Fast Draw Holsters

by
posted on September 27, 2011
wiley-clapp.jpg (3)

Latter day students of gunfighters and their gear probably know about the Tom Threepersons holster as currently made by El Paso Saddlery and other custom makers. That rig is named for a legendary peace officer of the early 20th Century. There is some confusion surrounding him because of the fact that another famous westerner wore the same (almost) name. Threepersons was born in the Indian Nations in July of 1889. A Cherokee Indian, Tom grew up on the reservation and was educated in Indian schools and at the Carlisle Institute in Pennsylvania. Early in his adult life, Tom became a well-known and successful rodeo cowboy in the Pacific Northwest. I suspect that this is where things might have started getting confusing for latter-day researchers. Another young man named Tom Three Persons (note different spelling) was born in March 1888 in Alberta, Canada, and grew to adulthood as a cowboy and competition horseman. He also competed in rodeos and the great similarity in their names and early careers may have contributed to the confusion as to who did what. It is certain that Three Persons spent his life as stockman, while Threepersons became a lawman.

Tom Threepersons worked as a peace officer in many locales during his life, but most of the time he was near the Border, particularly in New Mexico and Texas. A proficient tracker and man hunter, he was involved in many shootouts. Some accounts even have him responsible for a hard-to-believe total of as many as 60 deaths. After a few days of research, I am convinced that he was in fact a determined lawman who was extraordinarily adept with firearms.

In this regard, his greatest legacy may be the Tom Threepersons holster. Still made by El Paso Saddlery, this rig is a minimalist holster primarily associated with medium and large revolvers. It rides high on the belt, the very antithesis of the low slung scabbards that Hollywood would have us believe were used on the frontier. In fact, before the Tom Threepersons became available, the typical western holster was an almost shapeless leather pouch that engulfed the gun. Its major function was retaining the revolver on the person of a man engaged in some pretty athletic work. Speedy deployment of a gun was a gunfighter tactic and most believed you should get the damned thing in your hand before it's needed. Threepersons was visionary enough to see that the time was coming that a pistolero might actually need the gun with no warning. He exposed all of the butt, plus the trigger and hammer, but left the rest of the gun in a tight-fitting sheath that would retain it in the same position. In effect, that old Tom Threepersons design was the first real-world, fast-draw holster.

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