Posts Tagged "Old West"

Silver Spurs Makes the West Come Alive

Posted on June 4th, 2011 by Admin | Posted in Gear

SPURS – The jingle-jangle of silver spurs makes the West come alive

By: Cactus Tubbs

Circa 1880. As the warm wind rolls across the Great Plains, it pays a visit on the cowtown of Dodge City, Kansas. The aroma of the longhorn cattle rides piggyback in the wind. Late at night one lone man methodically checks store and shop doors as he walks across the echoing boards of the town’s boardwalks. Glimpses of his badge of office reflect in the glow of oil street lamps and the Kansas moon. The sound of each of his steps drowns out the howl of the wind. Each time a boot heel meets the wooden planks, a sharp “jingle” immediately follows. As he lifts the next foot for another step, a crisp “jangle” is clearly heard. This distinctive “jingle-jangle” can only mean one thing; Festus Hagin from “Gunsmoke” is filling my TV screen.

SpursI will forever remember Ken Curtis’s character, “Festus” and his trademark “jingle-jangle” sound with each step. As a young lad growing up in West Texas, I would suspend after-school activities until after “Gunsmoke”. Dad and I would sit like two bumps on logs glued to the screen, waiting for Matt Dillon to nab the outlaw, or for Doc and Festus to have one of their famous and usually hilarious arguments. But I noticed early on that Festus had to have the loudest set of spurs north, south, east, and west of the Pecos. I get amused now when I watch an episode (EVERY Sunday thanks to satellite TV!) and Festus is “jingle-jangling” trying to sneak up on a bad guy. Somehow, even with those amplified spurs he manages to surprise his opponent.

While I have no recollection of ever getting a good view of the spurs he wore in the series, had his spurs been “authentic” they likely would have been the “OK” style of spur. This type of spur was a very simplistic design and widely used throughout the West from 1880 through the 1930’s, inexpensive and practical to use and very functional. Literally thousands of these spurs were manufactured by one of the two large manufacturing companies; August Buermann of Newark, New Jersey, and North & Judd of New Britain, Connecticut. However, by the 1880’s a spur became an indicator of a cowboy’s status or a measure of his experience. Cowboys began seeking out more stylized spurs and the mass-produced spur began to give way to the custom-made set. The “OK” spur eventually became a sign of bad luck or inexperience.

“Buzz Saws,” “Gut Hooks,” “Cowboy Steel,” “Persuaders,” these are some of the colorful descriptions sometimes given to the cowboy’s spurs. But the spur dates back much farther than the 1880’s. In fact, some of the earliest spurs date back to 700 BC. By the 15th Century, spurs identified rank for Old World cavaliers, knights, and caballeros. Kings even awarded a horseman the “right” to wear spurs. The Spanish conquistadors introduced spurs to the New World by the 16th Century.

The early conquistador spurs were made of iron and had narrow heel bands, drooping shanks, and sizable rowels, six, eight and even up to ten inches in diameter. The spokes were long, narrow, and blunt.

As time passed, the sizeable large rowels began to diminish, and early metal artisans often replaced the spiky rowels with more of a serrated disk. The shanks also got shorter, and of course, engraving began to show up, as well as inlay of silver, brass, gold, and sometimes semi-precious stones. Often a “jingle-bob” or “dangler” was hung from the rowel, enhancing the “jingle-jangle” sound. I’m certain Festus had jingle-bobs on his spurs! But the fancy spurs were the exception, not the rule. Most early vaqueros and cowboys wore very simple spurs. The fancier the spur, the more it cost, although later a set of spurs often became a rather important part of the cowboy’s overall appearance.

While American cowboys initially wore Mexican spurs, it didn’t take long for specific styles to emerge distinguished by region. Texas-style spurs, made in Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and Oklahoma, were generally cruder than the California-style spurs from California, Nevada, and Oregon.

“In a general way, the latter were a trifle larger and silver-mounted, while the former lacked much of the ornament,” wrote Jo More in his book Trail Dust and Saddle Leather. Spurs that were developed in the Northern Plains often combined the styles.Spurs

California vaqueros were partial to their fancy spurs, which were generally of two-piece construction consisting of the shank and the heel band. The spurs were usually full-mounted with silver inlay on both sides of the heel band and shank. The engraved designs were intricate, the metal blued, and the edges of the heel bands often beveled. Often they featured fancy chap guards decorated with engraved spirals. Toward the later part of the 1800’s, G.S. Garcia was one of the most renowned of the California-style spur makers. He established his saddle shop in Elko, Nevada, in 1894. Mr. Garcia employed some of the most distinguished spur makers of the time. Garcia is best known for his Dandy patterns, which were advertised in his 1901 catalog as the “finest spur ever made with 100 different inlays.” It was double-mounted with the distinctive patterns of a pinwheel on one side and a diamond on the other and embellished with a 1¼ inlaid rowel. The most common marking on his spurs was the name “G.S. Garcia” inside the heel band of one spur and “Elko, Nev.” inside the other.

The Northern Plains and Great Plains spurs, which essentially combined elements from the California and Texas styles, were generally of one-piece construction and decorated with inlay or overlay, as well as silver conchos used on both the shanks and heel bands. Many of these spurs featured beautifully engraved surfaces and fine workmanship.

In the late 1800’s, Texas-style spurs were forged of one piece and were constructed with either swinging or stationary buttons, usually on turned-up heel bands. Often they were only half-mounted, featuring overlaid decorations on the outside of the band. Because these spurs were generally plainer and more utilitarian than the California spurs, they rarely featured chains or chap guards.

By the 1880’s, several Texas craftsmen started making fancier spurs, which in some collectors’ eyes surpassed the dashing style of the California spur. Two of the most distinctive spurs were the gal-leg and gooseneck. Considered the granddaddy of the Texas-style spur and the first in Texas to market a handmade spur, John Robert McChesney hammered his first spur out of forged iron in 1887. He ultimately opened the McChesney Bit & Spur Company in Pauls Valley, Oklahoma after working in Gainesville, Texas. His company became a respected leader in the business nationwide. Some credit him for the gal-leg design, but

others believe R.L. Causey or Tom Johnson of Texas made this sensuous shank. Some historians are yet undecided. There is no doubt, however, that McChesney was famous for this style.

Not every set of cowboy spurs was made by a commercial manufacturer or skilled craftsman. Western penitentiaries started arts and crafts programs for inmates that ranged from saddles to furniture to hitched-horsehair bridles. A popular prison-made item was spurs. Many of the Western inmates had often worked on ranches and were therefore familiar with spurs. From the turn of the century to 1930, many fine spurs were produced at the Colorado State Prison in Canon City. Prison spurs are typically stout with bold silver inlays and engraving. Other productive spur making prisons included the Arizona Territorial Prison, Utah State Prison, Wyoming State Prison, and Washington State Prison at Walla Walla. And, of course, inmates serving time in the Lone Star State of Texas were adept at making spurs.

Many a set of spurs were often made on a ranch by the local blacksmith and sometimes even by cowboys themselves when time permitted. Needless to say, these ranch-made spurs ranged widely in quality. Sometimes very crude spurs were fashioned from scrap iron, buggy axles, or barn hinges. Often, they were not exactly works of art. But from time to time the more skilled hand was able to copy the latest fashions and produced spurs to be proud of.

Spurs can be, and often are, works of functional art. A necessary tool for the horseman, cowboy, vaquero, knights, the mounted soldier, and the Western shooter of today. In what has turned out to be the never-ending quest in my household for “cowboy stuff” and “cowboy clothing,” I am always impressed by a handsome set of spurs. I was once the proud owner of an original set of Spanish Colonial spurs. Some enterprising thief relieved me of that treasured item years ago. The welcome interest across the country in the Old West (and earlier) might someday

cause another set to make its way to me. If not, I’m content to enjoy visiting the vendors at shooting matches selling a wonderfully wide variety of spurs, and viewing the wide variety of spurs being worn by fellow shooters.

Obtaining more information about cowboy spurs:

I could easily take up a few pages listing reference material available for someone interested in learning a great deal more about cowboy spurs. Since space won’t permit that, I can mention a couple of folks and some publications that I highly recommend. In upcoming issues in our book review section, we will be taking a detailed look at these and other cowboy-related publications.

Some of the information and photos for this article were obtained from an article from the New England Antiques Journal™ entitled “Collecting Cowboy Spurs” by Joice Overton. Joice is also the author of the book “Cowboy Bits and Spurs” published by Schniffer Publishing. Joice and her husband, Bill, are collectors, and her knowledge on the subject of cowboy spurs is quite complete. She has earned the title “expert.” She has truly spent her life living the cowboy way and knows cowboy gear.

Other photographs and a significant amount of the information for this article were obtained from the book, “Cowboys & The Trappings of the Old West” published by Zon International Publishing Company. This publication is practically a “must” for the cowboy enthusiast, historian, or shooter. William Manns and Elizabeth Clair Flood composed an absolutely spectacular book that has and will continue to give me hours of fun and educational reading on the cowboy and his accessories. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Bill Manns, and as my ole’ daddy would have said, “…Now that’s a feller who is welcome to ride with me!” “Cowboys & The Trappings of the Old West” has an honored place on my cowboy bookshelf, right next to my pair of gal-leg spurs.

The Winchester Model 1892

Posted on June 4th, 2011 by Admin | Posted in Firearms

Classic Guns of the Old West – The Winchester Model 1892

By: Sixgunner

Most of those in my age bracket got their first basic education in the history and use of frontier firearms from the movies, both the wonderful old B movies as well as some great classics made by the likes of John Wayne, Randolph Scott, and even Henry Fonda. It was only as we grew older that we realized how unsafe gun handling was as presented on the silver screen and also how badly history was treated.

As I learned of the time frame of the evolution of single action sixguns and leverguns, it bothered me greatly to see Colt Single Actions in Civil War movies and especially to see Winchester leverguns used in any movie from those depicting the War with Mexico forward. Most of the time, the leverguns used were Model ’92 Winchesters. The model number denotes the year and the Old West was pretty well gone by 1892. By then, the buffalo, the stagecoach, even the gunfighter was a relic of the past.

There were still pockets of relatively rough country left in 1892, especially in the Southwest, still are, and the Model 1892 Winchester filled the bill for survival quite well. At least for a short time, Rangers, both Texas and Arizona style, picked up on the soon to arrive Model 1894 Winchester in the more “modern” .30 Winchester Centerfire, or .30WCF, or as most of us call it, the plain old .30-30. The Winchester ’73 is usually thought of as the “Gun That Won The West” while the Model 1892 gave shooters a much stronger action in the same chamberings.

Many of shootists of the Old West packed a Colt Single Action with a Model 1873 in the same chambering. As the Old West began to disappear, the Model 1873 was often replaced by the Model 1892. Interestingly enough, the .32-20 was very popular in both the Colt Single Action and Bisley Model as well as the Model 1892 in the 1890’s and beyond. Apparently, many felt the larger calibers were no longer as necessary as they had been.

When Oliver Winchester’s son-in-law journeyed West in the early 1880’s to meet with a young Utah gunsmith by the name of John Browning, neither could have had any idea of the great effect that meeting would have on rifle production. Winchester got Browning’s designs for what would become the 1886 levergun and 1885 Hi-Wall, and in just a few short years, Browning would miniaturize the Model 1886 with the result being the slickest little levergun ever, the Winchester Model 1892.

Who can ever forget the classic scene in Stagecoach as John Wayne (Ringo) twirls his large looped lever Model ’92 and stops the coach? Or the greatest scene of all Westerns, Rooster Cogburn with his ’92 in his right hand, Colt Single Action in his left, and with teeth clenched around the reins as he goes forth to meet the Ned Pepper gang inTrue Grit? Sandwiched in between these two, those of us old enough will remember seeing Lucas McCain use his large lever Model ’92 to great effect each week in The Rifleman. The real star of all of these scenes was the Model ’92.

In the past few years, the replica Model 1892 has been imported from Brazil, Italy, and Japan under such names as Browning, Cimarron, EMF, Navy Arms, and Winchester. All well made, good shootin’ leverguns regularly seen at cowboy shootin’ matches around the country. One also finds many competitors who have searched the used gun market to come up with authentic Winchester Model 1892’s. The real ‘92’s are not cheap, but I have been able to come up with a pair, one for $400 and the other at $600. Check that out against some of the prices of the replicas, and especially the replica 1866’s and 1873’s!

More than one million Winchester Model 1892’s were produced from 1892 to 1931, so it should be three times easier to find a Model ’92 than a Colt Single Action. The three main chamberings, just as in the Model 1873, were .44 WCF, .38 WCF, and .32 WCF, or as they are better known today, .44-40, .38-40, and .32-20. Two other chamberings are found — the .25-20 and the very rare .218 Bee. During the 1950’s, many 1892’s were converted to .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum. The originals ended production before the advent of either Magnum, so none were ever produced in these chamberings nor in .45 Colt.

With a 20″ barrel, the Model 1892 weighs around six pounds, and it is an easy handlin’ levergun, probably the best ever. In addition to a round-barreled 20″ version, as most encountered will be, there are also 24″ rifles and 30″ muskets with barrels that are round, octagon, or half round/half octagon. Take-down models will also be encountered. Stocks are normally of the straight grip variety of oil-finished walnut. Front sights are usually a post or bead with the rear sight a buckhorn or semi-buck.

In addition to being a great gun for Cowboy Action ShootingTM, the Winchester Model 1892 in .38-40 or .44-40 makes a fine close range deer rifle when properly loaded. Older manuals have loads for the .44-40 in the Model ’92 that eclipse the .44 Magnum. For turkeys and the like, the .32-20 and .25-20 are just about perfect where their use is allowed by the game laws.

My two Model 1892’s are both 20″ carbines, one in .32-20 and the other, .38-40. The first cost me $600 and has plenty of character on the outside and a perfect bore. The .38-40, at $400, has been refinished and the bore had some pitting making it a so-so shooter. It has now been re-barreled by gunsmith Keith DeHart using a Douglas barrel of .401″ groove diameter and contoured to match the original barrel. Both guns not only shoot like those we dream about, they also fairly reek of nostalgia.

As with most guns we buy, the doors of our minds are then opened for more purchases and more money to be spent. I am on the lookout now for a Model 1892 .44-40, and then a .25-20, and then ……