Gunleather of the Old West


We have images in our minds of long, lean cowboys, walking slowly down a dusty street, hand hovering near his holster, eyes steely, determined, ready to draw on his nemesis.  For us, here at Lost Creek, this image is one we revere, we love the westerns, old and new, and we love the romance of the history of the gunslinger.

JT loves it so much that he builds holsters, some for friends, some for himself, some for sale.  He loves crafting the leather, fitting the gun.  It is art, well created art.

So where did these holsters come from?  Me, I have to research for information that comes naturally to JT and others, I have to read, dig in and learn.

This is what I have learned so far.

One of the first known holsters created was the Pommel Holster. This type of holster was used by the military in the early American colonies.  During the California Gold Rush holster was modified into the Pommel Bag Holster by Wells Fargo riders.  This holster held long bore single shot handguns, (horse pistols).  The pommel bag was valued because it was easily used to carry more than one gun at a time and hold ready ammunition.  Having handy firepower was important, for law enforcement, riders, and outlaws.  No one wanted to be caught out in a battle under gunned!

An issue with holsters of the early years was the expense involved. Mostly produced in the east for a hefty cost, any type of holster was a prized possession, and not readily available.  To solve this dilemma, western saddle makers soon learned the art of creating holsters of their own, some rustic, some polished and full of specifications for the buyers.

As guns evolved so did the holster.   Holsters became more portable, minimal, and able to be carried on a belt, or attached to a pommel with a more precise pattern for shotguns and rifles.  These first affairs were made with just a slip in carrier, the gun slipping in, but also easily slipping out at an untoward moment, so tie downs and fasteners were incorporated into the patterns, early holsters were made open at the tip, and this caused difficulties with dirt, and debris entering into the barrels of guns, so again a modification was created and holsters became closed at the bottoms.  Most of these belt holsters were created with a back flap that a belt could be slipped through for wearing.

Holsters are made right handed, left handed, to be carried on a belt, suspenders, hips, and even in a boot.  What ever the gunslinger needed was created.  Soon cowboys craved a bit of spit and polish for the holsters they used to carry their prized side arms, and leather smiths found their skills leaned to creating artistic carvings in the leather, perhaps adding a bit of color or shiny accouterments.

Like any bit of old west history holsters come with evocative names, the Slim Jim or California, the Mexican Loop, the Cheyenne, and the one we know most, the Buscadero, the holster that was made popular by Roy Rogers, and the Lone Ranger, with special engraving, silver plating and the exciting look we associate with child hood Saturday afternoons in theater balconies.

And in this vein even more developments have come into being, with the walk and draw style, utilizing a forward muzzle action for fast draw competitors.  This holster has also become the standard for today’s Spaghetti Westerns.  Clint Eastwood wore this holster forcefully.

With civilization came hip and pocket holsters, designed so that gentleman need not show their fire power in public, and could avoid offending the gentler sensibilities of modern America.  And from this we have evolved into the less than genteel mobster style of holster, holding arms that are hidden from the prying eyes of the law.

For what ever reason we use a holster, if it be for function, style, or pure whimsy, we can look back through the part they have played in the long history of America with great respect and honor.

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