The story goes that William Bonney and Tom Horn met in Las Vegas, New Mexico, when Tom was just 15. Billy, almost as young, had five notches on the butt of a Colt. But Tom had teethed on pistols in Missouri, and right away called Bonney’s bluff for a shooting match. No doubt time has since treated them both kindly—both are said to have shot aces out of playing cards and split them edgeways, and to have shattered airborne bottles. Evidently the contest did nothing to endear the marksmen to each other. Billy took Tom around to the Baca Corral, where they would have some privacy, and lined up 12 matches on a rail. “You go first,” he said. “Light a match. I’ll go next. Like that.” Tom, wise beyond his years, swung hard at Billy’s jaw. As Bonney picked himself up, Tom took one match from each row. “We’ll shoot five,” he said. “That way, when I’m done, we’ll both have a live one in the cylinder.” The sequel is probably as credible as that preamble: Tom lit two matches from 30 feet. Billy the Kid lit one and clipped two in half. What’s certain is that both men went on to live by their guns and to die at the hands of lawmen.

Firearms carried by notorious villains and by men of the badge (some of whom proved as crooked as their prey) figure heavily in Old West lore. Bill Hickok’s 1851 Colt Navys, for example.Despite the obvious advantages of cartridge arms, cap-and-ball revolvers remained in common use through the 1870s. The first Pony Express riders were issued two Colt Navys. Later, to reduce weight, they got just one. An 86-grain bullet driven by 25 grains of blackpowder killed assailants handily. James Butler Hickok saw no need to replace his two 1851 Colts. He practiced with them regularly and was said to shoot both cylinders dry at each day’s end to keep fresh powder in the chambers. Not only skilled with his pistols—holstered butt-forward—Hickok was ice-cool under threat. He took careful aim and could fire accurately with either hand. In one confrontation, a fellow shot at Wild Bill from a great distance. Hickok calmly drove a bullet through the man’s heart. The reported range: 100 yards. Though Wild Bill’s exploits are well chronicled, and his marksmanship unquestioned, 100-yard bullseyes in gunfights must have been rare. Even an expert firing a cap-and-ball Colt from a rest would have trouble keeping all his shots in a grain bucket, let alone a man’s heart, at such range. Outlaws who may have suspected so still gave Hickok a wide berth. Jack McCall dared not face him, but sneaked up behind Wild Bill in a Deadwood, South Dakota, saloon. Hickok was playing cards there on August 2, 1876, uncharacteristically with his back to the door. McCall shot him in the back of the head with a Colt .45. A follow-up shot at the bartender failed when the pistol misfired…

Read more at Guns Of The Old West.


  1. <cite class="fn">rickb8</cite>

    You guys should do more articles about NCOWS. SASS isn’t the only game in town and NCOWS works very hard to be historically correct and accurate.

  2. <cite class="fn">Ohiogunr</cite>

    Dave Tutt was the man Wild Bill was said to have killed with a shot through the heart, but I think the distance was reported to have been more on the order of 75 yards, still a long way with a ’51 Navy!


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