As much as we romanticize about the Old West and famous gunfights, there weren’t that many memorable ones when you add them all up; in fact, darn few when you’re talking face-to-face standoffs. The Gunfight at the OK Corral was an exception, same too for the famous shootout between Wild Bill Hickok and David Tutt. Most gunfights were spontaneous, unexpected happenchance, and the participants rarely hand time to think about it like the Earps and Doc Holliday did on their walk to the OK Corral in Tombstone, or Hickok had glaring across the town square at Dave Tutt in Springfield, Missouri. More often it was a free for all amidst a bank robbery, or just the better man in a barroom brawl that turned to gunplay. Most men already had their guns drawn before a shootout began. The legendary quick draw artist was more myth than fact, even Buffalo Bill Cody noted that his friend Wild Bill Hickok wasn’t was as fast as many of the men he killed, “[Bill] made up his mind to kill the other man before the other man had finished thinking. He would just quietly pull his gun and give it to him,” wrote Cody. “That was all there was to it.”
In most instances it wasn’t so much because a man couldn’t be fast with a gun, he could, or deadly accurate, many were, but rather because holster designs of the era simply did not lend themselves to pulling a gun and firing quickly. Many had full flaps, like military holsters, others had half flaps, and those with open tops were designed to deeply seat a revolver and protect as much of the gun as possible from the elements. Exposed triggerguards were rare; all of a revolver that usually extended above leather was the grips. Packing Iron, one of the greatest books even written on the history of western gun leather, shows very few holsters that left the triggerguard exposed; even California Pattern holsters rarely allowed more than the upper third of the triggerguard to be uncovered. What we think of as a quick draw rig didn’t even begin to appear until the late 1880s and early 20th century (with the exception of the Bridgeport Device). Most of the holster styles we became familiar with on TV and in the movies from the 1930 to the 1960s were the imagination of filmmakers and trick shot artists like Rod Redwing, Arvo Ojala and Andy Anderson.
Getting A Grip
Most Colt Single Action Army revolvers came from the factory fitted with walnut stocks; rosewood, ebony, and other more expensive woods were also available along with hand carved pearl grips (almost impossible to get today), but when it came to getting a solid purchase on a six-shooter, nothing worked better than ivory. It was often favored because it was porous and less apt to slip around in the hand. The use of rough checkering also made wood grips nearly the equal of ivory in the tactile surface department, but ivory was still king of the hill if you wanted to keep out of Boot Hill.
Today the same options are available to Cowboy Action Shooters, though ivory has become a very costly commodity. Then too, there are horn grips (rarely found in the Old West) like buffalo horn, elk, and stag, the latter providing exceptional texture. For the cost conscious, modern synthetics can duplicate the look, if not the actual feel of original 19th century SAA ivory grips. And there are modern grip styles that lend themselves to competitive (Please turn to page )
shooting that simply were not available a century and a half ago.
One of the best options in replacement grips for SAA revolvers has been around for decades, Eagle Grips, which makes a variety of authentic wood stocks, as well as elk, buffalo horn and Stag, but more popularly, Ultra Ivory. This synthetic is not your run of the mill white plastic seen so often as an up-priced option on Italian-made single actions. Ultra Ivory has the grain texture and look of ivory. Compared to ivory grips, which run between $400 and $500 plain, and as much as $750 with period correct rough checkering, Ultra Ivory can be had for less than $100, buffalo horn for $110 and elk for $200. SAA grips all need to be properly fit and Eagle will see to it for an additional $50 if you send them your gun. Unless one is adept at fitting grips it is worth the extra cost to get it done right.
Eagle has also come up with its own SAA grip design for competition called the Gunfighter grip (this design is also used by Ruger on the Vaquero models and originated with Eagle Grips). The Gunfighter has a pronounced rise above the thumb to help provide a more solid grasp. The cost is only $59.95 for the handsome one-piece rosewood stocks.
A SAA fitted with any of Eagle Grips Ultra Ivory, wood, or horn stocks is a better looking gun than one that comes out of the box unless you like varnished walnut. Sure, we’d all like real ivory, but even in the Old West, most men carried what they could afford and that was usually the grips that came with the gun. Eagle Grips gives today’s single action owners an option that cowpokes in the old ways never had. To find out more visit eaglegrips.com or call 800-323-6144.