Special Report

Guns That Won the Old West

Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

In the history and mythology of the American West, the role of firearms is central to the conquest of the frontier and the fulfillment of America’s Manifest Destiny. 

Told in history books, dime-store novels, movies, and television series, the story of how the American West was won inevitably involves firearms. Violence in the Old West – whether it’s a showdown, a firefight between rival groups, a battle with Native Americans, or a posse out to take the law into its own hands – centers on the use of guns.

To determine the guns that won the Old West, 24/7 Tempo reviewed sources such as True West Magazine, Field and Stream, Gun Digest, and Outdoor Life to compile a list of the most popular, effective, and innovative firearms of the mid-to-late 1800s.

By the second half of the 19th century, American arms makers Colt, Remington, and Smith and Wesson were churning out firearms, their production already boosted by the needs of the warring sides in the Civil War. The people who went West after the defeat of the Confederacy  knew how to use these weapons because many of them were veterans of that conflict. 

No single weapon “won” the West. Frontier men and women used an array of revolvers, rifles, and shotguns of every conceivable design, make, and model. These included the lever-action Winchester Model 1873, a gun so iconic that it was the title of a James Stewart Western. (These are the 30 best Western films of all time.)

Some of the West’s enduring legends are associated with a particular gun. Wild Bill Hickok and the James-Younger gang carried the 1851 Colt Navy Revolver. Buffalo Bill Cody, Butch Cassidy, and Billy the Kid preferred the storied 1873 Winchester Rifle. Doc Holliday did his work with the double-barrel shotgun. Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson packed the 1873 Colt Single Action Army Revolver, also known as the “Peacemaker.” (Today, these are 28 guns used the most to commit crimes in America.)

Click here to see the guns that won the Old West

Some of the weapons are closely linked with American historical events. Members of the Sioux nation used the 1866 Winchester Rifle when they routed the U.S. 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Little Bighorn. 

1851 Colt Navy Revolver
> Caliber: .36

[in-text-ad]

1873 Winchester Rifle
> Caliber: multiple

Colt Paterson Revolver
> Caliber: .36

Source: olemac / iStock via Getty Images

Double-Barrel Shotgun
> Caliber: multiple

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Courtesy of Colt.com

1873 Colt Single Action Army Revolver
> Caliber: .45

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Springfield Trapdoor Rifle
> Caliber: multiple

[in-text-ad]

1852 & 1853 Slant-Breech Sharps Carbine
> Caliber: .54

Source: Dariusz Wojtaluk / iStock via Getty Images

1860 Colt Army Revolver
> Caliber: .44

Smith & Wesson Model 3 Revolver
> Caliber: .44

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Courtesy of Winchester Repeating Arms

1866 Winchester Rifle
> Caliber: .44

Source: Courtesy of Uberti USA

1874 Sharps Rifle
> Caliber: multiple

[in-text-ad]

Source: Courtesy of Winchester Repeating Arms

1886 Winchester Rifle
> Caliber: multiple

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

1895 Winchester Rifle
> Caliber: multiple

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Hawken Plains Rifle
> Caliber: .54

[in-text-ad-2]

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

S&W Model 3 “American” Revolver
> Caliber: multiple

ALERT: Take This Retirement Quiz Now  (Sponsored)

Take the quiz below to get matched with a financial advisor today.

Each advisor has been vetted by SmartAsset and is held to a fiduciary standard to act in your best interests.

Here’s how it works:
1. Answer SmartAsset advisor match quiz
2. Review your pre-screened matches at your leisure. Check out the advisors’ profiles.
3. Speak with advisors at no cost to you. Have an introductory call on the phone or introduction in person and choose whom to work with in the future

Take the retirement quiz right here.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us?
Contact the 24/7 Wall St. editorial team.