This weekend we celebrate a man named John Wayne

This weekend we celebrate a man named John Wayne

110 Years ago, in Winterset Iowa, a legend was born

By Dennis Adler

John Wayne had many memorable sayings, one of which has been on my desk for years, it is simply an honest observation of life that everyone can agree upon: “Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”

These three special John Wayne commemorative Signature Series Umarex Colt 5-1/2 inch barrel length Peacemakers cover the entire genre of Wayne’s western films. At top left 1939’s Stagecoach the only film where he didn’t carry a revolver but favored his now legendary Model 1892 large loop Winchester, at top right Wayne in his last film, The Shootist where he carried a pair of hand engraved Single Actions, bottom left a still from 1930’s Texas Cyclone where Wayne had a nickel plated Colt, and lower right from the 1956 John Ford film The Searchers where Wayne had a weathered Peacemaker with a 5-1/2 inch barrel.

For John Wayne it was how he lived, and though I never had the opportunity to meet him, over the years I have known several of his friends, including the late Hugh O’Brian (TV’s Wyatt Earp), and James Arness. It was Wayne who recommended Arness for the role of Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke (the producers originally wanted Wayne for the part). James Arness was very much like Wayne, a rock solid individual with deep convictions. Though we barely crossed paths in the 1960s when I had a short stint as a still photographer on the Gunsmoke set at CBS, 44 years later he wrote the Introduction to my biography on one of our mutual friends, John Bianchi. John is not only a friend, but a legendary holster maker who knew Wayne very well, and I learned a lot about John Wayne through Bianchi. Over the years he made some of the Duke’s signature holsters, as well as commissioning the bronze statue of Wayne by sculptor David Manuel, that stands in front of the John Wayne Birthplace and Museum in Winterset, Iowa.

In some of his earlier “B” Westerns Wayne used a nickel plated Colt, usually with a 5-1/2 inch barrel, but he also carried a 7-1/2 inch model in at least one early film. Pictured are the limited edition hand engraved nickel Peacemaker and weathered 5-1/2 inch pellet model.

“He was a man of his convictions,” Bianchi told me. Over the years, John, who is the world’s most famous holster maker and authority on carry techniques, kept trying to get Wayne to wear his gunbelt higher (and sometimes he did). “He started wearing it slung too low around his waist and too far back, but he liked it that way, that’s how he wore it most of the time. It became his style, it worked for him, and that was it.”

Wayne’s signature style was to wear his gunbelt low and the holster toward his right hip pocket. He still managed to get his six-shooter into action plenty quick, but not as fast as Montgomery Clift in this scene from Red River.

Today there are excellent copies of Wayne’s favorite two-tone rough out suede holster and cartridge belt, including a copy of the rig Bianchi made for Wayne, (one of which I am wearing in this article) but, it is what goes into those holsters that really becomes important, and aside from the superb Colt Single Actions that are still made today, there is now a complete line of Umarex Colt licensed CO 2 versions of Wayne’s favorite 5-1/2 inch barrel length Colt Peacemakers.

A weathered 5-1/2 inch Colt was the centerpiece of Red River, in which Wayne played a much darker character, cattleman Thomas Dunson. Opposite a youthful Montgomery Clift as Matt Garth, Dunson’s adopted son, the gun handling in Red River was exceptional. Here the author draws the 5-1/2 inch weathered John Wayne model from a copy of the Duke’s favorite two-tone rig.

Of all the Colts Wayne used in his films his favorite remained a simple weathered looking 5-1/2 inch model like any regular cowboy would have carried in the Old West. The Umarex John Wayne BB model is shown with a copy of The Duke’s favorite two-tone rig by John Bianchi.

The most exclusive John Wayne model currently available is the Limited Edition 5-1/2 inch hand engraved nickel plated Peacemaker. In his early films likeTexas Cyclone Wayne used a nickel plated gun. In 1933’s Telegraph Trail he even carried a 7-1/2 inch model.

With few exceptions Wayne carried weathered Colt Single Actions throughout most of his films. Barrel lengths varied but most often 5-1/2 inch guns were used. The current Shootist model is a weathered 5-1/2 inch pellet cartridge Peacemaker with a John Wayne Signature Series presentation case. The weathered Single Action became a Wayne trademark in The Searchers.

These guns span the length and breadth of his film career from the B Western days in the 1930s, when he often wielded a nickel plated Colt from the prop department, right up to his last film, The Shootist, in 1976, where he carried his own personal hand engraved Single Actions as gunfighter J.B. Books.

For the character of legendary gunfighter John Barnard “J.B.” Books, Wayne eschewed his traditional well worn Peacemaker in favor of his own personal pair of hand engraved and ivory stocked Single Actions. This was one film where Wayne believed the guns he carried were paramount to the character, Books was a professional gunfighter so the engraved revolvers seemed more appropriate.

The Shootist was a defining film for Wayne, who died three years later on June 11, 1979, shortly after celebrating his 72nd birthday. The first Shootist .177 caliber CO2 models were fully hand engraved and custom finished to match the Single Actions used by Wayne in the film, but they are now sold out. There are other hand engraved models in the John Wayne series from Pyramyd Air and you can still get a weathered Peacemaker with white grips and a John Wayne signature presentation box.

As an actor, whether in Westerns, war films, dramas or adventures, John Wayne the man always came through in each character from the rifle-toting Ringo Kid in Stagecoach to crusty old, one-eyed lawman Rooster Cogburn in True Grit, the warm and sentimental U.S. Cavalry Captain Nathan Brittles in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, the seemingly cold hearted Ethan Edwards, in The Searchers, and equally hard headed cattle baron Thomas Dunson in Red River. Wayne was never afraid to take on a role that made him less than likable if the character had deep convictions. There were two things in almost every one of his westerns that remained a constant, the strength of John Wayne’s character and a Colt Peacemaker in his hand. The Western cinematic legacy he left the world chronicles almost the entire history of this uniquely American film genre.

In a WWII film, if John Wayne had a handgun, it was a military issue Colt Model 1911A1, and what he did for the 1873 Colt Peacemaker in westerns, he did for the .45 ACP Government Model. It is with this heritage that Air Venturi and John Wayne Enterprises have introduced the first Colt Model 1911 John Wayne commemorative blowback action CO2 model.

To commemorate the 110th anniversary of Wayne’s birth on May 26, 1907 in Winterset, Iowa, this entire weekend is a celebration at the John Wayne Birthplace and Museum, and here at Pyramyd Air, where The Duke’s favorite revolvers have been recreated in .177 caliber BB and 4.5mm pellet cartridge firing models, from the rough and tumble weathered finished guns he used in most of his films, to the nickel models from early Westerns and handsomely engraved guns to honor his last film in 1976. (And don’t forget to check out the Lil Duke lever action BB rifle just for the kids.)

No matter how you chose to remember John Wayne this weekend, watching one of his films, or heading to the target range with a .45 Colt or a 5-1/2 inch 4.5mm pellet firing Peacemaker, he remains one of America’s most legendary actors, the embodiment of the cowboy way and the American way. Happy 110th Duke.

My special thanks to John Bianchi and Frontier Gunleather for supplying the John Wayne holsters for portions of this article. Next Tuesday is another special event, the One-Year Airgun Experience anniversary and our pick of the “Top Guns” in the single action, double action and semi-auto blowback action categories.

20 thoughts on “This weekend we celebrate a man named John Wayne

  1. In my modest collection of Umarex Peacemakers, I have a pr of the weathered Peacemakers, and a pair of nickel. I have the Shootist edition on order . Too bad we don’t get the European only DukeCarbine . Would complete the package.


    • That is one I would really like to se here as well. I am really waiting for a pellet cartridge loading lever action. I think it is possible to do, one just has to police their re-loadable brass. That would be the ultimate air rifle.


      • I have been banging the drum for a cartridge feeding lever rifle . The 94 is stop gap first generation technology. Hopefully bulk packs of cartridges could lower the price , and don’t shoot in high grass. Another possibility would be plastic versions of the revolver cartridges.


  2. That weathered finish look so genuine in photos, sort of a rat rod gun I like that. Do all the guns have the exact same finish or are they all unique? Great man, great guns, great article thank you! Got a model 06 Winchester yesterday, no finish,missing some screws and lots of character. Also picked up a 686 h&r front sight is missing only one cylinder .22 mag, that missing sight seems to be problematic with this gun.


    • I have several weathered finish Peacemakers and no two are the same, so would say each is unique in that respect.

      You should fix up that Winchester 06. Don’t know what to say about the H&R. Had a couple of them years ago, sold them, and they were in good condition. Never fired them.


  3. Of all the John Wayne series revolvers , theShootist looks the best , not just for its’ exquisite hand engraving , but the tea stained grips . I would have preferred an option of lightly Carmel aged ivory for the nickel guns at least. I think Umarex should offer a James Arness 7 1/2 inch barrel Peacemaker with stag grips . He was Matt Dillon. What a great run he had withGunsmoke. It would be a fitting testimonial . Maybe the beginning of a legendary lawman series.





  4. If I understand correctly, John Wayne’s Colt SAA’s from The Shootist were engraved weathered finished versions with the tea stained ivory grips. As you also said, the first CO2 0.177 Shootist replica Colt SAA’s were engraved weathered versions with the white grips and are sold out.

    I placed an order this weekend for the current Pyramyd Air listing for Colt Duke Shootist CO2 Weathered Pellet Revolver, Limited Edition. The picture for that listing shows a non-engraved revolver with a standard production serial number rather than a limited edition serial number. If this revolver is not engraved, then why is it called a “Shootist” revolver, and why does it show a standard production serial number in the picture instead of a number between 001 and 600?


    • Very good question. And the fine point of the Shootist Series may not have been clearly stated in my article. The Shootist edition is limited to only 600 examples. Out of the 600 with weathered finishes, 100 were set aside for custom engraving and a special finish as copies of the guns carried by John Wayne in the 1976 film. All 100 of those limited special editions have been purchased. The remaining guns out of the 600 total only have the weathered finish and standard grips, and come in the same John Wayne Signature series wood presentation case. You can also purchase the gun without the case. All of the weathered finish pellet-cartridge firing models in the John Wayne series are part of the 600 limited edition run. If you still want an engraved gun, you can order the nickel plated model with full custom hand engraving and off white Micarta grips. Those first 100 customers who scooped up the hand engraved Shootist guns got the same high quality pellet cartridge loading model as the hand engraved nickel versions, but with the custom blued finish and tea stained grips. Personally, I’d grab a nickel gun before they are all sold out, too.


      • At this time, I have three Colt SAA’s: (1) the standard Colt Peacemaker BB revolver with blued finish with white grips, (2) the U.S. Marshals Commemorative Peacemaker BB revolver with weathered finish and faux wood grips, and (3) the standard John Wayne Duke Colt SAA Pellet revolver with the nickel finish and faux wood grips.

        I’m treating the U.S. Marshals Commemorative Peacemaker and the John Wayne Duke Colt SAA more as collector’s items not to be used. For regular shooting, I was planning at some time to get a standard Peacemaker pellet revolver to pair with the standard BB revolver. Maybe I’ll purchase that standard Peacemaker pellet revolver with a Schofield revolver before the end of the summer.

        At this time it just seemed appropriate to purchase the Shootist revolver with the wooden case to add to my collector’s items. But I saw the pictures at Pyramyd Air with a standard production serial number and no engraving and was confused as to whether or not I was really purchasing a genuine replica of the Shootist revolver. I had passed on the earlier engraved version because I just didn’t want to spend that much more for it.

        After my Shootist revolver with the white grips arrives, would the white plastic grips be damaged if I attempted to tea stain them? If not, what would be the best way to tea stain them? Soaking them in hot tea or cold tea and for how long?


        • There is a guy on eBay who is tea aging the grips and selling the standard weathered finish revolvers with them but he is charging about $100 over the price of the revolver . Before ruining the medallion grips , I would call Pyramid and order a or if plain white grips . They don’t advertise them but they are available . They are around $30 dollars I would play with those first .



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