As I was writing the most recent Shooting History review on the Winchester 1873 I got to thinking about how that one lever action is called “The Gun That Won The West”. If nothing else that is some very clever marketing for sure. Not to belittle the ’73, it is a very fine rifle. But saying it single handedly “won” the west is a bit of a stretch. Then there is the whole issue of if The West was won, stolen, liberated or invaded. But that is a discussion for a different time and place. Let’s talk about guns!
Here are 5 other guns that “Won The West”. Neither of the 1873s will be represented here, the Colt or the Winchester.
Colt Lightning Rifle
Colt came out with the slide or pump action Lightning rifle in 1884. The original model was chambered for the same rounds as the Winchester 1873, namely .44-40, .38-40, and .32-20. Of course Colt also chambered the Peace Maker in these as well. They also made a smaller frame that was chambered for .22 and a large one for .38-55 and .50-95 Express.
The pump action is not as strong as the Winchester lever actions but they are capable of shooting faster in the right hands. They could also be “slam fired” meaning if you held the trigger down every time the action was cycled it would fire as soon as it was in battery. The Lightning Rifle has a small following among SASS competitors today with reproductions being made by Uberti and Pedersoli.
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The double action British Bull Dog revolver was originally manufactured and designed by Webley and Son in the early 1870s. It didn’t take long for a multitude of firearms manufactures to start making copies. Some of these copies were licensed and some were not. There were tons of these short barreled revolvers made by all of the different manufactures. I have heard that is you add them all up, they would exceed the Colt 1873 by a huge amount. Iver Johnson and Harrington and Richardson were two of the companies that made them here in the US. At their core, the Bull Dogs are small, short barreled double action revolvers that are very easy to conceal. President James Garfield was assassinated with a Belgian made Bull Dog in 1881.
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Some historians say that The West was won when the last of the wild ranging buffalo were killed. The Sharps Rifle probably shot more buffalo than any other rifle with the possible exception of the Remington Rolling Block. The Sharps was originally a breach loading black powder rifle before the adoption of the metallic cartridge.
The design was only slightly altered for rim fire and later center fire ammunition. These rifle could flat out shoot. When chambered in the big powerful cartridges of its time, like .50-90, the Sharps Rifle was more than capable out to and beyond 1,000 yards. Billy Dixon made his fabled shot with a “Big Fifty” Sharps at The 2nd Battle of Adobe Walls.
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The Merwin Hulbert revolvers are often referred to as the best made of this era. They are for sure unique in the way they load and unload. The barrel moves forward and twists to the side and the cartridges are ejected and new ones can be loaded. They were machines to incredibly tight tolerances. The double action pistols were offered with different length barrels that could be swapped out without tools in a matter of seconds. They even had a folding hammer spur to keep them from not catching on clothing when drawn from concealment. Jesse James was known to carry a Merwin Hulbert. They were made from 1876 until 1916.
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The lowly shotgun is probably the true hero of The West. Really any shotgun could go here. Single and double barreled muzzle loader to the early pump and lever actions all had a place. These were the primary guns that most settlers had. Call them the all purpose guns of The West. With the right loads you can hunt just about anything with them and they have always been a solid choice for home defense.
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So there are 5 other guns that “Won The West”. Are there others? Sure are. Let us hear about some of your favorite guns from the Wild West.