Heading West: Armed in 1883

If you’ve been watching 1883, you know that guns play a role in every episode. If you haven’t seen the show, you might want to think about it because it’s one of the better series on television these days. I actually like it better than Yellowstone, the program it spun off from, because it’s much clearer about who the good guys and bad guys are. I know I’m probably old-fashioned, but I like that. Whatever. While the show doesn’t dwell on the guns, 1883 flashes some cool blasts from the past, most notably, for me, James Dutton’s 1873 Winchester carbine. Man, I love that thing.

Armed in 1883 Hickok45 Colt .45 Winchester 1873 double barreled shotgun
Hickok45 shows us a Colt .45 Cavalry Revolver from 1883, an 1873 Winchester, and an Ithaca Double-barreled 12-gauge Coach Gun

So, who better than Hickok45 to give us a little insight into some of the guns from that period? As always with Hickok, there’s lots of shooting and not a lot of technical stuff. Just having fun with some cool firearms. This time, he has a ’73 Winchester, built in 1886, that was gifted to him, an 1883 Colt Cavalry Revolver, and a 1902 Ithaca double-barreled coach gun similar to the shotgun used in the TV show.

Armed in 1883 Hickok45 Colt .45 Winchester 1873 double barreled shotgun
This Colt Cavalry Revolver was made in 1883

One cool thing is the Colt and the Ithaca are both black powder weapons, so there’s lots of smoke when he fires them. I wouldn’t want to clean either one, but it’s fun to see. If you were alive in the 1880s and owned guns, Hickok says “you could do a lot worse” than having these three. No argument here.

Armed in 1883 Hickok45 Colt .45 Winchester 1873 double barreled shotgun
Hickok’s pocket watch tells him it’s time to “obliterate something” with the shotgun so a watermelon pays the price.

The 1883 Colt is single-action and chambered in .45 Colt. It has a five-round capacity, so, despite its appearance, it’s not a true “six-shooter.” The US Government stamp is still clear, and Hickok talks about how some of those guns may have been acquired by civilians as soldiers “lost” them. It wasn’t all that uncommon for soldiers who needed money to sell some of their gear and claim it was lost.

Armed in 1883 Hickok45 Colt .45 Winchester 1873 double barreled shotgun
The “U.S.” stamp is still clear on this “military assault pistol.”

A Colt revolver would bring top dollar from an interested civilian, especially being chambered in .45 Colt. According to Hickok, as many pistols of that time came in .45 Colt than all other calibers combined. Hickok allows that this “military assault pistol” may have been such a gun. Being a “weapon of war” and all that.

Armed in 1883 Hickok45 Colt .45 Winchester 1873 double barreled shotgun
This Winchester 1873 was made in 1886

The Ithaca coach gun is a double-barreled 12-gauge with the sweet rabbit ears and double triggers. Hickok rightly points out that shotguns were just as versatile then as they are now. If you were a frontiersman or farmer and could only have one gun, a shotgun might not be a bad choice. A good 12-gauge will do just about anything you might need.

Armed in 1883 Hickok45 Colt .45 Winchester 1873 double barreled shotgun
Shotguns were just as versatile in 1883 as they are today. Love those rabbit ears and double triggers.

This gun shows that versatility by shredding paper targets as well as Hickok’s ubiquitous two liters. And I just think there’s something nostalgic about seeing a broken-down double barrel resting on a hunter’s shoulder. Good times.

black powder Colt Cavalry Revolver
Shooting the black powder Colt Cavalry Revolver

Finally, the ’73 Winchester takes its turn on the range, to good effect, taking out a steel buffalo and shooting a steel cowboy, no doubt a desperate outlaw, right in his hat. This Winchester is chambered in .44-40, with a generous magazine capacity and plenty of close to mid-range firepower.

 Colt .45 Winchester 1873 double barreled shotgun
Left: The Winchester’s worn finish adds to its character. Right: A bowling pin bites the dust.

The gun’s finish is worn, being an obviously old carbine. But that just adds to its already considerable character. It seems to shoot well, despite being almost 140 years old. If properly cared for, it will likely still be shooting in another 140.

Winchester '73 Carbine in .44-40
A real cowboy gun: the Winchester ’73 Carbine in .44-40.

Same with the others. All the guns shot well, and the craftsmanship is evident. Hickok says he takes the Colt apart, cleaning and oiling it, after every range trip. Modern guns don’t always need that, but an old, quality, black powder gun will last forever if you care for it like that. Hickok also comments on the smell of the black powder. The smell is one of my favorite things about going shooting, though steady doses of black powder might be a little much.

black powder Ithaca 12 gauge
Firing the black powder Ithaca 12 gauge: Life is Good.

I love to handle old guns like these and wonder where they’ve been and what they’ve seen. All my older ones are military surplus bolt action rifles, but I’m gaining a real interest in guns of the Old West. Hopefully, I can pick up one or two in the future. Until then, I’ll live vicariously through guys like Hickok on the interwebs. Do you like old guns? If so, which are your favorites? Hit us up in the comments



William "Bucky" Lawson is a self-described "typical Appalachian-American gun enthusiast". He is a military historian specializing in World War II and has written a few things, as he says, "here and there". A featured contributor for Strategy & Tactics, he likes dogs, range time, and a good cigar - preferably with an Old Fashioned that has an extra orange slice.

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