John Wayne’s film career spanned more than three generations, from 1930, when he starred in his first Western, The Big Trail, to 1976, when he made his last film, The Shootist. The Western cinematic legacy he left chronicles almost the entire history of this uniquely American film genre.
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Up until 1930, the tall, rugged-looking man from Winterset, Iowa, had been working as an extra, but he had determination and a look that caught the eye of film director Raoul Walsh in 1929. The next year, he gave the young actor—named Marion Morrison at the time—his first big break in the 1930 epic The Big Trail. Walsh also changed Morrison’s name to John Wayne. Although the film was not a big money maker, Wayne caught the attention of movie studios, and he spent the next nine years making “B” Westerns and building a reputation as a film star. Many of his early films were remakes of old Ken Maynard silent movies, with Wayne always playing a character named John (John Drury, John Steele, John Mason, John Trent, etc.) and riding a magnificent white stallion named Duke.
In the early years of Western cinema, guns and gun rigs were glamorous, and the famous Bohlin buscadero holsters appeared in numerous films. Wayne wore a fancy carved, two-tone holster and cartridge belt made by Ed Bohlin in 23 Westerns made for Republic Pictures and Lone Star Productions, beginning with Riders of Destiny in 1933. In 1936, when he filmed Born to the West, Wayne switched to a handsome, hand-tooled Heiser outfit with a silver Bohlin buckle and tip and #714 holster. Wayne wore the H.H. Heiser outfit from 1936 through the first film he produced, 1947’s Angel and the Badman.
In 1939, he made the transition from “B” movies to big screen star as the Ringo Kid in John Ford’s epic Stagecoach. From the moment Ford zoomed in on Wayne spin-cocking his Winchester Model 1892, his place in film history was established. He repeated the stunt in dozens of Westerns, most notably in his Oscar-winning role as crusty, one-eyed Marshall Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. This time he charged four bandits on horseback with the Model 1892 in his right hand and a sixgun blazing away in his left—while riding with the reins in his mouth!
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With few exceptions, John Wayne carried a Colt Single Action Army, and more often a faded blue gun with wood grips. His trademark two-tone suede cartridge belt and tan leather holster were first seen in 1953’s Hondo. According to John Bianchi, the original holster and gun belt were given to Wayne by his friend, famed Western stuntman and second unit director
Yakima Canutt. The two-tone rigs (there were more than one) used a skirtless holster and light tan, soft-suede, money belt-style cartridge belt with contrasting brown bullet loops. Wayne liked that particular style and wore it in almost every film after Hondo. The color tones changed over the years. as did the shape of the holster, but the two-tone rigs remained Wayne’s favorite. He wore them in The Searchers, Chism, Rio Lobo, True Grit, Rooster Cogburn and The Cowboys, among others.
Air Venturi’s Take
John Wayne began carrying blued, 5½-inch-barreled Colts midway through his Western film career. The new antique-finished, John Wayne Peacemaker air pistol from Air Venturi weighs just a little less than a real .45 Colt Peacemaker at around 32 ounces, but aside from that, there is a lot more in common with the look and feel of this gun. (The one big difference among a few design requirements for an air pistol is the addition of a requisite manual safety, but this is well hidden under the frame, just forward of the triggerguard).
Dimensionally, the John Wayne Peacemaker is nearly dead on. The rebounding hammer feels lighter, as there is no actual Colt-style mainspring, and it sits slightly back from the frame at rest, but cocking the hammer feels real enough! With six brass BB cartridges loaded into the cylinder, the gun works just like the real thing, right down to opening the loading gate and using the ejector rod to punch out the spent shells. Each time you work the hammer, the cylinder rotates to the next chamber and the CO2 capsule stored inside the grip is set to release a single charge sealed to the back of the BB cartridge. The .177-caliber steel travels downrange at around 410 fps.
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Unlike some of the BB cartridges in use, the Colt loads the BB in the base of the cartridge (where the primer would usually go) rather than into the nose of the bullet, and the brass cases look more authentic because they do not have plastic tips.
The John Wayne commemorative’s distinctive features include the aged finish like so many of the Colt Single Actions used in his films, and come fitted with a pair of John Wayne “Duke” medallions inlaid into each grip panel. While these grips are actually plastic, they look more like wood than a lot of wooden grips! The frame is stamped with the Colt logo on the right and Colt patent dates and the “Rampant Colt” on the left. It looks like a Colt should look. The right side of the barrel is also etched in white with “Duke Colt Single Action Revolver,” while the right side has an official John Wayne licensing stamp.
I tested the John Wayne Peacemaker at a distance of 25 feet, clustering six .177-caliber BBs into a 2.5-inch group. Aside from being accurate, the Peacemaker fits the classic John Bianchi Frontier Gunleather “Duke Special” rig just right, making it ideal for a John Wayne-style draw if you wear the holster just forward of your back pocket.
The most remarkable feature of this John Wayne Peacemaker, however, is the price, at just $150. The John Wayne Peacemaker is also available with a blued or nickel plated finish, and in both .177 caliber BB and .177 caliber (4.5mm) pellet versions, exclusively from Pyramyd Air; an extra six BB cartridges sell for $10, but you’ll want to fill all 30 of the “Duke Special’s” bullet loops, but just be sure to leave the center loop open for a .45-70 round, pilgrim! For more information, visit pyramydair.com or call 888-262-4867.
Specifications: Colt John Wayne Peacemaker
• Caliber: .177 (BB), .177 (Pellet)
• Barrel: 5½ inches
• OA Length: 11 inches
• Weight: 32 ounces (empty)
• Grips: Polymer
• Sights: Fixed blade front, notch rear
• Action: SA, CO2
• Finish: Antiqued blued, blued, nickel
• Capacity: 6-shot
• MSRP: $150
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This article originally published in the Winter 2016 issue of GUNS OF THE OLD WEST®, print and digital subscriptions to GUNS OF THE OLD WEST are available here.