Firearms have been a staple in pop culture since the late nineteenth century. Wild west shows gained popularity in the 1880s, with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West perhaps becoming the most popular. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West ran from 1883 – 1914 and went worldwide in 1892. Thousands of people attended; the show had an audience of up to twenty thousand when performing for the queen of England and at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West featured many talented shooters, including Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley. They used smooth-bore rifles (where the inside of the barrel is smooth) as opposed to rifled-bore rifles (where the inside of the barrel has grooves). Smooth-bore rifles were used in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West as opposed to rifled-bore because the shot pellets from smoothbores posed less risk to the crowd and area around the arena.
Fast forward from the time of the Wild West to the more recent sci-fi era. While guns in the sci-fi genre often look futuristic, they have to be based off of something. The Cody Firearms Museum (CFM), which houses the Winchester Arms Collection, is home to a plethora of guns that some of the most beloved sci-fi series based their weapons on. When the sci-fi genre first kicked off in the late 60s, the studios based blaster designs off of weapons used in WWII and in westerns, since the studio had access to many prop firearms from westerns and WWII movies. Sometimes, the studios did not even modify the guns.
Star Wars, one of the most beloved and well-known franchises, has a plethora of blasters across nine films and several television shows. The storm troopers’ rifles are based on the MG34, a German machine gun. The A280, the rifles the Rebel Alliance used at the battle of Hoth during The Empire Strikes Back, was based on the StG 44, a German assault rifle. Greedo—the alien Han Solo shoots in the Mos Eisley Cantina—uses a BlasTech DT-12 Heavy Blaster Pistol, which is based on the Ruger Mark 1. As for everyone’s favorite smuggler, Han Solo, he uses a DL-44, which is based on the Mauser C96 “Broomhandle.”
In the Disney+ show The Mandalorian, the stock of the titular character’s rifle was based on the Winchester 1918 prototype’s stock. Obi-Wan Kenobi, in the limited series Obi-Wan Kenobi, uses a blaster that is based on the Webley M1 Air Pistol.
Star Trek and Firefly
Airing from 1966 – 1969, Star Trek was very influential on the sci-fi genre. Originally pitched as a western set in space with the name Wagon Train to the Stars, Star Trek features many of the guns typically found in westerns, like several Colt Single Action Army models and the Colt Model 1878. On Firefly, mercenary Jayne Cobb uses a modified LeMat Revolver, and first mate Zoe Washburne uses the Winchester 1873.
Of course, this doesn’t even begin to cover all of the guns used in these sci-fi series, just some of the most iconic ones displayed at the Center of the West.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a western? John Wayne? Outlaws? Gunfights? The image of the Wild West is not complete without some sort of firearm, whether it be a revolver, a lever-action rifle, or a double-barreled shotgun. One of the most popular guns to see in westerns is the Winchester 1873 rifle. In the 50s, Winchester put its 1873 in the hands of big stars such as John Wayne and Andy Griffth to brand that gun as “the gun that won the West.”
Many firearms from classic westerns are on display in the CFM: from Bonanza, Hoss’s Colt Single Action Revolver*, chambered in .45; Little Joe’s Colt Single Action Revolver*, chambered in .44; and Ben Cartwright ’s Colt Single Action Revolver*, chambered in .38; from Annie Oakley TV Series, a Colt Police Positive Double Action Revolver*, chambered in .38; from Johnny Ringo TV Series, a LeMat Revolver*; from High Noon, Gary Cooper’s Colt Single Action Army Revolver, chambered in .45; from Gunsmoke, James Arness’ Colt Single Action Revolver*; from Have Gun Will Travel, Paladin’s Colt Single Action Revolver*, chambered in .44-45; and from Bat Masterson TV Series, a Colt Single Action Revolver*, chambered in .45.
John Wayne has become fairly synonymous with the western. His Winchester Model 1892 rifle* is displayed in the CFM. Also displayed in the CFM are three guns that were used in the modern-day western police drama Longmire: Vic Moretti’s Glock Model 19 Semi-Automatic Pistol*; the Colt Model 1911 Semi-Automatic Pistol*, which was used by the titular character Walt Longmire; and the Winchester Model 1894 Rifle*.
The CFM also displays a large collection of items belonging to Bob and Becky Munden. Bob Munden was known as “the Fastest Man with a Gun Who Ever Lived.” He competed in quick draw competitions and won several world records, as well as appearing in many TV shows, like Impossible Shots and American Shooter. Munden preferred single shot revolvers. On display in the CFM are Munden’s favorite pair of Colt Single Action Army Revolvers*, his Smith & Wesson Model 1911 Pistol*, his Record Colt Revolver with Custom Fanning Hammer*, a Pair of Gold Colt Single Action Army Revolvers*, and his Browning Rifle*. Munden’s wife, Becky, was quite impressive as well. She and Bob worked together as a shooting duo. Featured in the CFM is her Chrome Fast Draw Colt Single Action Army Revolver* with a rose grip, as well as her pair of Colt Single Action Army Revolvers*, again with rose grips. All of these guns are chambered in .45.
In the cultural phenomenon The Walking Dead, protagonist Rick Grimes carries a Colt Python chambered in .357 Magnum. The production for the original model ran from 1955–1999, with Colt producing custom models until 2005. In 2020, the company resumed manufacturing the Colt Python. The show made the already popular gun iconic, which now is sold with a starting cost of $1,499 and time on a waiting list.
James Bond’s choice weapon is a Walther PPK/S. Sean Connery as James Bond also uses a Walther P.38 in two movies: From Russia with Love and Goldfinger.
Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry uses a Smith & Wesson Model 29, chambered in .44. After the movie was released, sales for that firearm model skyrocketed.
In the English crime drama Peaky Blinders, Thomas Shelby, the main character, uses a Webley .445 Mk VI.
Many twentieth century crime films, such as Bonnie and Clyde, use the Smith & Wesson Model 10, the Colt Police Positive, variations of the Colt 1911 (for example, Clyde from Bonnie and Clyde, uses a Colt 1911A1, chambered in .45), and the M1928 Thompson Automatic Rifle, also known as the Tommy Gun.
In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the Terminator T-800 Model 101–or Arnold Schwarzenegger–uses a Winchester 1887 shotgun. The gun was modified for the film: the barrel and most of the stock had been sawed-off, and the trigger guard had been removed.
Can you imagine Han Solo without his blaster, or Clint Eastwood without his six-shooter? Firearms have been an integral part of pop culture for decades. From Wild West Shows to Sci-Fi films to modern day thrillers, firearms have been a notable and even an iconic prop.
*: on loan