The Wild West is one of the most iconic periods in American history. It also lays claim to some of the coolest guns ever made. While there are certainly dozens of makes and models to choose from, let’s look at five iconic wild west guns:
Winchester Model 1866
The Model 1866 was the first lever-action to bear the Winchester name. That alone makes it worthy of this list, but there are other reasons, too.
Because of its distinctive brass frame, it was often called the “Yellow Boy” on the American frontier. Sioux Chief Sitting Bull is believed to have owned one of these guns. Chambered for the .44 rimfire cartridge, the rifles and muskets held 17 rounds; carbines held 13. Approximately 170,000 of these rifles were made between 1866 and 1898.
Colt Model 1851 Navy
More than 250,000 Colt Model 1851 Navy pistols were manufactured in a 22-year period, which comes out to more than 30 revolvers a day, every day with no stopping for more than two decades!
Even when cartridge guns came onto the market, many kept their percussion guns like the 1851 Navy. Part of it could be that the guns were familiar and they didn’t want to change; the other part was the added expense of either buying a new gun altogether or paying to have the 1851 converted to fire metallic cartridges.
“Wild Bill” Hickok is known to have carried a pair of percussion Colt Model 1851 Navy revolvers long after the advent of metallic cartridges.
Winchester Model 1873
Sometimes called “The Gun That Won the West,” the Model 1873 was the first Winchester to use centerfire cartridges (as opposed to rimfire) and to have an iron frame (as opposed to brass).
The gun was an instant hit and high-profile endorsements rolled in for the rifle. In 1875, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody said, “I pronounce your improved Winchester the boss.”
Almost three-quarters of a million Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifles were made between 1873 and 1919 – the period regarded as the gun’s heyday.
Colt Single Action Army
The Colt Single Action Army (also known as the SAA, Peacemaker, Model P, and Colt .45) is, along with the Winchester Model 1873, considered by many to be the “Gun That Won the West.” Whichever you fancy – or maybe both – the Colt & Winchester combo is hard to beat.
Colt’s Single Action Army revolver has since been offered in dozens of calibers and many barrel lengths over the decades, but its overall design and appearance has pretty much stayed the same since 1873.
First Generation guns ceased production with World War II, but production resumed in 1956 with the Second Generation and today they still make the Third Generation of Colt’s Single Action Army revolver.
Smith & Wesson Model 3
Smith & Wesson’s Model 3 was the other big potential military contender against Colt’s Single Action Army. It was a sturdier gun that was faster to load and unload because of its top-break action. All of the Smith & Wesson’s spent cartridges could be ejected at once instead of having to cycle the Colt’s cylinder one chamber and removing (and reloading) them one at a time.
Despite this, Colt prevailed partly because of ammunition logistics and compatibility. Even though the military didn’t embrace the Model 3, civilians did. Outlaws like Jesse James and John Wesley Hardin are known to have owned Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolvers.
Getting One of Your Own
Original examples of some of these five makes and models can be costly, but luckily, there are high quality affordable reproductions of each one so that you can channel your inner lawman or outlaw and still stick to a budget.
For the real thing, check out Rock Island Auctions!