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The Gun That Won the West


The Winchester Model 1873 repeating rifle was the first firearm to use the slogan “the gun that won the west.” But Sam Colt also claimed the title for his Peacemaker revolver.

Colt was an industrialist from Connecticut. Texas Ranger Sam Walker acquired one of Colt’s early revolvers and realized it was the perfect weapon for the Rangers. Prior to Colt’s revolver, most pistols were single shot weapons that were difficult to reload on horseback. On this date in 1847, Walker ordered 1,000 Colt revolvers. The pistols quickly became identified with the West. Colt paid frontier artist George Catlin to feature Colt firearms in his paintings.

The Peacemaker was more formally called the Colt Single Action Army, and it was arguably Colt’s most famous firearm. Butch Cassidy carried a Peacemaker, as did famed lawman Bat Masterson. Teddy Roosevelt waved his Peacemaker in the air as he charged up San Juan Hill. General George Patton carried two pearl-handled Peacemakers. Even Lawrence of Arabia carried a Peacemaker during his adventures in the Middle East.

Colt engaged in aggressive marketing tactics, and the pistol quickly became identified with the West. Dime novels elevated gunfighters to celebrity status. In 1882 an article in the Bismarck Tribune objected to the glorified image of cowboy as gunfighter and tried to correct the notion. The newspaper acknowledged that the cowboy was quite a figure with his leather fringed jacket, big Spanish spurs, and, of course, the pistol riding on his hip, but the paper insisted that this was not the true face of the Dakotas, that cowboys were instead shrewd, intelligent, and well-spoken men. Nonetheless, Easterners could not get enough of the romanticized version of the Wild West.

In 1955, Dennis Morgan starred as frontiersman Jim Bridger movie “The Gun That Won the West.” And even though the phrase is closely associated with American history and the taming of the frontier, it would be a stretch to consider one single firearm as the winner of the West – historians acknowledge at least five firearms as deserving of the title, including a Colt rifle, a British revolver, and the lowly shotgun. But thanks to movies and popular history, Sam Colt’s Peacemaker shares top billing with the Winchester rifle and is enshrined in Western lore.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher.


Guns America. “Five Other Guns That Won the West.” "https://www.gunsamerica.com/blog/5-other-guns-that-won-the-west/" https://www.gunsamerica.com/blog/5-other-guns-that-won-the-west/ Accessed 9 December, 2016.

Gun News. “The Guns That Won the West.” "http://www.gunnews.com/guns-won-west/" http://www.gunnews.com/guns-won-west/ Accessed 9 December, 2016.

Bismarck Tribune. 22 September, 1882.