The romantic halo of noble Western characters is nothing more than a myth. The real fighter of the Wild West was completely different from the sugary movie hero tightened in tight jeans.
Perhaps nothing has played such a role in the emergence of interest in the history of the Wild West as cinema. To this day, a romantic halo surrounds the noble heroes of Westerns, no matter which side of the law they stand on. It seems that thanks to cinematography, we know to the smallest detail how that world was arranged, how a person should have behaved in a given situation, what rules to follow and what weapons to use. But the real fighter of the Wild West was completely different from the sugary movie hero tightened in tight jeans. Many myths have been created by Hollywood cinema. Let's start in order...
Despite the saying that existed in the Wild West: "God created people, and Mr. Colt equalized them", the most popular among both bandits and representatives of the law was not a revolver and not a hard drive, as many believe, but an ordinary shotgun! Arizona sheriff John Slaughter once lashed out at a meticulous journalist who tormented him with the question of why he was taking a shotgun with him when chasing bandits, growling in response:
- To kill people, you damn stupid!
The shotgun was superior to other weapons in many ways. He hit not as far as a gun, but had a great destructive power. Many legendary figures of the Wild West, including Wyatt Earp, Wes Hardin, Bill Longley and Jim Miller, gave him their preference. It was the shotgun that became the weapon thanks to which ordinary citizens were able to inflict a crushing defeat on the Jesse James gang in Northfield and the Dalton gang in Coffeeville.
However, the revolver was more convenient to handle, and could be carried discreetly in a holster under the skirts of a long raincoat, and therefore the shotgun served only as an additional weapon in the fighter's arsenal. The mechanism of revolvers was so unreliable that the holster for it had to be deep, and even better with a closing valve - an open, hip-wearing holster, which can be seen in any Western, did not exist in reality. In addition to protecting against dust, dirt, rain and snow, a holster with a closing valve helped to avoid loss of weapons and accidents. Contamination of the revolver led to misfires at the most inopportune moment and even to its breakdown, and accidents from a spontaneous shot occurred so often that the death or injury of a person with one's own weapon was considered commonplace. If the holster were as open as it is shown in westerns, the danger of catching a bush or branch with the trigger would be too high. And of course, no one has ever put a revolver into his belt - there were no people in the Wild West who wanted to shoot their genitals.
Judging by the numerous photographs and descriptions of contemporaries, the holster was worn on a belt not on the side, but in front. In this position, she did not interfere with walking, working with livestock, etc. In addition, it took less time to draw a revolver. If necessary, the man sharply unfastened the upper valve of the holster with his left hand, snatched out the weapon with his right hand and, raising it to the target, cocked the trigger with his left hand. This process was called "hitting the holster". Usually the fighter did not aim at the enemy, but only pointed the barrel at him, after which he pulled the trigger. For each shot, he had to re-cock the hammer with his left palm or thumb of his right hand. Already after the first shot, the weapon was enveloped in a cloud of smoke, and there was no need to talk about aimed shooting.
It took much more time to draw a revolver from its holster than many contemporary historians claim. Recent open-holster draw measurements have shown that the average time from the moment a hand touches a revolver to the moment a bullet exits is 1.3 seconds, not 0.5, as some authors have claimed. But no matter how fast the shooter was, he should always remember to be careful - there are cases when too hasty shooters put a bullet in their foot or knee!
Another nonsense is the unsurpassed accuracy of the shooters of the Wild West, supposedly without equal in the whole world even today. Wild West researcher Joe Zentner called the myth "the most exaggerated and perhaps the most amusing". How good were these guys with revolvers in their hands? By today's standards, characters like Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody, or Wild Bill Hickcock would be considered newbies on any shooting range. The glory of their skill has reached unprecedented heights only thanks to the efforts of writers and directors.
One example of the origin of such a fairy tale is Wild Bill Hickcock. In the 1930s, three biographies of his were published at once, each of which claimed that any bullet fired from his revolver always hit the target. In one biography, the author stated that Wild Bill easily hit a running man from a hundred meters. In another, he colorfully painted how he shot the hat off a man's head and made a neat row of bullet holes in its brim before it hit the ground. All this is fiction. And it's not just that smokeless powder came into use only in the 1890s, but before that, with each shot, smoke increasingly enveloped the space between the shooter and the target, making it barely distinguishable. It was the weapon itself. Frank James, for example, was considered a better shot than his famous brother Jesse. There is a round eight-inch target that Frank practiced on. On it, he showed his best results in revolver shooting from twenty meters and proudly personally signed it. Today's shooters easily hit a similar result on a four-inch target. An army officer, Captain Luther North, who lived for many years in the Wild West and personally knew Wild Bill Hickcock, recalled that a good shooter was considered one who could “put six bullets” into a mail envelope from ten steps. In those days, envelopes were 12.5 centimeters square, a very large target by today's standards. The guns and revolvers of that time did not make it possible to shoot so accurately. The accuracy of modern weapons has increased seven to eight times, and the bullet fired from it flies several times faster. In other words, today's shooters have much more advanced weapons than the legends of the Wild West, and to compare them is at least incorrect.
Another myth was the fighters who fired without a miss at the same time from two revolvers. To begin with, even carrying two revolvers, each weighing four pounds, was quite tiring, and few people did it. And at the same time it was almost impossible to accurately shoot from them. Just as impossible was the well-aimed hip-hopping revolver so popular in Hollywood Westerns.
In westerns, you can often see how the hero, like a real circus performer, twists a revolver on his finger, after which he accurately hits his opponents. This is another invention of American cinema. As we saw above, it was not easy to hit the target with revolvers of the late 19th century, even with good aim, and after such juggling it was impossible at all. In the 1920s, an enthusiast placed an ad in numerous newspapers and magazines offering to pay $1,000 - a huge amount of money at the time - to anyone who could spin a revolver and then hit a target from it, even from the smallest, most ridiculous distance.. The money remained unpaid.
And yet, thanks to what, in those turbulent times, some people defeated others under equal conditions of battle? Wild Bill Hickcock explained it this way to his friend who beat him at target shooting: "You can beat me at shooting those little black spots, but if it comes to shooting people, I'll beat you." It was not excellent accuracy and speed with weapons that distinguished the heroes of the Wild West from ordinary inhabitants, but internal rigidity, composure and complete indifference to one's own and other people's lives. Even the number of opponents killed was not always an indicator of the seriousness of the fighter. Bat Masterson or John Ringo had two or three corpses to their credit, but they had such a determined character that this alone was enough to cool the ardor of squabblers. And without a trail of corpses, they were considered extremely dangerous people.
However, even among such fighters, few dared to go one on one to a fair duel, without which the worst Western is indispensable. Duels in which two cold-blooded, ruthless fighters stepped out onto a suddenly deserted dusty street, let out a couple of sharp phrases, and then pulled out revolvers and fired at each other with lightning speed, were in fact an extremely rare occurrence in the real Wild West. Such scenes became "classic" only thanks to tabloid novels and Hollywood, and then Italian westerns that flooded the screens of the whole world.
Few people, even among excellent shooters, in their right mind decided on such heroism. As one researcher quipped, "You only need to look at the surgical instruments of the period to understand the wisdom of people who didn't want to get shot." The times were cruel, the skirmishes were numerous, and the sentiments unpopular. Enemies were usually killed from around the corner, from the darkness, finding them unarmed or sneaking up from behind. Famous fighters such as Jesse James, Wes Hardin and Wild Bill Hickcock were shot in the back of the head, and the infamous Billy the Kid was gunned down by Pat Garrett lurking in a dark room. The basic principle was to leave no chance for the enemy to retaliate. Often one person was attacked by several shooters at once. A fallen enemy was usually finished off with point-blank shots, even if by that time he was clearly already dead... Not a single chance!
Source: Yury Viktorovich Stukalin “According to the law of a revolver. Wild West and its heroes"