Behold! The outlaw hero- a tale as American as the wild west itself. From Bonnie and Clyde to Batman, the outlaw hero holds a place in America’s heart. Despite the atrocities and inhumanities committed by most of these criminals, for some reason we hold a soft spot for them. Perhaps their troubled past that excuses their harm, maybe some redeeming quality. Sometimes, an epiphany before death that gives them redemption in our minds.
However, sometimes the line between “Outlaw” and “Hero” becomes blurred. Occasionally the outlaw suffers from atonement rather than winning redemption. Either way, typically there is one single weapon that leads them through their life as an outlaw, and that same weapon offers them redemption when it’s all said and done. Here, we will take a look at some of the most recognized guns of the American Outlaw Hero.
Outlaw: Bonnie and Clyde’s Colt .45 and .38 Special
Despite the cinema depiction of the pair of outlaw heroes, Bonnie and Clyde were some real bad larries. In their criminal run between 1931 and 1934, the pair murdered nine police officers and three civilians. All of the homicides were committed with the two legendary pistols. Well, along with an arsenal of other machine guns, shotguns, and rifles that they hauled around in the back of their V-8 Ford.
The killing got so bad that the government brought captain Frank Hamer, a Texas Ranger, out of retirement to finish the job. When he and the group of five other officers ambushed the pair, both Bonnie and Clyde were shot fifty times a-piece. The two guns found on their person? Bonnie Parker’s .38 Detective Special and Clyde Barrow’s 1911 Colt .45.
Hero: Davy Crockett’s “Old Betsy”
Davy Crockett was perhaps the original hero of the “wild frontier,” second only to maybe Daniel Boone. Today’s folklore immortalizes him as “King of the Wild Frontier,” where he worked as a pioneer, soldier, and politician. Crockett carried with him a .40 caliber rifle he dubbed “Old Betsy,” likely built by James M. Graham of Kentucky.
The citizens of Nashville, Tennessee gifted Crockett this beauty of a killing machine on May 5, 1822. Crockett served in congress for the state of Tennessee before shipping off to Texas to fight in the Alamo. Luckily for historians, he passed along old Betsy to his son, John Wesley, before embarking on his fatal journey. The weapons that Davy Crockett died with at the Alamo were lost. Unluckily, the wonderful gun did not receive as good of treatment down the road.
Hero…? Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum
Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” character didn’t discriminate in terms of who saw the wrath of his .44 Magnum. While the gun sold horribly before the 1971 film, after the famous lines “Well do you, punk?” the Smith & Wesson and Remington collaboration could not keep up with the demand.
Because of the lack of demand before the movie, the companies stopped the manufacturing of the legendary pistol. Eastwood actually had to go straight to Smith & Wesson to get the pistol he wanted. They actually had to use spare parts to make the gun, so the model was blued with a 6 1/2 inch barrel instead of nickel-plated with a 4-inch barrel.
Outlaw…? Wild Bill Hickok’s 1851 Navy Colt
Although his legend may be exaggerated, Wild Bill Hickok was likely the best gunslinger in all of the Wild West. Hickok, originally James Butler, rose to fame after killing Dave Tutt in an old western shootout. From there, he tried to expand his legend, which eventually led to his detriment. He worked in law enforcement for several years but was deemed unemployable after accidentally killing his deputy. He was shot in the back of the head while playing poker… with aces and eights in his hand.
Based on his sad death, most people would consider Wild Bill an outlaw. The gunslinger wore his two Colt pistols with handles forward. This means he drew with his hands opposite. Yet, he remained the quickest in the wild west until his death.
Liver-Eating Johnson’s Hawken
Liver-Eating Johnson stood just under six feet tall, but fit somewhere around 250 pounds into that frame. He was known for his powerful strength and equally powerful temper. Originally in the military as scout and cavalryman, Johnson took up hunting and trading in the Rockies. He lived to a ripe old age and died in 1900 in Santa Monica, California.
Liver-Eating Johnson actually carried a perversion of the original Hawken Kentucky rifle. However, it was the standard for Rocky Mountain hunting by the time Johnson arrived. The calibers increased from .30 to .40 and eventually to .65. Other alterations including iron replacements to the barrel made the gun far heavier, up to 10 or 12 pounds.
The Wild West Show Guns
Buffalo Bill’s Trapdoor Rifle: Buffalo Bill, not to be confused with Wild Bill Hickok, became globally famous in the early twentieth century. His Wild West Show traveled across the states and Europe at the height of his fame. However, before he hit it off with the Wild West Show, he killed some 4,200 as a civil war veteran working on the railroad. The gun he used? A .50 caliber standard-issue 1866 Springfield he called “Lucretia Borgia.”
The gun itself was not pretty, but it got the job done. It didn’t have the advantage of speed, however, it did have the advantage of deadliness. This “Lucretia” won him the title of “Best Buffalo Hunter” over the famed hunter, Billy Comstock.
Bill’s Remington Winchester Model 1873 Smoothbore Rifle: Once Buffalo Bill made it into the arena, he picked up a different rifle. The Winchester Smoothbore made the most appearances in films commemorating Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. Essentially, the Winchester Model 1873 Smoothbore Rifle catalyzes the legend of Buffalo Bill.
Annie Oakley’s Parker: Annie Oakley, perhaps the most famous sharpshooter in American history, started as a humble hunter providing for her family. After her father died, Annie had to do all of the hunting and trading for her family. She always could shoot, even before her father’s death, but that would eventually become her livelihood and her legend. After defeating sharpshooter Frank Butler, the two ended up marrying and touring together.
Butler bought Oakley the Parker BHE as the couple joined on Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. She used the rifle for her career with Buffalo Bill and beyond. The 12 gauge gun has no safety, which makes sense that she used it in her shows. Oakley also had depictions of herself on the Parker, the only gone of that nature.
Oakley’s Smith & Wesson No. 3 Revolver: Oakley also owned a pair of Smith & Wesson No. 3 revolvers. The revolvers were part of Smith & Wesson’s time with lever-action Western guns, however, they moved over to top-break revolvers later on.