Book Review: Guns of the American West

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posted on August 30, 2010
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Author and photographer Dennis Adler has done a series of lavishly illustrated books on guns used in the Old West, including “Winchester Shotguns,” “Colt Single Action—From Paterson To Peacemakers” and “Metallic Cartridge Conversions.” His latest book, “Guns Of The American West,” combines elements from his previous books along with a host of new photographs and information. In preparing this book, Adler had access to the finest private collections in the country, including those of Mike Clark, Dr. Joseph A, Murphy, Dow and Russelle Hear, J.D. Hofer and Tom V. Covalt, plus his own collection. The text is concise and informative, but it is the hundreds and hundreds of beautiful photographs that set this work apart.

The book opens with the era from 1849 to 1865 with emphasis on the cap-and-ball revolvers of Samuel Colt, but it also covers the early Remingtons, and lesser-known guns such as the Starr, Adams, Savage and LeMat. Next come the early cartridge revolvers, such as the Smith & Wesson No. 1, the Lefaucheux and the Moore. After the Civil War—and the expiration of the Rollin White patent on the bored-through cylinder—cartridge conversions of Colt and Remington revolvers dominated until the advent of the Single Action Army, followed by the top-break Smith & Wessons and double-actions.

A separate chapter covers the rifles and shotguns used on the frontier, with extensive coverage of the Winchesters, but also includes the Sharps, Spencer, Remington Rolling Block and Burgess rifles. Also included are lesser-known shotguns such as the Spencer, Marlin and Burgess.

While the history and development of the guns are presented, they are coupled with stories of the men (and some women) who used them, including the likes of the James Gang, Bob Ford, Pat Garrett, Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid. Tales of the gunmen are interwoven with the guns they used, and often guns with provenance from prominent collections or sold through auction houses, such as Greg Martin and Rock Island, are illustrated. The author also devotes chapters to the famous lawman and outlaws after the turn of the 20th century, including Bill Tilghman, Tom Horn and Heck Thomas to name a few, as well as William F. Cody and the influence of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows on the legacy of the Old West. Also, the author is one of the top authorities on modern and replica guns and wrote a lavishly illustrated chapter on modern guns embellished by the likes of Tom Watts and John Adams, Sr. The book is a feast for the eyes and well worth the attention of collectors and enthusiasts of the American guns of the Old West.

The hardbound, 11x8½-inch “Guns Of The American West” has 325 pages, plus an index, and is available from online and local booksellers. The price is $24.95 plus shipping.

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