CowboySpirit.TV - Interested in the Myths and Truths of the Old West? Shotdoc.com answers some of these burning questions in this week's Friday Friends with "Old West Myths...And Things Little Known."
Stories about the old west often contain errors or exaggerations. Different books may report different versions of the same events, each implying truth was being told. Many western movies and TV shows are especially inaccurate in showing guns used by gunslingers and lawmen which weren't even produced until long after the story time of the movie. (Clint Eastwood and Tom Selleck were two actors who promoted the period accuracy of guns used in their western movies.) And did you ever wonder about characters in a western movie or TV show firing 20-30 bullets from their "six-guns" without re-loading?
The gunfight duels popular in movies, TV westerns, and pulp fiction with quick draw shooting from the hip were rare by most historical accounts. Shooting accurately usually required a slow aim down the barrel of the gun. In his book on gunslingers, O'Neal struggled with the definition of a gunfight. If a gunfight was defined as a fast-draw, showdown duel only a handful of the 587 gunfights described in his book by over 30 different gunfighters would fit into that definition. Some gunmen could shoot accurately from the hip--most couldn't or wouldn't as indicated by the quote by Wyatt Earp at the beginning of this story.
The popular media is also fond of depicting gunfighters with low slung holsters tied to their leg. Most gunmen wore their holsters with the gun butt at or slightly below the waist. Low-slung holsters did not work well when on a horse. A cross-draw holster (with gun butt forward on the opposite side from the strong hand) worked better for most on a horse. Many gunmen did not even use holsters but wore their gun inside their belt.
In the preface to his book on the early history of the Texas Rangers, Lone Star Justice, Robert Utley noted that he thought it would be appropriate to see how Hollywood treated the Texas Rangers in their films as part of his research. In the start of the 1956 film, Lone Ranger, Utley noted with surprise that the Rangers were shown to be fighting in an area thick with saguaro cactus and commented that he had yet to see a saguaro growing in Texas. That film also had the Texas Rangers wearing the wagon wheel star badge that was not adopted until the 20th century.
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