Most Iconic Guns of the Old West (And Where To Buy Them Today)

Is there a cooler, or more uniquely American time period than the Old West?

It was a time and place defined by people like frontiersmen, cowboys, lawmen, and outlaws, who relied on firearms for both protection and their livelihood.  Now the era’s guns have become iconic in American culture.  

john wayne cowboy poster
From the Duke to modern cowboy action shooting, the Old West will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Today, we’re going to look at not just the background of these iconic firearms, but also where you might have seen them before.  We’ll also tell you where you can purchase a modern version for your own collection.  For ease of browsing, the list starts with pistols, then moves on to long guns.

Let’s get started.

Colt Single Action Army Revolver

colt saa
Original Colt Single Action Army, one of the most iconic Old West guns.

The Colt Single Action Army Revolver ($1,499), also famously known as the Peacemaker, is probably the single most iconic firearm of the Old West, so much so that it’s called “The Gun That Won the West,” though that phrase originated from Winchester’s marketing of the Model 1873.

The Colt SAA was originally designed in 1872 for the United States Military and was officially released in 1873.  The SAA remained the standard military service revolver until 1892, when it was replaced by the Colt M1982.

colt m1892
The Colt M1892 was the first double action revolver with a swing-out cylinder to see wide-spread service in the US military.

With two brief exceptions (from 1942 to 1955 and during 1975) Colt has continued production of the Single Action Army through today.  

The SAA has maintained a largely consistent appearance since its inception, though it has been offered in over 30 different calibers and a variety of barrel lengths, and it has been updated with modern gun manufacturing practices.

Where You Might Have Seen It

Basically every Western ever.  

More specifically, John Wayne’s characters seem to favor this revolver.  He can be seen toting the Single Action Army in one of its various forms as Thomas Dunson in Red River (1948), Captain Nathan Brittles in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and LTC Kirby Yorke in Rio Grande (1950), as well is in many other roles.

More recently,  Sylvester Stallone carries one as Barney Ross in 2010’s The Expendables and Kurt Russell carries an SAA, in addition to a Remington 1858 rifle, as John “The Hangman” Ruth in 2015’s The Hateful Eight.

barney ross revolver
Barney Ross’ custom SAA with compensator cuts and a shortened barrel.

Where You Can Get Your Own

As I said before, Colt still produces the Single Action Army today, and they are still as high demand as ever.

You can get a brand spanking new Colt Single Action Army for between $1,500 and $1,700 depending on finish and barrel length.

modern colt saa
The modern Colt SAA still has that iconic Old West feel, but is made with modern materials and manufacturing techniques.

Remington Model 1875

remington model 1875
Original Remington Model 1875

The Remington Model 1875 Single Action Army ($550) was created to compete with Colt’s legendary Peacemaker, but never quite reached the same level of success.

Despite this, the Model 1875 was hardly a flop.  It quickly gained a reputation as a sturdy reliable firearm, and caught the attention of law enforcement and civilians alike.  

Though the US military had already contracted with Colt, Remington was able to sell their Single Action Army revolvers to foreign armies with some success, including sales to the armies of India, Egypt, and Mexico.

The Model 1875 was manufactured with a standard 7 ½ inch barrel, but a couple hundred managed to make it out of the factory with 5 ¾ inch barrels,  and now command a premium price from collectors.  

remington 1875 nickel 5 inch
This 1875 with 5 3/4 inch barrel just recently sold at auction for $10,650.

Where You Might Have Seen It

Though it didn’t reach the same level of success as the Colt SAA, the Remington Model 1875 is still pervasive throughout Western fiction, often in the same films.

Hank Worden and Joanne Dru, playing Simms Reeves and Tess Millay respectively, carry frontier versions of the Remington Model 1875 in Red River, while Kevin Costner used one while playing the title character of 1994’s Wyatt Earp.  

In a fun twist, the Model 1875 can also be seen in season 7, episode 24 of The Office, handled by none other than Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson), though it is misidentified as a Beaumont-Adams.

dwight schrute revolver
You can see it here on display on Dwight’s desk.

If you’re familiar with the show, you can probably imagine how this ends up, and yes it goes just as badly as you might expect.

Where You Can Get Your Own

Unfortunately, unlike the Colt SAA, the Remington SAA is not still in production.  Fortunately, Uberti makes a damn good Remington Model 1875 replica, which sells for between $550 and $600, depending on customer specifications.

modern remington 1875
Modern Remington 1875

Colt Dragoon

antique colt dragoon
An Original Colt Dragoon

The Colt Model 1848 Percussion Army Revolver ($400), or Colt Dragoon, was designed for use by the US mounted infantry, or dragoons, and was released in 1848.  The Dragoon’s large size and substantial weight made it far more ideal for use on horseback, where it could be stored in a saddle holster, than on foot.

The Dragoon was intended to address the issues of the previous Colt Walker, and did so with great success, leading it to become popular among both civilians and military members.  

Due to its popularity, the Dragoon was widely used by both sides during the Civil War.  It also had a reasonable level of success in both the United Kingdom and Australia.

In addition to the large standard version, Colt also released a pocket version of the Dragoon, commonly called the Baby Dragoon.

Where You Might Have Seen It

Less pervasive in Western media than the other guns on this list, the Colt Dragoon can still be spotted if you know where to look.

In 1980’s Heavens Gate, Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken carry third model Dragoons while portraying Nick Ray and Nathan D. Champion.  Hailee Steinfeld totes one while playing Mattie Ross in True Grit (2010), and the apparent new staple of Western film, Walton Goggins, carried one while portraying Hunt in 2011’s Cowboys and Aliens.

Mattie Ross holds Colt Dragoon in True Grit
Mattie Ross is young but deadly with her late father’s Colt Dragoon.

Where You Can Get Your Own

Colt no longer produces the Dragoon, but fortunately Uberti makes a great replica, which retails for $449, but you can also get it from Brownells for a good bit cheaper.

Uberti Replica Colt Dragoon

1851 Colt Navy Revolver

Here we have yet another Colt revolver on our list.  

1851 colt navy
Original 1851 Colt Navy Revolver

The Colt 1851 Navy Revolver ($200) was Colt’s predecessor to the Peacemaker. Colt originally branded this pistol as the Ranger Revolver, but after successful sale to the Texas Navy, the “Navy” designation became much more popular.  

In addition, the Colt 1851 was also used by the militaries of numerous other countries, including the Confederate States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Russian and Ottoman Empires, and more.

Lighter than its contemporary, the Colt Dragoon, the Colt Navy was far more favored, domestically and abroad, for use with a belt holster, making it popular as both an alternative and complement to the Dragoon.  

Though the Navy revolver had a standard caliber of .36, a very small number of .40 and .34 caliber Navy revolvers were manufactured.

Where You Might Have Seen It

The Colt 1851 Navy Revolver is perhaps more iconic for having led to the Peacemaker than for its media appearances, but it can still be spotted in various films and television shows.

Eli Wallach’s Tuco carries one on a lanyard loop in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, though it’s not fired on screen.  It is also one of the many firearms used by Jack Beauregard, played by Henry Fonda, in My Name is Nobody (1973), and appears throughout 1993’s Gettysburg, used by both Union and Confederate officers.

Thomas Chamberlain (C. Thomas Howell) fires his Colt 1851 Navy revolver.
Thomas Chamberlain (C. Thomas Howell) fires his Colt 1851 Navy revolver.

Where You Can Get Your Own

Like most of the other guns on this list, the Colt Navy revolver is no longer in production.  However, Pietta makes a replica, available both with and without an accessory kit.  Without the accessory kit, the Model 1851 Confederate Navy .44-Caliber Black Powder Revolver sells for $200.  The reproduction can be purchased with the accessory kit for $250.

colt navy replica
Pietta Colt Navy Reproduction

1874 Sharps Rifle

The entire series of Sharps rifles, manufactured from 1848 to 1881, could be considered iconic, but the 1874 edition Sharps ($1,100) stands out from the rest.  

1874 sharps rifle
Original 1874 Sharps Rifle

This 1874 model was a large-bore rifle manufactured to be used with some of the most powerful black powder cartridges in existence at the time.

While other Sharps rifles have more notoriety for military use, this combination made the 1874 Sharps rifle far more popular among buffalo hunters and frontiersmen, though it was also commonly used by the competitive long range shooters of its time.

Even today, many long range black powder silhouette shooters favor original or replica 1874 Sharps rifles.  

Where You Might Have Seen It

The Sharps 1874 most notably appeared in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966), carried by The Man with No Name, portrayed by Clint Eastwood.  

Sharps 1874 in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Even if you don’t recognize the rifle, I’m sure you recognize this squint.

You may also recognize it as the rifle carried by Tom Selleck as Matthew Quigley in 1990’s Quigley Down Under, the “Buffalo Rifle” in the video game Red Dead Redemption (2010), and the pilot of Longmire (2012) where it was carried by a variety of characters, including the titular Walt Longmire, portrayed by Robert Taylor.

Where You Can Get Your Own

Unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the Sharps 1874 is no longer in production.  After all, frontiering and buffalo hunting are hardly the lifestyles they once were.  

1874 sharps replica
Pedersoli 1874 Sharps Replica

However, Pedersoli’s 1874 Sharps Hunter Rifle ($1,10) is a gorgeous replica.  

Coach Gun

coach gun
An Antique Coach Gun

Technically the term coach gun ($500) refers not to a particular gun, but to any of the double barrel shotguns, generally with barrels between 18 and 24 inches long, used on stagecoaches by messengers in the Old West.  

Coach gun is a modern term.  In their heyday, these guns were referred to as “cut-down shotguns” or “messenger’s guns,” terms that developed in the 1860s when Wells Fargo and Co. hired shotgun messengers to defend cargo in transit through the West.  

(It’s from these messengers that the phrase “riding shotgun” came into being, but not until 1919.)

Coach guns were produced by a variety of gun manufacturers, and were sold through gun dealers based in San Francisco, where Wells Fargo’s headquarters were located.  Notable manufacturers included Colt and Remington.  

Where You Might Have Seen It

By their nature, coach guns aren’t typically seen carried by major characters in film and television.  However, they still feature throughout the Western genre.

A 12 gauge coach gun is used by James Pepper, played by Ben Johnson, in 1970’s Chisum, starring John Wayne.  A similar coach gun is also carried by Joe, played by Michael Madsen, in The Hateful Eight.

Pepper with his coach gun in Chisum film
Pepper with his coach gun.

Where You Can Get Your Own

The days in which a coach gun was a necessity have long passed, so to get a modern version you have to go with a replica.  

coach gun replica
Stoeger Reproduction Coach Gun

The Stoeger Coach Side by Side Shotgun ($500) is an excellent choice.

1873 Winchester Rifle

The entire history of Winchester rifles is made up of historically significant firearms, just about all of which could rightfully hold a place on this list, but the one that really elevated the line to iconic status is the Model 1873 ($1,400).  

winchester 1873

The Model 1873 was one of the most popular Winchester rifles of the period, and its creation established a standard from Winchester that led all following Winchester rifle models to become similarly successful.  The Model 1873 even provided a retroactive boost in popularity to the previous Winchester rifle, the Model 1866, because it was less expensive alternative.

The Model 1866 was available in four standard variations, but could also be customized to nearly any customer specifications, including octagonal barrels, barrels as short as 12 inches, and intricate engravings.  The standard rifle length was by far the most popular.  

In total, 720,000 Winchester Model 1873s were produced before manufacturing stopped in 1923.

Where You Might Have Seen It

The most obvious example of the Winchester Model 1873 in media is the film Winchester ‘73, released in 1950.  Use in other classic Westerns includes by Charlton Heston, playing the titular character of 1968’s Will Penny and Yul Brynner as the Gunslinger in the original Westworld, released in 1973.

More recently, a mare’s leg version of the Model 1873 can be spotted in the hands of Gina Torres in Firefly as Zoe Washburne.  In 2010’s True Grit, Jeff Bridges carries a “short” Model 1873 with an octagonal barrel while portraying Marshal Reuben J. “Rooster” Cogburn.

zoe washburn firefly mares leg Winchester model 1873
A space cowboy is still a cowboy, right?

Where You Can Get Your Own

winchester 1873 replica
Winchester Model 1873 Sporter Pistol-Grip Centerfire Rifle

While they have long since stopped production of the original Model 1873, Winchester does make a modern sporting rifle inspired by the design of the original ‘73, the Winchester Model 1873 Sporter Pistol-Grip Centerfire Rifle.  The new Model 1873 retails for $1,400.

Wrapping Up

There you have it.  A variety of guns with a variety of uses, but all from the same legendary time and place in American history.

So what do you think?  Do you have any favorite guns from the Old West?  Are there any iconic Western firearms that you think I missed?  Let me know in the comments.

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9 Leave a Reply

  • Jim

    Most folks who could afford one opted for the Schofield. The break-open action facilitated reloading on horse back; something not practical with Colt SA. Also the Remington rolling-block was the rifle that almost won the west. Winchesters (and Sharps) were expensive and many families couldn't afford one. That and the lack of long range punch made the 45/70 or 45/90 Remington a popular hunting and predator weapon.

    1 second ago
  • Paul Gummerus

    What years was the old west “ Peacemaker” revolvers produced, & by who? ?

    3 months ago
  • Jim

    That's an 1847 walker, not a dragoon, pictured as a dragoon in this article. The loading lever gives it away.

    1 year ago
    • Val E. Forge

      The young lady may have a Walker, but the photo of the revolver alone is indeed a Dragoon. It has a latch at the end of the rammer.

      1 hour ago
  • Peter Bovey

    Shiloh Rifle Co. makes a series of rifles based on the 1874 Sharps and the 1877 Sharps. Though they are not inexpensive, they are tack drivers and beautiful firearms. Many of the competitors in the "Matthew Quigley Buffalo Rifle Match" use the modern Shiloh Sharps rifles.

    3 years ago
  • Sergey

    Thanks for article. I have replica of SAA Colt 1873 from Uberty. I had one from Pietta, but i didn't like a transfer bar they introduced, mine have broke two times. I have lever action Marlin 336 1970, it is not famous as Winchester, but reliable and i love it. You not mentioned the Spencer repeating rifle 1860. In Unforgiven Ned Logan ( Morgan Freeman ) still used it when William Munny (Clint Eastwood) invited him to hunt down the men. I also have iconic Russian revolver Nagant M1895, mine is original production in 1911 by Russian Imperia. Shoots well, but need very strong wrist.

    3 years ago
  • Dany

    Thanks for the article. Go back in this time is always fun.

    3 years ago
  • Craig R

    Love the article and want all of them !!! On a side tangent mabey you could write a follow up article of good places to find these classics and newer (50 years old and older) if you have a curio and relics FFL and are new to collecting ? Thanks Craig

    3 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      Hi Craig, we'll certainly take a look at that idea!

      3 years ago
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