If you are a fan of the romanticized Wild West, Hollywood westerns and cowboys, you may have often noticed that many on-screen shooters carry their revolvers in a holster backwards.
In 9 out of 10 cases, short-barrelled weapons in a belt holster are carried on the side of the right side with the handle backwards. The reason for this is extremely simple: most shooters are right-handed, and this position of the gun holster is the most optimal in terms of ergonomics. However, 19th century American gunfighters were of a different opinion and often carried their revolvers holster on the right side, but with the grip facing forward instead of backwards.
A still from the TV series “Deadwood”.
It would seem that it would be inconvenient to reach the revolver this way if the need arose, since the grip is positioned backwards. Hence the logical question: “Why then did some Wild West gunfighters carry their revolvers this way?”. Read more about this in our new article.
A little excursion into American history
During the American Civil War (1861-1865), the common revolver for professional cavalrymen was a secondary weapon to the saber they always held in their right hand.
Officers carried the revolver in a closed holster on the right side of their belt and with the grip forward for easier cross-drawing with the left hand while riding a horse. When the cavalryman was sitting in the saddle, it was much easier and quicker for him to reach across his body with his left hand and draw his weapon from the holster on his right side than to pull his hand back.
It was also discovered by officers that the inverted holster had a more comfortable position, especially when carried seated. That is why cavalry officers were most often taught to fire the revolver with the left hand and to wield the saber with the right.
But of course not all cavalry during the Civil War used this method of shooting and holstered weapons.
The American “Manual on the Use of the Sharps Rifle, Colt Revolver and Sabre” of 1861 explicitly states that many common soldiers were trained to holster their revolvers in the classic manner (on the right side of their belt) and to draw the weapon with their right hand, then only after their ammunition was used up, to drop or remove the weapon and draw their saber to a close attack.
Cavalry service in the United States in the nineteenth century was the most prestigious in the land forces. Many cavalrymen who served later became bounty hunters, sheriffs, marshals and other lawmen. At the same time, veterans of North American “hot spots” carried into civilian life the habit of holstering their revolvers in the cavalry manner.
Jeff Bridges playing the role of Bill Hickock (the most dangerous gunman of the Wild West) in “Wild Bill” movie.
The growing popularity of the method
Except that there was no practical need for it anymore: even so, the weapon was snatched most often with the right hand. Nevertheless, thanks to the veterans, a new tradition was formed that made it possible to recognize a retired cavalryman as a marksman with a high degree of probability.
Of course, as time went on, the tradition became fashionable, and many other non-American shooters began to carry the revolver in the Dragoon style as well.
However, some shooters went further and created a unique method of pulling the revolver from the holster, dubbed the Cavalry/Twist draw. This cavalry draw technique allowed shooter to twist his hand to draw the revolver from an upside down position at lightning speed through additional body movement.
It is known that one of the most dangerous real-life shooters of the Wild West, “Wild Bill” Hickock used the “cavalry/twist draw” technique and carried two revolvers on his belt with the grips facing forward. Hickock claimed that this method allowed him to draw his revolvers from the holster with a reverse grip and fire twice as fast as any other shooter.
Left picture: the classic method of pulling a revolver from the holster. Right picture: the cavalry/twist draw method.
We know from Bill Hickock’s biography that he was a Civil War hero, a professional scout, and an incredibly accurate and fast marksman. After the war, Wild Bill Hickock became a professional poker player and a real gunfighter, who participated in famous revolver duels after saloon scandals and shot all his opponents, quickly developing a reputation as the deadliest marksman in the entire Wild West. Hickock then became town marshal and sheriff, doing a quality job of apprehending deserters and bounty hunting.
Did this technique give an advantage?
Modern experts doubt that this technique of carrying a revolver really gave the shooter a head start. Even now it is difficult to pull an ordinary pistol out from behind the belt, and try to pull a revolver out from behind such a holster, neither a sawn-off front sight nor a sawn-off ram will help. In doing so, the revolver might just fall out.
To better understand the reasons for this carry, you have to look a little bit into the human anatomy and compare it to the specifications of the revolver, at least the Navi. If you pull the revolver from the “classical” position, you have to raise the arm up with the shoulder, and then return it by pushing the shoulder and arm to the firing position, thus, the body loses its stability. If you reach the revolver from the forward handle position, all you need to do is to rotate the hand and raise it to the firing line.
Thus, for a long gun, the forward handle option is more justified, as it wastes less effort, time and the shooter does not lose stability to make an accurate shot. Also, for the rider it adds more comfort when riding – the handle does not rest against the ribs when tilted.
With the advent of short revolvers and pistols, this technique became a thing of the past. But even now, many shooters carry their pistol on the front of their load because they think it helps them take it out faster.
Anyway, the use of this revolver carrying technique was actively used by experienced cavalrymen, both in the United States Army and the Confederate States Army during the Civil War. The revolver was in a closed holster, which was held high on the cavalryman’s right side, but was placed with the grip forward for a very quick cross-draw with the left hand and then reverse grip by the more experienced and lethal gunmen of the Wild West.