High Noon, Revisited

The other thing I learned was that all gunfights were conducted face to face under a rigidly observed code of honor. This, like the gun stuff, was road apples. All sorts of guns were used on the frontier, and the average gunfighter or sheriff of those times was about as chivalrous as the average gang member is today. (If you'd like an accurate description of the gunslinging business, rent Unforgiven and pay close attention to Gene Hackman's unforgettable soliliquy in the sherrif's office. If you are of a literary bent, get Glendon Swarthout's western novel The Shootist. Forget the dreadful movie that was made from it.)

About the only face-to-face shootout I know of happened in Springfield, MO in 1865, and involved one Dave Tutt and the lovely and talented James Butler Hickok. They went for their guns at 75 yards. One version has each man getting off one shot; the other has Hickok firing once as Tutt fired several times. In any event, Hickok killed Tutt fair and square. Hickok was killed 11 years later by a single shot in the back of the head from a distance of a foot. This was the way business was typically done.

Of all the Old West handguns, the Colt was the most popular. But there were plenty of others. A lot of people packed percussion Civil War revolvers, or had them converted to cartridge use. The Remington Model 1875 was highly thought of, and Smith & Wesson made two popular models called the Schofield (after the Army officer who invented it) and the Russian (so-called because it was developed for the Russian Army). All these were single-action, but there was at least one double-action around--the Colt Lightning Model, which Billy the Kid favored.

The gun that Hollywood has always given short shrift is the shotgun. They were used a lot. The preferred model was a 10-gauge short-barreled exposed-hammer Greener. Shotguns figure in few gunfights because even the drunkest, dumbest cowhand got smart and sober real fast when looking down those two big barrels and decided he had pressing business elsewhere.