5 Other Guns That Won The West

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.

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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.

Buy one on GunsAmerica: /Search.aspx?T=colt%20lightning

west 4British Bull Dog Revolver

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.

Buy one on GunsAmerica: /Search.aspx?T=british%20bulldog


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.

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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.

Buy one on GunsAmerica: /Search.aspx?T=sharps

west 1Merwin Hulbert

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.

Buy one on GunsAmerica: /Search.aspx?T=hulbert

west 2The Ubiquitous Shotgun

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.

Buy one on GunsAmerica: /Search.aspx?T=shotgun%20hammer

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.


{ 16 comments… add one }
  • c. woody mcclendon July 3, 2017, 3:29 am

    all of those guns are good guns, but for now I will take my Ruger Vaquero 45 LC with a 5.5.barrell any day if I was going to have a real shootout like the old days.of course the colt would be first choice but they are usually twice the price as the vaquero.
    my vaquero is S.S. with regular black grips and a Mernickle custom Cowboy Fast Draw Rig.it is a beautiful set.

  • Mark Tercsak February 9, 2016, 5:02 pm

    I would like to see an article on the other Big-Bore lever gun of the Day the Bullard ! Also the Colt 1878 Da/Sa revolver

  • James Kensington December 7, 2015, 1:12 pm

    I love your articles and look forward to them every week. My only critique of them is this….they are filled with typos! Spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, and context errors. I know this sounds somewhat pretentious, and nit-picky, but it makes your articles hard to enjoy. I do, however, love the content and I have learned a great deal about so many different types of firearms, ammunition, shooting styles, and more. The content of the articles is wonderful, but maybe an investment in a program to pick up these errors would be a good investment.

  • Carl Hammer April 17, 2015, 2:50 am

    These guns are just awesome. It has grown the popularity.People now a days take time to review about the gun they want to buy and you have shared a great information.

  • Dave Broughton April 13, 2015, 11:03 am

    How about the Rem. Outlaw?

  • BDub April 13, 2015, 10:25 am

    Man, I would love to have a Lightning in 357. Does anyone make one, by any chance?

    • BDub April 13, 2015, 10:29 am

      …anyone in the US that is.

  • Robert McCrory April 13, 2015, 6:48 am

    Outstanding as the Merwin Hulbert was gun-wise I doubt it compares with the top-break Smith & Wesson based on survival rate of pieces held by collectors today. Even the DA version of S&Ws that came out in 1881 probably contributed more. Same argument based on survival rate about the British Bulldog vs. Colt & other contenders.

    • RedGreen April 13, 2015, 2:07 pm

      I collect and still shoot Merwin Hulberts and top break S&W’s. The M&H’s are better machined. They are more inherently accurate.
      The shroud that covers the cylinder pin is much more effective than any other BP cartridge gun of the area. This is important in shootouts. They are as fast to unload as the top breaks, and with a little shake the empties fall free while any loaded cartridges stay in the cylinder. There were probably more MH’s made than Remingtons making it the third most popular firearm at the time. Production on the large frame 44s ended in 1894.

      • Russ April 14, 2015, 6:35 pm

        Thanks for the great info.

  • Greg Schmidt April 9, 2015, 3:28 pm

    Interesting choices to be sure and I tend to agree with you, especially the British Bull Dog and Merwin Hulbert revolvers. One of my favorites, the Henry repeating rifle, was the forerunner of the Winchester. However it certainly did not contribute to \”winning the West;\” it\’s quite the opposite. A vast number of the Henry\’s found their way into the hands of Native Americans, particularly the Sioux and Cheyenne, where they successfully delayed the winning of the West at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876

    • TVPC58 April 13, 2015, 10:14 am

      Yes, the Henry was used extensively by the Plains Indians. In addition, the Winchester 1866 was popular. Here’s a good article regarding the guns of the Plains Indians. http://gunsmagazine.com/guns-of-the-plains-indians/. A good book about the history of Old West firearms is Charles Edward Chapel’s Guns of the Old West ISBN 10: 0486421619 ISBN 13: 9780486421612.

      Indians routinely decorated their rifle stocks with brass tacks…maybe this was the beginning of the gun accessory add-on trend.

      BTW, with many American Indians and in academics, the preferred ID is “American Indian” as opposed to “Native American.” Many like to be identified by tribal name. In Canada, the term is “First Nations.” Per the 1995 U.S. census, American Indians, “indicated that 49% of Native people preferred being called American Indian, 37% preferred Native American, 3.6% preferred “some other term,” and 5% had no preference.”

      • romney dickinson July 3, 2017, 4:27 pm

        Thank God! Someone FINALLY got it right! American Indian, or just Indian IS preferred by the Indian. Let’s blot out the Native American ID. I say use the nomenclature the Indians prefer or use. I asked the director of the American Indian College Fund in Denver, CO about this 20 years ago. He was Lakota Sioux, and should make him more authoritative than some P.C. moron.


  • Dave Hicks April 8, 2015, 11:35 am

    The COLT pump saw limited use. I disagree with the British bulldog..If you look at old photos just about every one has a double barreled shotgun.

    • Dave Hicks April 8, 2015, 11:44 am

      My favorite wild west gun has to be the Winchester Model 1873 44/40. If I can pick two the COLT Frontier Six Shooter

    • ejharb May 18, 2015, 8:31 am

      Not that im a fan of them but british bulldogs were very popular due to compactness and caliber. Custer carried 2 and at least 1 was used in the Dalton raid.id rather have a merwin hulbert pocket army in 44/40

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