Hollywood has been producing iconic Westerns since television became popular. The classic black and white shows have been a staple of what many consider what the true American frontier was like. The countless series and films ignited a huge interest in the western culture and its history. Through the years, Westerns have changed in different ways but they still remain milestones of the Old West.
The Gunsmoke series, which aired in 1955, was among the popular Westerns during the twentieth century. The series showcases James Arness as Marshal Dillion in Dodge City along with his Colt Model 1873 which was largely famous among audiences. Another well-known Western series, Have Gun Will Travel also features a gun in the opening of the show and the gun was also a Colt 1873, which was Paladin’s (Richard Boone) primary firearm. The actor pulls the pistol from its holster and aims it at the camera for the opening credits. The Colt 1873 was marketed as “The Gun that Won the West” and is a largely iconic firearm associated with the American frontier. This handgun has been featured in many other Western films and television series.
Airing in 1958, near the prime time of Westerns, The Rifleman was largely famous for its introduction in which Chuck Connors playing Lucas McCain shot his Winchester 1892 down the streets of the old trail town. It was a very memorable opening that showcased his modified 1892, which allowed for a faster rapid-firing by use of the large loop lever. In addition to The Rifleman, the Lawman also features a Winchester Model 1892 in the opening credits. Marshal Troop tosses Deputy Johnny McKay a Model 1892. This model appeared in nearly all episodes of the series. Although, the firearm was not modified like Lucas McCain’s Winchester, the Lawman’s rifle was a saddle ring carbine.
Many other Westerns grew with popularity in the twentieth century and portrayed life in the west, such as Bonanza, Bat Masterson, Laramie, and many more. Movies like Winchester ’73 starring James Stewart, which featured a One and One Thousand grade Model 1873 Winchester rifle. One and One Thousand grade Winchesters were sold for nearly $100 compared to their standard $20. This grade was created from rifles that proved to have substantial accuracy during test firing. These designs would come with set triggers and a special finish. The Model 1873, “The Gun that Won the West”, was a major success of Winchester. These firearms that had their fame in films and television shows a like, played a major role in the story of the American frontier. For example, the 1873 Colt Single Action Army that was used by Gene Berry playing Bat Masterson was a revolver that was significantly used on the frontier and is a major icon of the American West.
With a switch to modern television shows, in the late twentieth century, Westerns were still being produced but they were becoming more modern as time went on. More things were allowed in television and issues were also coming to light. For example, characters were being depicted differently and a move to focus on the true chaos of that time period became a large focus. We see a switch to focusing on the anti-heroes or in other areas like how women and Native Americans were being portrayed differently. We can see these changes in movies like Dances with Wolves, Open Range, Young Guns and so many others. In addition to the modern switch, there was also a recent addition of many Western shows that are set in present time but instill the same western atmosphere or attitude. These shows are usually in the crime drama genre and are mostly set in the West. These are shows like Longmire and Walker Texas Ranger. They shed a light on how many still view the present western culture. Westerns have changed in some ways throughout the years but they all seem to have one major thing in common, their use of iconic firearms. Longmire is a show set in fictional Absaroka County, Wyoming that was based off the town Buffalo in northern Wyoming. In the show, Walt Longmire is portrayed by actor Robert Taylor. Throughout the 2012 series, Longmire’s choice of guns include a Colt Model 1911 .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) with stag grips and a Winchester Model 1894 Rifle .30-30 WCF (Winchester Center Fire).
Here at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in the Cody Firearms Museum, you can see many of these models including Bat Masterson’s 1873 Colt Single Action Army that was used by Gene Barry in filming. In addition, visitors can also see Walt Longmire’s Winchester Model 1894 and his Colt 1911 that were also used in filming, which is on display in the recent Glock exhibit in the Cody Firearms Museum.