The Cornered Cat
Holsters in history

I’ve always had an interest in history—not in the bland, boring recital of dates and disconnected facts, but in the living stories of how people lived, the things they owned and the way they thought.

Awhile back, I picked up a copy of a book titled, Triggernometry: A Gallery of Gunfighters. It was written by Eugene Cunningham and originally published in 1934 (although my edition is a paperback from 1996 or so). In this book, Cunningham tells the stories of dozens of different fighting men from the cowboy era. His stories that have an immediacy to them because the people he wrote about, or at least their friends and family members, were still alive at the time he wrote the book and because he had personally interviewed many of the people involved. Given the relative dates, this would be like someone today penning stories about the civil rights marches of the 1960s, using personal interviews of the people who were there. If you were such a writer, you’d know you had to get it right because if you didn’t, plenty of eyewitnesses would step forward to set the record straight.

Anyway, holsters. That’s what this post was about. Says so right there in the title, so I must stay on topic. Here’s a quote from Triggernometry about holsters and holster use. I’ve added a couple of paragraph breaks that aren’t in the original, to make it easier for modern eyes to read:

During the percussion-revolver era, body-belt “scabbards” (known today as “holsters”) were introduced. At that time pistols were generally carried butts forward. This enabled the wearer to use a cross-body draw or the plains “reverse” or “twist” draw—a method adopted by the United States Cavalry. It allowed the trooper access both this his saber and to his pistol, leaving his left hand free to control his horse.

It worked as follows: as the hand dropped to the butt, it was turned so that the palm faced away from the body. At the same time the thumb curled around the hammer spur and the index finger entered the trigger guard. With a firm grip the pistol was pulled out, and the momentum both spun the barrel forward to line up on its target and also cocked the hammer. The shooter could either hold the weapon at full cock or fire it as it came level.[1]

Because the thumb was locked over the hammer spur, releasing the spur was impossible until the barrel was clear of the body, making the cross-body or “reverse” draw much safer than the hip draw. The later so-called “conventional” hip-draw holsters did and do sometimes lead to accidents: when the barrel snags, jerking the trigger finger, the result can be a bad leg wound or, perhaps, a dead horse!

One striking thing about this passage is the author’s casual revelation  that older “quick draw” holsters almost all held the gun with the trigger exposed. That’s just the way things were done. Holsters were designed that way because the designers fully expected that shooters would put their fingers directly on the trigger during the drawstroke. This action was perfectly safe with the old percussion revolvers, and reasonably safe with single-action revolvers, because neither of these weapon types would fire when the trigger was pulled unless the shooter first retracted the hammer. Putting one’s finger on the trigger during the draw became unsafe when the shooter was using a double-action revolver, and became even more unsafe as modern semi-automatic pistols came into widespread use, especially models without external safeties.

Holster makers eventually realized the dangers of an exposed trigger, and shooters began training themselves not to handle the trigger until the gun was withdrawn from the holster and the muzzle on target, so you will rarely find such a holster today—outside of cowboy-action shooting events.


Update: A Facebook fan told me that cowboy action holsters do cover the trigger guard. Caught being lazy (rather than looking it up, I’d simply assumed that authentic reproductions wouldn’t cover the trigger), I went and looked up SASS rules. Here’s what I found in the rulebook: “All handguns must be carried in a safe holster capable of retaining the firearm throughout a normal range of motion.” A quick read-through failed to find a definition of the word “safe,” although to my modern eyes that surely would include a covered trigger. Would love to hear from experienced SASS shooters for more clarification. Thanks!

[1] I dare you to read that passage without moving your hands around your waistline, mumbling to yourself.

Post a Comment