Hear that? That’s the sound of justice being administered in the Old West—or maybe the sound of a stagecoach being held up. In the 1930s and 1940s, writers of pulp fiction westerns had to know their firearms so that readers could practically hear the boom of a shotgun or the roar of a Colt and catch a whiff of the cordite as lawmen battled bad guys and cowboys fended off rustlers.
The gunslinging heros—and villains—born in the pages of the pulp fiction magazines through the efforts of such writers as Zane Grey and L. Ron Hubbard were devoured by millions of Americans each month included Western Story Magazine, West and Cowboy Stories.
Each character had his weapon of choice, and there were tricks to handling the firearms that brought both trouble and peace to the region—as well as different destinations for those who flouted the law:
- Boot Hill: a cemetery in a settlement on the US frontier, especially one for gunfighters killed in action. It was given its name because most of its early occupants died with their boots on.
- border roll: to spin a gun, with the forefinger slipped through the trigger guard, so that the gun butt is spun back into the palm of the hand, ready to fire.
- border shift: the throwing of a gun from one hand to the other, catching, cocking and, if need be, firing it without seeming to pause.
- bowser: a gun.
- calaboose: a jail.
- dry-gulch: to kill; ambush.
- fan: while this could mean waving or slapping the hat against a horse’s sides while riding a bucker, it also meant firing a series of shots from a single-action revolver by holding the trigger back and successively striking the hammer to the rear with the free hand.
- forty-one or .41: Derringer .41-caliber short pistol. Named for the US gunsmith Henry Deringer (1786–1868), who designed it.
- Henry: the first rifle to use a cartridge with a metallic casing rather than the undependable, self-contained powder, ball and primer of previous rifles. It was named after B. Tyler Henry, who designed the rifle and the cartridge.
- hog leg: another name for the popular Colt revolver also known as the Peacemaker.
- hoosegow: a jail.
- iron: a handgun, especially a revolver.
- Judge Colt: a handgun designed by Samuel Colt that had a revolving cylinder of chambers allowing six shots to be fired without reloading. Over the years the revolver was given nicknames including “Judge Colt and his jury of six” or “Judge Colt.”
- more on the powder: the state of being quicker on the draw; a greater ability to shoot fast.
- Peacemaker: nickname for the single-action (that is, cocked by hand for each shot), six-shot Army model revolver first produced in 1873 by the Colt Firearms Company, the armory founded by Samuel Colt (1814–1862). The handgun of the Old West, it became the instrument of both lawmaker and lawbreaker during the last twenty-five years of the nineteenth century. It soon earned various names, such as “hog leg,” “Equalizer,” and “Judge Colt and his jury of six.”
- pinwheel: a movement or trick with a gun; the gun is held in virtual firing position except that the forefinger is not in the trigger guard. The gun is flipped into the air so that it revolves and the butt drops naturally into the palm of the hand.
- pushing up prickly pear: variation of “pushing up daisies”; to be dead. A prickly pear is a cactus with flattened, jointed, spiny stems and pear-shaped fruits that are edible in some species.
- salted down: hit repeatedly with bullets.
- scatter-gun: a cowboy’s name for a shotgun.
- shootin’ irons: handguns.
- Winchester: an early family of repeating rifles; a single-barreled rifle containing multiple rounds of ammunition. Manufactured by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, it was widely used in the US during the latter half of the nineteenth century. The 1873 model is often called “the gun that won the West” for its immense popularity at that time, as well as its use in fictional Westerns.
Golden Age History Inspired by: Death Waits at Sundown by L. Ron Hubbard. A rough-riding tale of the Old West.