The Gun That Won The West Isn't What You Think It Is

We think we know how the West was won, but we're only truly understanding what's myth and reality. And one of the biggest myths is that there's one type of gun that everyone carried — the legendary weapon that helped win the West.

In reality, there is no one gun that can be called the one that won the West; there are many, explained True West Magazine. That debate has been going on since, well, the West was folded into the United States. The moniker "gun that won the West" began as a marketing slogan by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. Some people will vehemently defend two firearms, the Colt .45 and the Winchester rifle, as the titular gun, but there's another that's giving them a run for their money. That gun would be the double-barreled shotgun.

As settlers began moving to the West in droves, it became essential to carry some sort of firearm. Not only would it keep them safe either from bandits or the perceived danger from Native Americans, but it can also help settle any disputes with others. Each person found the firearm they were best suited for, but sometimes people carried a range of guns with them, depending on their financial situation. The shotgun was one of the more affordable options for families looking to move West. And it is this gun that is most responsible for bringing more people into the region than any other.

There's a reason it's called riding shotgun

True West Magazine pointed out that early settlers usually sold everything they had to start the journey West. Most would not have enough to shell out for fancy weaponry. The shotgun was cheap but powerful. It can defend against bandits and also shoot wild animals for food. It was also used by soldiers, ranchers, settlers, coachmen, Native Americans, and lawmen. The shotgun was indispensable for people who needed to fight for survival.

It was so widely available that it even gained another nickname, the coach gun because coachmen carried one. One person would drive the stagecoach, and the other is, well, riding shotgun. They would sit beside the driver holding a shotgun (often a cut-down shotgun) ready to protect the goods or passengers they're transporting. As pointed out, shotguns have been in the West long before Colt or Winchester started marketing their products directly to settlers. In other words, it was in the West before any other type of gun. A shotgun was even found at the Alamo after the massacre.

One very famous Wild West figure even favored the shotgun. John Henry Holliday, better known as Doc Holliday, carried a shotgun into the Gunfight at O.K Corral. Sure, other famous historical figures reportedly carried revolvers or rifles, but most everyone owned at least one shotgun. Many manufacturers made double-barreled shotguns, which speaks to its wide-spread popularity. Everyone was bound to get one, so why limit yourself to one maker?

The West was won by a lot of guns

When manufacturers like Colt and Winchester saw an influx of settlers moving out West, they jumped at the chance to sell their products to them. That's when the moniker "gun that won the West" started. The exploits of lawmen and bandits made their way across the country, fascinating people hungry for their stories.

Many of the guns that became famous for being used in the Wild West were favored because of who used them. That's when the legend of the Colt revolver and the Winchester rifles came into being. In particular, the Colt revolver became the gun used by the Texas Rangers when they defeated the Comanche tribe. And then the Winchester rifle became a favorite because it can fire multiple shots before reloading. The Hartford Courant wrote that Winchester came up with the tagline "gun that won the West" in 1919. It put the slogan on all of its marketing materials. However, by the time movie Westerns were being produced, the fictional cowboys carried Colt Peacemaker revolvers that people associated the phrase with most of the company's products.

But, it was the shotgun that put the West on the map. If it weren't for people coming into the region in the first place, no one would fight over it. Sure, no one specific gun won the West, but the lowly shotgun deserves to be part of the conversation.