Armed Gunmen: Holsters, Braces, and Scabbards

Vintage photography from the Old West era shows that gunfighters, lawmen, bandits, ranchers, men determined to protect themselves (and their families) used a variety of holsters and scabbards, belts and braces. No matter where they stashed their weapons, the object was to make for a quick draw, easy access, and reloading.

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Armed Gunmen: Holsters, Braces, and Scabbards

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When U.S. Marshal turned small-town Sheriff, August “Gus” Rose, finally had his turn on center stage (The Marshal’s Surrender), I needed to better understand the holsters, scabbards, and other methods of holding onto weapons. The outlaws were prepared for a shootout or showdown. My lawman must be ready.

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VINTAGE PHOTOGRAPHS ~ (and modern recreations)

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Holsters

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[Note the wide brim hats–not today’s curved Stetson “Cowboy Hats”–in the historic images.]

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Kristin Holt | Armed Gunmen: Holsters, Braces, and Scabbards. "Wild" Ben Raymond, with .44 Merwin & Hulbert in one hand and a Smith & Wesson No. 3 New model in his holster. He wears a Bowie knife around his neck. He worked as a mine guard, posed for his photograph in Leadville, Colorado, in 1879, holding a First Model open top Merwin Hulbert Frontier Army revolver. Although the arm is believed to have been a photographer’s prop, it nonetheless shows the Merwin’s presence in the Wild West. Image: Courtesy of Pinterest.

“”Wild” Ben Raymond, with .44 Merwin & Hulbert in one hand and a Smith & Wesson No. 3 New model in his holster. He wears a Bowie knife around his neck. He worked as a mine guard, posed for his photograph in Leadville, Colorado, in 1879, holding a First Model open top Merwin Hulbert Frontier Army revolver. Although the arm is believed to have been a photographer’s prop, it nonetheless shows the Merwin’s presence in the Wild West.” Caption AND Image: Courtesy of Pinterest.

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Kristin Holt | Armed Gunmen: Holsters, Braces, and Scabbards. COWBOY WITH COLT SINGLE ACTION ARMY - ca.1875-1890. A wonderfully expressive tintype portrait of a rough Cowboy chomping on his cigar, featuring a nickel-plated Colt Single Action Army and holster rig. The cowboy has pulled the Colt "Peacemaker" out of the holster and turned it around so that it faces outward. He is wearing leather chaps, a bandana, a hat, vest and boots. There is a whiskey bottle next to him on the pedestal. A great original tintype image of an iconic Western cowboy. Image: Courtesy of Pinterest.

“COWBOY WITH COLT SINGLE ACTION ARMY – ca.1875-1890. A wonderfully expressive tintype portrait of a rough Cowboy chomping on his cigar, featuring a nickel-plated Colt Single Action Army and holster rig. The cowboy has pulled the Colt “Peacemaker” out of the holster and turned it around so that it faces outward. He is wearing leather chaps, a bandana, a hat, vest and boots. There is a whiskey bottle next to him on the pedestal. A great original tintype image of an iconic Western cowboy.” Caption AND Image: Courtesy of Pinterest.

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Kristin Holt | Armed Gunmen: Holsters, Braces, and Scabbards. This 1879 Leadville, Colorado, image shows two noted Westerners, (at left) Joseph “White Eye” Anderson, who accompanied Wild Bill Hickok to Deadwood in 1876, and his friend E. B. “Yankee” Judd. Judd is packing a First Model Army Merwin Hulbert revolver in his holster and is holding what appears to be a Sharps Borchardt 1878 rifle. Image: Pinterest.

“This 1879 Leadville, Colorado, image shows two noted Westerners, (at left) Joseph “White Eye” Anderson, who accompanied Wild Bill Hickok to Deadwood in 1876, and his friend E. B. “Yankee” Judd. Judd is packing a First Model Army Merwin Hulbert revolver in his holster and is holding what appears to be a Sharps Borchardt 1878 rifle.” Caption AND Image: Courtesy of Pinterest.

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Braces

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Like braces that held up stockings (garters), braces that emphasized correct posture (men and women), braces that supported feminine hygiene, and corsets (men, women, and children), “braces” (a.k.a. suspenders) were seen as underwear and meant to be covered by a waistcoat (vest) when a man was properly dressed in his “suit of clothes”.

Men’s pants (trousers) were very high-waisted compared to today’s styles. Because men didn’t begin to wear belts to hold their pants up (with much consistency–notice the gunbelts are often worn over a man’s trouser belt) until after the turn of the century, suspenders continued into the 20th century.

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Kristin Holt | Armed Gunmen: Holsters, Braces, and Scabbards. Military Scout Junction City, (Fort Riley) Kansas ca 1890s. Photograph of armed military (Army) scout. Man standing and posing for photographer studio Ramsour & Pennel. He is wearing a wide brim hat, gauntlets, knee high boots, ammo belt with shot gun shells

“Military Scout Junction City, (Fort Riley) Kansas ca 1890s. Photograph of armed military (Army) scout. Man standing and posing for photographer studio Ramsour & Pennel. He is wearing a wide brim hat, gauntlets, knee high boots, ammo belt with shot gun shells. [Notice the waist belt holding up this scout’s trousers, with his gun belt riding over the top.]” Caption AND Image: Courtesy of Pinterest.

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It makes great sense that men would carry a back-up weapon secreted in a holster beneath their jacket. Whether a derringer holster up their sleeve or a derringer holster rig worn beneath the vest or simply over the shirt, it made for an additional concealed carry. I could see the value of this practice for gunslingers, outlaws, and professional gamblers. And for men traveling. Some, providing protection to self or companions. Some towns required men to turn over firearms to the sheriff upon arrival in town. (Who said one must part with ALL guns?)

It’s no big surprise men wouldn’t want to be photographed “in their underwear” (see 1st paragraph of this section), nor would a professional gambler want to reveal all of his secrets. Thus it’s not easy to find vintage photographs of such rigs. Here are a few modern recreations of nineteenth century holsters.

I’m impressed with the efforts at historically close (if not completely accurate) clothing used for the photographs.

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orange-arrow_clipped_rev_1This is what inspired Lawman August Rose’s spare.

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Scabbards

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Note the “holster” for the rifle on a saddle. Reader, meet a “scabbard.” Once known as a sheath for knives and swords, “military cavalry and cowboys had scabbards for their saddle ring carbine rifles and lever action rifles on their horses for storage and protection.” [Wikipedia: Scabbard]

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Kristin Holt | Armed Gunmen: Holsters, Braces, and Scabbards. Judging by the saddle style, this unidentified cowboy was working in the late 1870s or 1880s. In his holster, he carries a Colt model 1873 single action revolver with hard rubber grips, and he has looped his left arm around a Winchester model 1873 carbine in a saddle scabbard. On the back is the light pencil inscription “Indian fighter.”

“Judging by the saddle style, this unidentified cowboy was working in the late 1870s or 1880s. In his holster, he carries a Colt model 1873 single action revolver with hard rubber grips, and he has looped his left arm around a Winchester model 1873 carbine in a saddle scabbard. On the back is the light pencil inscription “Indian fighter.”” Caption AND Image: Courtesy of Pinterest.

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Note from Charlie, who commented on this post:

Your “working cowboy” has a Winchester 1892 Rifle, notice the rifle butt plate, also the ’73 Winchester has a rooster tail hammer.

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I’ve no reason to disbelieve Charlie’s expertise. (Thanks, Charlie!)

Please, would anyone else like to help clarify? I’m open!

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Kristin Holt | Armed Gunmen: Holsters, Braces, and Scabbards. Lever action rifle in leather scabbard. Looks like a Winchester from the lever and butt plate.

“Lever action rifle in leather scabbard. Looks like a Winchester from the lever and butt plate.” Caption AND Image: Courtesy of Pinterest.

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PATENTS

Armed Gunmen: Holsters, Braces, and Scabbards

Reloading, at your fingertips…

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Kristin Holt | Armed Gunmen: Holsters, Braces, and Scabbards. A. Mills Cartridge Belt, U.S. Patent No. 193,613, Patented July 31, 1877 to Inventory Anson Mills. Image: Google

A. Mills Cartridge Belt, U.S. Patent No. 193,613, Patented July 31, 1877 to Inventory Anson Mills. Image: Google

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Cartridge belts such as the improvement patented in 1877 (image immediately above) are familiar to fans of the American Old West. Belts like that show up on western movies and are plentiful in Old West photographs, such as this one:

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One of the best portraits of a Ranger captain in Ranger attire, this circa 1878 tintype shows Capt. Junius June Peak holding a Winchester 1873 rifle and wearing his two Colt revolvers on holstered cartridge belts, butts forward in cross draw position. X AND Image: Pinterest.

“One of the best portraits of a Ranger captain in Ranger attire, this circa 1878 tintype shows Capt. Junius June Peak holding a Winchester 1873 rifle and wearing his two Colt revolvers on holstered cartridge belts, butts forward in cross draw position.” Caption AND Image: Pinterest.

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Note from Charlie, who commented:

Range Capt. Junius Peak is sporting a First Model Winchester 1873 Carbine as indicated by the metal band holding the barrel and fore stock together.

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Many thanks, Charlie! Your expertise is much appreciated.

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The Marshal’s Surrender

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“Gus’s Story”, The Marshal’s Surrender, is the most “gun-intense” book I’ve written. One would expect a former U.S. Marshal, now employed as sheriff, when facing the bad guys terrorizing his town to use a weapon or two. The violence in this addition to the Holidays in Mountain Home Series fits comfortably in the PG rating. This book is, by all other measurements, a sweet, clean read.

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Armed Gunmen: Holsters, Braces, and Scabbards
Updated July 2020
Copyright © 2016 Kristin Holt LC