Book Review: Arming the West

Published in 2008, “Arming the West” is, as it self-describes, “a fresh new look at the guns that were actually carried on the frontier.” Herbert Houze used the sales records of the Shuyler, Hartley, and Graham company to compile a survey of the makes and models of firearms actually shipped to the frontier states and territories from 1868 to 1886. The romantic view of the frontier would have every man (and many a woman) armed with a Winchester 1873 and Colt Peacemaker – but the reality was very different. Colts and Winchesters were expensive guns, and many settlers had plenty of expenses to eat up their whole savings without buying a flashy premium firearm. Instead, many bought utilitarian arms from second-tier manufacturers or surplus arms form the US Civil War or European armies.

Shuyler, Hartley, and Graham was by no means the only wholesale supplier of arms in the US at the time, but they were one of the largest, and their sales records provide a representative picture of what was being sold overall. Houze has broken down the sales by date and by state/territory, which gives a further interesting differentiation of what sorts of guns were popular in which parts of the frontier – the needs of Montana were very much different from those of Texas!

“Arming the West” was published in 2008, and is widely available through Amazon and other booksellers.


  1. Does Houze tabulate the total sales to answer what were the most popular guns shipped by Shuyler, Hartley, and Graham to the Old West?

  2. Not the american west but south western ontario Canada near Mitchell if you know it Dennie
    The first settler into our area was in the late 1840’s and he brought the flintlock Brown Bess he or his father had used in the Napolionic wars complete with bayonet
    The second gun was bought as a barrel and percussion lock in London Ontario with money from the first load of wheat off the farm .It was about 50 cal. and you can see the barrel was bored off center. The owners were wood workers and stocked the gun in wild cherry from their farm
    The gun from the farm across the road was a flint lock single barreled fowling piece from scotland marked REDFERN in about 14 gauge.The story was that it was often used on passenger pigeons in the wheat
    The gun from the next farm over the creek was an american kentucky style gun stocked in striped maple with a Remington signed barrel. This was probably due to the fact that the owner was stone mason who worked on the Erie canal in the summer It appears to be percussion but the lock is missing
    The last gun was a cheap percussion fowler that my family may have brought up from the states or bought in england before emigrating
    The story of these guns is the story of our different countries here in France I rescued from the attic the two percussion shotguns that belonged to my wifes great great grandfather. They were rusted and broken but they are history

  3. The price differences between “new” and “Milsurp” could make all the difference. The 1908 Sears catalogue lists Winchester Model 1907 Self-Loaders at $18.90. A Marlin 1893 in 32-40 was £13.16. However a “sporterised” Vetterli (with 20 free cartridges) would cost you $7.00, and if you were really on a budget a cut down Springfield converted to breech loader in 45-70 would set you back all of $3.75!

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