Welcome everybody to the wild, wild west. In the run up to our Wild West Weekend, we thought we’d introduce you to a magnificent seven of guns from our collection you may have seen in the hands of your favourite cowboys and cowgirls.
Based on the 1860 Henry Repeating Rifle, the famous Winchester featured a tube magazine with an enormous capacity for the time and a rapid-fire lever action. Its mechanism would later inspire the Maxim machine gun. The 1873 model is the best known, even starring in its own movie: Winchester ’73 (1950).
The LeMat was unusual in that its cylinder held nine shots instead of the usual five or six, and because it had an extra shotgun barrel mounted underneath. This was a lot of firepower when the revolver was introduced in 1856, and it went on to find favour with the Confederate States in the American Civil War. The LeMat appears prominently in 2010’s martial arts/Western mash-up ‘The Warrior’s Way’.
The British Whitworth rifle resembles the better-known Enfield Pattern 1853, but features hexagonal rifling and was designed to fire a close-fitting, hexagonal bullet. This wasted less propellant gas on firing, making it prized for its accuracy amongst Confederate snipers in the American Civil War. A lesser-known weapon of the period, it appeared recently as a plot point in BBC One’s Victorian police drama ‘Ripper Street’.
Named after gunmaker Henry Deringer, ‘Derringer’ became a generic name for a small, concealable weapon for very close range self-defence, carried in a vest pocket or lady’s muff. Remington’s version featured two barrels that lifted up for loading and is featured in reproduction form in ‘Django Unchained’ (2012).
Probably the most famous of the Old West guns, the Colt six-shooter became renowned as the ‘gun that won the West’. Popular with the military, agents of the law, and with criminals, it was said by a former train robber that ‘a Colt’s forty-five makes all men equal’. The Royal Armouries is fortunate enough to have on loan the Colt that belonged to rancher John Tunstall, whose murder ‘Billy the Kid’ set out to avenge in 1878.
The Navy Revolver was based on the original Colt Paterson design of 1836 and saw widespread military and civilian service. Using the percussion system of ignition, it would take some time to load but was among the first pistols to provide the user with multiple shots before reloading. This is one of the pistols wielded by Jamie Foxx in ‘Django Unchained’ (2012).
Unlike the Winchester, which fired short-range pistol ammunition, the Sharps was a single-shot, full-bore rifle chambering the powerful .50-70 or .45-70 Government ammunition. This made it highly accurate and powerful, whether for hunting large animals or ‘sniping’ human targets, as in ‘Django Unchained’ (2012).