Americans are known for having a particular affinity with firearms, which is traced to the way the nation was settled from coast to coast. Guns were such a part of the continental exploration and the settlement of the West that we can't imagine doing it without them. But our actual history was romanticized by Hollywood, which gave us the Westerns we all know and love. Bob Boze Bell, the executive editor of True West magazine, explains what the real Wild West was like:
“There are a thousand movies made about them, so you’d think that there were gunfights every day,” Bell says. “And when you read the diaries or you talk to the old-timers, they’ll say things like, ‘Why, I never saw anybody pull a gun in anger, and I lived on the range for 40 years.’ Did most people settle their differences in court? Yeah, probably. Did they use their fists more than their guns? Yes. Were there a lot of deaths from shooting in saloons? Oh yeah. It was a wild time. It’s safe to say that the West had its moments. And what we celebrate in legend are those dramatic moments. They weren’t all the time, and they were not like Hollywood portrays, but if you portrayed it real, nobody would go see the movie.”
Collectors Weekly also talked to Jeffrey Richardson, the curator of the new “Western Frontiers: Stories of Fact and Fiction” exhibition at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles, about the history of guns in America. He tells how the evolution of gun technology led to changes in frontier life over time, in an article illustrated with photographs of guns fro the collection.