Go West Young Man Part 1

Go West Young Man Part 1

Cowboy Up with Custom Engraved Guns

By Dennis Adler

It’s not a myth, men with engraved guns felt a special bond with the gun that made it more than just a gun. Some men were emboldened by it, some more than others, like the Dalton Gang, but an outlaw packing a finely engraved gun was unusual, same for most lawmen, though there are some very famous exceptions (and you can fill in the blanks on that one starting with Wild Bill Hickok). An engraved gun was actually more likely to found in the holster, or perhaps on the desk, of a wealthy rancher, a successful businessman, or ranking military officer. Of course, anyone who saved up enough for a hand engraved gun could have owned one, too. Engraved guns usually meant something personal; a presentation to a friend, brother or relative, others were presented to a Sheriff or Marshall by the grateful citizens of a town. Most lawmen with engraved guns were in fact carrying guns presented to them.

During a recent photo shoot for Guns of the Old West I substituted the three Colts I was being photographed with for the latest hand engraved CO2 guns to come from Adams & Adams, a two-tone pair of 7-1/2 inch Peacemakers with inked engraving and one of a pair of magnificently engraved Remington 1875 models. They look like they belong!

Ten Colts for a bank heist

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Engraved guns meant a lot of things to different people, but let’s start with the Dalton Brothers, Bob, Grat, and Emmett in 1892. With a $15,000 price on their heads, the Dalton Gang wanted to make one last big score and then disappear. Bob Dalton boldly proposed robbing two banks at the same time in Coffeyville, Kansas, the C.M. Condon & Company’s Bank and the First National Bank directly across the street. Bob had a strategy to enter the banks simultaneously, he and Emmett taking the First National Bank, Grat, and gang members Bill Power and Dick Broadwell, the Condon bank. The plan was simple; get the money from the cashier’s drawers and vaults, mount up and ride off before anyone in town could react. Bob was so confident in the plan that he purchased 10 new guns for the gang, all matching 5-1/2 inch .45 Colts with scrollwork engraving, blued finishes and mother of pearl grips, a pair for each man.

Not that many outlaws carried engraved guns, but this is one of a pair of brand new Colts carried by lawman turned outlaw Bob Dalton on the day of the ill-fated Coffeyville, Kansas Raid. Bob, Grat and Emmett Dalton were all carrying matching pairs of engraved Colts.
Bob, who was the leader, had ordered 10 matching 5-1/2 inch guns for himself, brothers Grat and Emmett, and gang members Bill Power and Dick Broadwell, all of who, except Emmett, were killed attempting to hold up two banks at the same time in Coffeyville, Kansas. Look closely at the engraving on this gun and compare it to the Colt and Remington CO2 models.

As history records, the Dalton’s plan started to unravel as soon as they rode into town on the morning of October 5, 1892. The main street was torn up for repairs and the hitching posts in front of the banks had been removed. They had to tie their horses in an alley on a side street nearly a hundred yards from the banks. There was that, and the fact that they were recognized as soon as they rode into town because Bob, Grat and Emmett had all lived in Coffeyville with their family in the 1880s. Even wearing disguises and long dusters to look like a posse of lawmen, they were recognized by local residents, including one of the bank tellers! There was no surprise bank heist and with a $5,000 “DEAD OR ALIVE” bounty each for Bob, Grat and Emmett, they were as much prey as predator in Coffeyville. This was about to go down as the most failed bank robbery in history since the James, Younger Gang walked into the same situation in Northfield, Minnesota, in August 1876. Fifteen minutes after riding into Coffeyville, everyone in the gang had been shot down and killed except 21 year old Emmett Dalton, who survived his 23 gunshot wounds, was tried and sentenced to life in prison. After serving 15 years, Emmett was granted a parole by the Governor of Kansas.

In a 2018 Guns of the Old West article, Chisholm’s Trail Leather duplicated the actual holsters worn by the Daltons on the day of the Coffeyville Raid. They all had distinctive holsters. Emmett Dalton wore a studded and floral carved gun rig with his initials. Bob Dalton wore a double drop loop holster with a three lobe cactus stamped into the leather. Old West gun leather historians say this is a Joshua tree and it became very popular for outlaws to stamp on their holsters near the end of the 19th century. The Grat Dalton rig is a single drop loop holster with hand cut, intricate floral hand tooling. The other holster is an original late 19th century rig similar to one used by Bob Dalton for one of his older Colt revolvers also carried during the attempted bank robberies.

Always plagued by pain from his wounds, Emmett moved to warmer weather in California where he tried his hand at real estate, spent some time with a Wild West show, and wrote a book about his family and the Coffeyville Raid. Along with older brother Frank, a Deputy U.S. Marshal who was gunned down in 1887, Bob and Grat had also been Deputy U.S. Marshals before turning to a life of crime in 1890. The book, When the Daltons Rode was published in 1931 and made into a movie in 1940 starring Randolph Scott.

The only survivor was young Emmett Dalton, only 21 at the time. He recovered from multiple gunshot and shotgun wounds and went to prison. After being paroled at age 36, Emmett moved to California. He wrote a book in 1931 about his family and the Coffeyville Raid that was later made into a 1940 movie staring Randolph Scott and Broderick Crawford (who played Bob Dalton, upper right in the movie poster). The film was loosely based on Dalton’s book and Emmett died in Los Angeles at age 66 three years before the movie was released.

Like I said, an engraved gun meant different things to different people, but mostly it was symbolic of success, reputation, or recognition of an individual. Sam Colt was one of the first to make the presentation of an engraved gun a symbol of respect to U.S. military leaders and government officials, as well as foreign dignitaries. The practice itself goes back before the revolver was even invented, but Colt certainly capitalized on it.

Why an air pistol?

There have been engraved airguns in one form or another since the Lewis & Clark Expedition and engraving is often an essential element of a gun’s design. For today’s new wealth of CO2-powered Single Action revolvers, engraving is pretty much back to what it was in the days of the original Colt Peacemakers, a symbol of distinct craftsmanship, whether the finished gun is to be a gift to someone else or for one’s own use. The Colts, Schofields, and Remingtons all present a period correct canvas upon which engravers can apply the same patterns used on the original centerfire guns and today on current Colt Single Actions and reproductions of Colts, S&Ws and Remington revolvers, among others. The air pistol makes it all more affordable, even with hand engraving because the metal is softer and easier to work with. That cuts down on the time spent but not the quality of the engraving, as evidenced by the models shown here done by John Adams, Jr. of Adams & Adams. Engraving still costs more than the gun but the prices are relative; an engraved CO2 Peacemaker still costs much less than a plain out of the box Single Action .45 Colt. There is, in fact, no better way to enjoy the artistry of a hand engraved revolver without spending a great deal more on a centerfire (or even rimfire) model.

One reason the engraving on this gold and nickel 7-1/2 inch CO2 Peacemaker stands out even in daylight is because it has been inked. This is a process where the engraver follows all of his work with black engraver’s ink to make it stand out against the metal. It is a slow, meticulous process that is not often seen, especially on a hand engraved air pistol!

To the limit

The two pairs of CO2 models in this article are examples of “C Expert” engraving which covers at least 75 percent of the gun. The Peacemakers are also inked, which means the engraving has been meticulously hand filled with engraver’s ink to further highlight and define the engraving patterns of punch dot backgrounds, vine scrolls, and flourishes used to create these famous patterns used on 19th century guns. This level of work costs more but takes the engravers art to the limit that can be done with a CO2 pistol and still have it priced within reason.

The is one of two Remingtons that John Adams, Jr. engraved and features patterns seen on original Remington Model 1875 revolvers. We’ll look more closely at this gun in Part 2.

In the Part 2 conclusion we will take a closer look at the detailed workmanship from Adams & Adams on these Colt and Remington CO2 models.

8 thoughts on “Go West Young Man Part 1”

  1. I can speak from experience on an engraved Umarex Nickel Peacemaker, since I own one. Very nice and reasonable for the quality of the engraving. I would have liked more engraving on the blackstrap. Too bad the Umarex Peacemakers are alloy framed, if they were steel they could be laser engraved. Uberti now has a replica of the Dalton Colt that is laser engraved. The revolver pictured in your article looks like it has the Colt pony on the side plate. Would be nice to see another blued Umarex engraved Peacemaker .

    • Yep, that’s a looker Charles. You made a fine combination there. Look back at my article on the Airgun Builder and the sample I called “The Frontier Scout”. Someone needs to order that one because it is close to the famous Colt .22 RF Frontier Scout models.

      • I’m actually preparing to order something like that. I’ve got some Bullseye Bucks I want to trade in to help pay for it. The Airgun Builder still does not have the 5.5″ nickel barrel and nickel trigger for the weathered frame or the weathered trigger for the nickel frame. I’m getting a little impatient waiting for them.

        So what I’m thinking about doing is simultaneously ordering a pair of Colt’s revolvers. One will be the nickel frame with 7.5″ weathered barrel, weathered hammer, weathered cylinder, and white medallion grips. The other will be the weathered frame with 7.5″ nickel barrel, nickel hammer, nickel cylinder, and black Ace-In-The-Hole grips.

        All that will be left is to give instructions to the builder technician to swap the triggers between the two revolvers. I’ve asked Pyramyd Air customer service what will be the best way to submit those instructions.

  2. What would be nice would be a true 31/2 barrel, with proper front sight. That would make for a fine looking nickel engraved revolver. Barra is saying Wells Fargo and rifled barrel Schofields are coming down the trail. Those would make excellent platforms for engraving,as would 4 3/4 barrel Peacemakers

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