Sunday, August 23, 2009
Tools in the holster and tell-tale choice
“The difficulty in life is the choice.”
__ George Moore, 1900
It is said that you can tell a lot about somebody by the choices they make. Favorite Beatle, Fat Tire beer in the cooler or Miller High Life in Fridge, plain or peanut, Ford Ranger or Subaru Outback – it all gives a bit of insight.
What then, can we learn from a particular preference in firearm?
Men of violence, of course, sometimes choose paths that make the firearm necessary in the first place. But once headed down that path, what compels them to shove a particular tool in the holster?
The Samuel Colt Co., in 1873 developed Peacemaker model and it became an immediate hit here in what was the “Wild West.”
“It was originally produced in .45 caliber, with a 7 ½ inch barrel, for Ordinance issue to troops. Custer’s Seventh Cavalry troopers each carried one of these weapons with 18 rounds of ammunition in addition to his Springfield .45-70 single shot,” wrote Robert B. Cormack, in a paper for the Denver Westerners Monthly Roundup in 1962.
Part of its popularity was the result of genius of forethought by Colt in chambering this six-shooter for the same cartridges used in the Winchester Model ’73.
The ‘hog leg,’ or ‘plow handle’ and even sometimes called a ‘cutter’ was the first large revolver to use self-exploding, center fire cartridges.
“Bat Masterson’s favorite Colt was a .45 cal. single action with a stubby 4 ¾ inch barrel. Wyatt Earp usually wore two of this caliber. The left one won was a ‘Peacemaker’ with a 7 ½ inch barrel, the right had a 12 inch barrel. Known as a ‘Buntline Special,’ this Colt had been made to order and presented to him. According to the testimony of his friends, Doc Holliday definitely did not lug a shotgun everywhere with him. His pet was a nickel-plated .38 double action Colt, though on many occasions he was known to carry additional artillery. Billy the Kid had small hands, and therefore preferred his .41 Colt double-action Colt to the .44-40 he sometimes used. Butch Cassidy favored the Frontier.44-40 colt with a 7 ½ inch barrel. Wild Bill Hickock gained his fame with two 1851 Colt Navy .36s with ivory grips. He retained his fame with two ‘Peacemakers’ and died with a Smith & Wesson tip-up .32 rim-fire revolver in his pocket,” wrote Cormack.
Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of the times, was how commonplace the option of packing a piece was.
After all, when the McCarty gang, buddies of Butch Cassidy, decided to rob the Farmers & Merchant Bank in Delta and a bank teller started yelling for help and was shot and killed by Fred McCarty, it was the owner of the hardware store who came to the rescue.
“Ray Simpson, junior owner of the hardware store of W.G. Simpson & Son was cleaning his Sharps .44 caliber rifle at the time of the bank robbery. The hardware store was directly across Main Street from the bank. Simpson was thirty-one, a tall and slender man. He loved to hunt and was a crack shot. He was quiet, cool and calm,” notes Ken Jessen in his 1986 book “Colorado Gunsmoke.”
“Upon hearing the two shots from the interior of the bank, Simpson quickly pulled the lever down on his Sharps to drop the breech block. He inserted a shell and grabbed several more as he ran out of the store … Just then, he saw the outlaws coming at full gallop down the alley. Simpson fired from the hip at the man in the rear, Bill McCarty. The entire top of Bill’s head was blown off, and his brains ended up some twenty feet from where he fell from his horse. Simpson dropped the breech block again to insert another shell,” Jessen wrote.
“In the meantime, young Fred McCarty pulled up to see if could help his fallen father. Fred was nearly a block away from Simpson, but that moment of hesitation gave Simpson a clear shot. The bullet from Simpson’s rifle hit Fred in the base of the skull, then came out his forehead. Tom McCarty did not slow to see what happened to his brother or his nephew, but continued to ride hard. Money from the robbery was scattered in all directions in the street.” according to Jessen.
Simpson fired again, and then once more at Tom McCarty but missed each time, hitting instead a riderless horse.
Later Tom McCarty sent letters for months to Simpson, threatening to avenge the killing of his brother and nephew.
Simpson eventually made the choice to leave Delta and move to California. Tom McCarty is said to have hid out in the Paradox Valley for some time after the robbery but eventually left the area also, possibly ending up in Oregon, Alaska or Montana.