Guns of ‘1883’: How Accurate Are the Firearms of ‘Yellowstone’s Prequel?

by Jon D. B.
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Yellowstone creator Taylor Sheridan is a stickler for historical accuracy, but how close to the mark are the guns featured in 1883?

To answer this, Outsider spoke to a gunsmith with four decades of experience crafting, shooting, and researching historical firearms. He’s a walking encyclopedia who served as the firearms consultant for The Way the Cards Fall series by O.K. Williams. And he also happens to be my uncle, Scott Bumpus.

Right off the bat, Scott says 1883 is getting a whole lot right for Season 1. But not without a major hiccup or two along the way. Be warned of significant spoilers for 1883 ahead.

‘The Peacemaker’: Colt Single Action Army

Right: Theodore Rosevelt’s Colt Single Action Army revolver in the newly opened exhibit “The Colt Revolver in the American West” during the Day of the Cowboy and Cowgirl at the Autry National Center on July 23, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Getty Images)

“This is America’s gun, right here,” Scott begins of the Colt Single Action Army revolver. “Samuel Colt patented this invention of his in 1873 and changed the U.S. Army forever, hence the name. Hell, this gun changed everything. And fast.”

Indeed, “The Colt Single Action is the Colt .45 of legend,” he continues. “‘The Peacemaker,’ if you will, as it was dubbed. It’s probably the most used pistol in all of history. Especially through the time of 1883. They would’ve been everywhere. There would’ve been tens of thousands circulating America, and you wouldn’t have walked into a Western frontier town without multiple men having them on their hips.”

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Right: Colt Factory. 125Th Anniversary. Single Action Army Revolver. Caliber 45. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

This checks out for Sheridan’s 1883, as James Dutton carries a dual pair on his hips, and he’s far from alone in doing so.

Shea Brennan (Sam Elliott) carries one as a sidearm, too; as does Billy Bob Thornton’s historical figure, Marshal Jim Courtright. In total, it’s probably the gun we see the most of in the Yellowstone prequel.

James Dutton’s Winchester Rifle Didn’t Exist in 1883

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Pictured: Tim McGraw as James of the Paramount+ original series 1883. Photo Cr: Emerson Miller/Paramount+ © 2021 MTV Entertainment Studios. All Rights Reserved.

When we meet James Dutton (Tim McGraw) for the first time, he’s single-handedly taking on a herd of outlaws as they attempt to rob his wagon. To pick them off, Scott says James pulls out an 1885 Winchester High Wall rifle. But as this rifle’s date shows: that’s a problem.

“At that time, Winchester was not in production of this rifle. That’s why it’s called the 1885,” Scott begins of 1883‘s biggest firearm snafu. “John Moses Browning, the greatest firearm inventor to ever live, designed this rifle and sold the rights to produce it to Winchester in 1885,” he continues.

“Now, he could have possibly been carrying a Browning-built version that predates the sale to Winchester in 1885. But he would’ve had to have gotten it from Ogden, Utah, where Browning himself was producing them before selling his rights away.”

As for the long scope James uses, Scott identifies it as a Malcolm scope. “Malcolm scopes go back to the Civil War,” he cites. “They were not commonplace, but it’s more believable that Dutton would have one of these than it is the 1885 Winchester. Especially since he’s a Civil War veteran. Both sides had Malcolm scopes to some extent during the war.”

Interestingly, Scott believes James’ possession of this specific rifle/scope combination may point to a history as a Civil War marksman. “We call them snipers today, but in the 19th century a marksman was the title for a man capable of picking galloping bandits straight off horseback from 100 yards away,” he says.

‘1883’s Double Barrel Shotguns

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Right: 19th century double barrel shotgun. (Sepia Times/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

1883 shows Margaret Dutton (Faith Hill) holding her own as often as it does her husband, James. So when outlaws cause trouble at their wagon camp, Margaret is ready with a 19th century double barrel shotgun pointed directly at the face of the bandit assaulting her sister, Claire.

“If she’d have pulled the trigger, she would’ve blown his head straight off,” Scott laughs. “Tons on tons of double barrel shotguns were imported into American in the 1800s. But we didn’t start producing our own until the late 1800s,” he cites. “Most you would’ve seen during 1883‘s time would’ve been English or Belgian make. They were an inexpensive, but decent-quality, good-ol’ classic shotgun. If there’s truly a gun that ‘Won the West,’ it was the firepower of these shotguns.”

Specifically, “Margaret’s shotgun looks to be from the 1870s, or prior to 1883, so it is accurate,” Scott says. “It looks similar to a Colt Model 1878 double.”

The Duttons’ Lever-Action Winchester 1873

Pictured: Tim McGraw as James of the Paramount+ original series 1883. Photo Cr: Emerson Miller/Paramount+ © 2021 MTV Entertainment Studios. All Rights Reserved.

If you’ve seen a Western, chances are you’ve seen a Winchester 1873 rifle. As Scott cites, “There’s even an old movie called Winchester ’73,” released in 1950.

“The Winchester 1873 would have been widespread by 1883,” he says of the Dutton family’s multiple lever-action rifles. “This rifle’s predecessors came about toward the end of the Civil War, and the Confederates called them ‘Those damn Yankee rifles they’d load on Monday and shoot ’til Sunday.”

Why such a moniker? “Lever-action rifles were some of the first available repeaters,” Scott adds. Shooting 15-something bullets without having to reload your firearm gave serious advantage over nearly every gun prior.

For James Dutton to have acquired one, however, it would’ve been on his own dime after the Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, as these guns weren’t around for several more years. But by the year 1883 they would’ve been everywhere in multiple forms, Scott says.

‘1883’ Tragedy: Claire’s Revolver

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Right: 1860s American Civil War Pistol Handgun Remington New Model 1858 Cap & Ball Percussion Revolver With Lead Bullets Caps And Mold. (Photo by R. Dias/ClassicStock/Getty Images)

Spoilers for 1883 Episode 2: “The gun Claire is holding to her head is a cap and ball revolver,” Scott begins of the pistol Margaret’s sister pulls from her personal belongings. “It looks to be a Model 1860 Army Richards-Mason, or a modified version of one in the show,” he says.

The image above, however, is of a Remington New Model 1858 Cap & Ball Percussion Revolver from the Civil War; a predecessor.

“These were all mass-produced and extremely widespread throughout the Civil War, so her having one is accurate. These guns were outdated by 1883, too, so they were either found cheap or converted into cartridge revolvers. A lot of these guns also stuck around as heirlooms,” Scott adds, which looks to be the case for Claire; who’s husband died before the Duttons’ journey west.

The ‘Yellowboy’: Winchester 1866

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Pictured: Sam Elliott as Shea and LaMonica Garrett as Thomas of the Paramount+ original series 1883. Photo Cr: Emerson Miller/Paramount+ (C) 2021 MTV Entertainment Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Meanwhile, Pinkerton Agent Thomas (LaMonica Garrett) carries another Western classic, ‘The Yellowboy.’

A Winchester 1866 rifle, this classic firearm was “the first successful introduction of lever-action into mass-produced rifles after the Civil War,” Scott cites. “And they were damn good guns, too.”

So much so, in fact, that the Pinkerton Agency would’ve been supplying these well-made, expensive guns to their men. “The Pinkerton Agency supplied their men with the latest and best,” he says.

Thomas is also a Civil War Veteran; a Buffalo Soldier with a remarkable and tragic past. But “an agent carrying one makes sense.”

“It would’ve cost a man as much as his horse to purchase a ‘Yellowboy’ outright, but when your life depends on it you’re going to have two things: a good horse and a good gun,” Scott decrees. “And the Winchester 1866 was damn worth the price.”

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