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_winer_ 08-18-2012 08:34 PM

Suggestion: firearms of the Old West book
am looking for books that cover firearms used in North America during the westward expansion (about 1820-1880). Complete with diagrams, development, diffusion, stories involving them and so on. I'd prefer it to be detailed, not just a quick overview.

Obviously a quick google search brings on several books. But I'd like to hear from you. What would you suggest?

Many thanks

P.S. I hope I am in the right section of the forum... :D

superc 09-05-2012 03:45 AM

Try, Gunsmithing Guns of the Old West," "The British Bulldog Revolver," and of course "Flaydermans Guide to Antique American Firearms."

In as much as the average resident (many were poor immigrants) couldn't afford a new cartidge Colt or a Smith & Wesson there was a lot of old civil war surplus stuff being used and also European weapons were not uncommon. General Custer supposedly carried Webley Bulldogs into his last stand rather than the Colt or S&W revolvers his troops carried. [For reasons of ammo non-compatibility, he may have regretted that as the day wore on.] See the littlegun website for info on some of the cheaper, but just as deadly European knockoffs of British weapons. I have some of those (finding or making the ammo was a chore) and they still work just fine 130+ years later.

There were also many, many, makes of low cost but reliable and deadly .30 and .32 caliber rimfire spur trigger revolvers which Flayderaman mentions in his books as guns he will mostly ignore. Those were considered a serious threat to sales by both Smith&Wesson and Colt and joining forces to mount a smear campaign against guns that were a third (or even cheaper) the cost of their guns was one of the very few times in American history those two firms saw eye to eye and mutually cooperated.

There is a lot of hoopla about Winchesters among Cowboy action fans, but unless talking about what the Indians were acquiring, little actual mention of Winchesters is found in period writing. Much more common is talk of Spencers and Sharps and old Harpers Ferry muskets. Writings of double barrel shotguns in both percussion and cartridge (when available) are also common.

Generally speaking surplus civil war weaponry was still available as late as the 1920s. You will find examples for sale in early Sears & Roebuck mail order catalogs. It was the Spanish American War in 1898 that moved the younger veterans into bolt action rifles but semi auto pistols didn't become common until after WWI. By then almost everyone preferred Bolt action rifles. [A similar thing happened after WW2 where millions of the former vets had learned the semi-auto was preferable for many situations and by the late 1960s more than a few people had acquired surplus M-1 carbines.]

You could probably save some effort if you limit the years of what you call the 'Old West.' Do you mean 1700 - 1900, or is your focus a more narrow period such as 1866 to 1880?

c3shooter 09-05-2012 12:46 PM

Your time frame covers from flintlock up to easly semi autos. Rather ambitious- you may want to scale that back a touch.

As the man said, look at shotguns and rifles- singles and doubles. Are you looking at explorers? Homesteaders? Cattlemen?

The revolver gets a lot of attention. The Plains rifle and the double barrelled 10 g got a lot of use. Take a hard look at Spencer rifles, and Henrys.

Colt had a lot of attention. Remington had a lot of guns. Look into Allen, Allen & Wheelock, Hopkins & Allen, Forehand & Wadsworth, etc.

PS- go over to Amazon, and look for 4 books by K.D. Kirkland. One each for Remington, Colt, Winchester and Browning. You can find them DIRT cheap. Will cover PART of the period you are seeking (hint- anybody looking for a good Christmas present for a gun nut...)

superc 09-05-2012 04:21 PM

Okay, I re-read the original post. Don't know how I missed the 1820-1880. Mea Culpa. Agreement with C3 shooter. You are only a little better with that time frame than if you had said 1700. In 1820 you still had folks walking around with Brown Bess muskets. Indians still got Trade muskets. In either case Flayderman's Antique Firearms is still an excellent first book. I don't think there are any schematics or mechanisms explained in it, but you will learn what gun(s) existed, when they were made, and a picture of them (well pics of most of them anyway). As stated with the time frame you chose you will encounter in history everything from wheel locks to cartridge weapons. Look at it this way. 1700-1840, primarily flintlocks. 1840-1866 a mixture of flintlocks and percussion weapons. 1866-1875 a mixture of percussion and early cartridge weapons. 1875-2010 cartridge weapons. 2010-2??? a mixture of cartridge weapons and energy discharge devices.

_winer_ 09-06-2012 11:08 PM

Thank you guys. I'll do some more search with the keywords you provided and get back to you :D

Yes, the timeframe is quite wide, probably will be able to be more specific once i have a better overall picture.
Actually I recently read about the Girandoni air rifle in the Lewis and Clark expedition. So interesting.... maybe I should widen the timeframe! :D

Kind regards

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