, after receiving a wound and blood being drawn, the aggressor begs pardon”

So the (U.S.) South had a lot of this, the whole Southern gentleman thing going on, and of course it migrated to some parts west, where it became a kind of “code of the west” which, as noted, many people felt not at all bound to and adhered to a much more common sense approach to killin’ folks.

Duels continued after they were outlawed, but once handguns became more accurate and repeat firing, it was essentially mutual suicide. Although some people went back to swords like (the painter) Edouard Manet.

The whole “duel” idea though was to show – look, we both have the gigantic balls to risk death standing here and shooting at each other, and gentleman commonly purposefully missed. But even in aiming, even after rifling (or primitive scratch rifling) was invented for self-defense pistols, your dueling pistols were still smoothbore and so, less accurate. Meaning they were there more to satisfy honor and prevent open feuds (notably, the Hatfield-McCoy thing happened after duels were outlawed).

But guys like (the writer) Alexander Pushkin were sudden death (well, 28 times he was) with the old smoothbores. And of course, they were essentially hand cannons, typically in the .50 caliber range (Harper’s Ferry flintlocks were .58 caliber), which sort of carried the mindset of “big heavy hand gun kills people” forward with it.
Revolvers and accuracy made the question academic though.
And then Superman showed up and he could pick up a whole car ... sort of lost track of my point here though...

Oh yeah - it always bugged me watching John Wayne bouncing on a horse, crossing streams, throwing haymakers, being completely immune to weapon retention.

Hickok OTOH had his pistol so high up on his waist most of his gunfights were about getting people off his lawn

“new york street gangs don't "rumble" each other in campy dance offs”

Well that is just nonsense! according to the NYPD

Japan airlines totally lets everyone fly with their katanas though.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:09 AM on February 27, 2017 [8 favorites]


Yeah, this kind of formal pistol duel was really more of a late-1700s/early-1800s thing. And even then, mostly in Europe, though there were some notable ones in the US. (Hamilton/Burr being the one almost everybody knows about.)

And those duels certainly didn't look anything like a Western. For one thing they were fought between men of property and social standing to defend their honor and reputation. To these aristocrats the idea of a cowboy (a semi-skilled agricultural laborer with no property or social standing that they would respect) fighting a duel would make about as much sense as a monkey fighting a duel.

And they never would have been staged in the center of town. Even at their height, these types of duels were illegal almost everywhere they were fought, with local governments trying to stamp out the practice with varying degrees of alacrity and success. As Lin Manuel Miranda has made famous, Hamilton and Burr rowed across the Hudson before dawn to find a spot isolated enough. (And their choice had the added advantage of being in a different legal jurisdiction, thus complicating any prosecution attempt).

Finally, they weren't nearly as deadly as the Western duel, which almost always ends with one or more parties bleeding into the dirt. As often as not, both duelists would miss (intentionally or unintentionally) and would declare themselves satisfied.
posted by firechicago at 11:13 AM on February 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ach, forgot: "No wise man ever took a handgun to a gun fight." - Wyatt Earp
posted by Smedleyman at 11:19 AM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


"Well, it got so that every piss-ant prairie punk who thought he could shoot a gun would ride into town to try out the Waco Kid. I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille. It got pretty gritty. I started to hear the word "draw" in my sleep. Then one day I was just walking down the street, when I heard a voice behind me say, 'Reach for it, mister!' I spun around, and there I was face-to-face with a six-year-old kid. Well, I just threw my guns down and walked away.

Little bastard shot me in the ass!"
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:52 AM on February 27, 2017 [7 favorites]


I don't like messing with the hammer when the gun is pointed at my foot

Wear flipflops or opentoed shoes, duh.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:32 PM on February 27, 2017


Since MetaFilter's video zeitgeist these days, much like my own YouTube viewing habits, seems to be split between Beyond the Press and Forgotten Weapons, I present this tangentially-related video from InRangeTV (ft. Ian from Forgotten Weapons) on gun control in the Old West. (Playlist also includes some videos on specific, notable gunfights.)
posted by tobascodagama at 12:43 PM on February 27, 2017


If Quick Draw isn't real, what about El Kabong?

I'll do the thinnin' around here, Baba Looey!
posted by rdone at 3:28 PM on February 27, 2017 [2 favorites]


Yosemite Sam is real. Who else would have invented loose holsters and skinny jeans?

On a related tangent:

An open carry holster we can all get behind.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:42 PM on March 3, 2017


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