Blue Jean History…Seriously

Thanks to True West Magazine for this content – you can view the original post here

The True Blue Story Behind the West’s Toughest Trousers:

 Digging through the ashes to uncover the tale of the frontiersman who made blue jeans possible.

miners nevada california levi strauss true west
These miners used a variety of suspenders to hold up their Levi’s jeans in this 1895 photo of them at California’s Manzanita gravel mine on the San Juan Ridge in Nevada County.
– Courtesy Dr. Robert J. Chandler –

Everyone knows his name, and everyone thinks they know his story. He’s Levi Strauss, the man who made the first blue jeans possible. But he’s also a figure of grand myth because the company he founded lost its historical records in the 1906 earthquake and fire in San Francisco, California. The real story was left in the ashes, but after spending 24 years as the company’s historian, I can right the historical record.

he week of December 10, 1894, was drizzly and cold in Benson, Arizona Territory. When the Southern Pacific shrieked into town, the passengers who stepped off the train were bundled up against the chill. Two of them were substantial, bearded men who walked directly into the lobby of the Grand Central Hotel. There, they signed the register: Adolph Sutro and Levi Strauss.

The clerk, no doubt pleased to have such distinguished men as guests, gave them first-class rooms, reasonable rates and the best of meals, just as the Grand Central advertised. The clerk and the hotel’s other guests thought they knew the identities of these illustrious visitors. But they were wrong.

The two gentlemen were impostors.

The real-life Sutro and Strauss were in San Francisco, California, that week, attending to their personal business.

Sutro, a Comstock Lode icon who invested his mining tunnel fortune into real estate, had just been elected mayor of the city and was preparing for the upcoming visit of Gen. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army. Strauss, the president of Levi Strauss & Co., was a merchant, philanthropist and the man behind the popular copper-riveted denim “Two Horse” work pants. He was in court telling Judge JCB Hebbard why he couldn’t serve on the grand jury that term.

Whoever those men in Benson were, the faux Sutro and Strauss had themselves a good time, playing off the recognition of celebrities many thought they knew well.

levi strauss true west
Even the famous company that Levi Strauss built and founded did not discover his true story until recently. The blue jeans innovator is shown here, circa 1890.
– All images Courtesy Levi Strauss & Co. Archives unless otherwise noted –

A Figure of Grand Myth

For decades, the Levi Strauss & Co.’s story about Strauss, the founding of the company and the invention of blue jeans went like this: Strauss was born in Bavaria, Germany, in 1829, came to America and worked with his brothers in New York and Kentucky, then took a clipper ship to San Francisco, California, in 1850. There, he noticed that miners’ pants kept ripping, so he made a pair out of some tent canvas that he’d brought with him from New York. Later, he worked with a tailor in Reno, Nevada, to put rivets in the trousers and, at some point, dyed them indigo blue.

It’s a fun story, but it’s pure fabrication. Here’s how it really happened.

Bavarian-born Strauss emigrated with his mother and sisters to New York in 1848. His two older brothers were already there, and he worked in their wholesale dry goods business.

In 1853, Strauss took the Panama route to San Francisco to open up a West Coast branch of the family business, distributing the fine dry goods that his brothers shipped to him. His customers were general stores and men’s haberdasheries, and they served the small villages and growing cities of the frontier West.

In 1871, a Russian immigrant named Jacob Davis, living in Reno, Nevada, started making work pants out of cotton duck and denim material, reinforcing the stress points with metal rivets. He wanted to patent this innovation, but needed a business partner. He turned to his fabric supplier, Strauss, and the two men received U.S. patent #139,121 on May 20, 1873. Within weeks, Levi Strauss & Co. began to manufacture and sell copper-riveted blue denim “waist overalls.” These two immigrants had invented the most American piece of clothing: blue jeans.

Strauss had his finger on the pulse of so much that we associate with the West, starting with the riveted pants. He knew that the Western states were filled with workingmen who labored as ranchers, lumberjacks, railroaders, teamsters, cowboys and miners. Those tough trousers were just what the tailor ordered.

But Strauss’s interests ranged farther, and his fame brought influence and, sometimes, danger.

Blow His Head Off

Take the case of Antonio Gagliardo. He was a failed store owner from Calaveras County, California. After declaring bankruptcy in 1885, he took off for Los Angeles. Recalling his former dry goods supplier, the wealthy and well-known Strauss, Gagliardo mailed Strauss a request to find him a store clerking job. Strauss sent him $50 and a kind note, but instead of being grateful, Gagliardo exploded with rage.

levi strauss co advertisement true west
The art for an 1897 flyer, advertising the strength of Levi Strauss & Co.’s copper-riveted pants, has a unique feature—the face of Levi Strauss himself.

He wrote Strauss again and told him he had 10 days to get him a job or he would “blow his head off.”

Strauss had friends in San Francisco who knew Gagliardo, and they advised him to call the police, but Strauss said the poor man was simply “overexcited by his troubles.”

When Gagliardo showed up in San Francisco, though, Strauss finally paid attention and alerted the chief of police, who had the man arrested and tossed in jail. The case never came to trial because Strauss refused to prosecute. Why?

Gagliardo “promised to refrain from carrying his sanguinary promises into execution.” He kept his promise.

Infamous Customers

Some of Strauss’s customers were famous, and even infamous.

Shaffer & Lord, of Tombstone, Arizona Territory, sold Strauss’s riveted clothing and dry goods for many years; who knows how many customers were perusing their shelves as the shots from the O.K. Corral rang out nearby on that October day in 1881?

tombstone levi strauss true west
In Tombstone, Arizona Territory, the mercantile store Shaffer & Lord carried Levi Strauss & Co.’s products on its shelves during 1881, the year of Tombstone’s famous O.K. Corral gunfight.

Joseph Goldwater bought dry goods from the firm in San Francisco and then took off for the “land of the rattlesnake and the tarantula” without paying, turning the goods over to a partner in Yuma named Isaac Lyons. Hearing that the law was on their trail, Goldwater and Lyons barricaded themselves into a store, armed with shotguns. When the U.S. marshal showed up, though, they quietly surrendered.

Whoever his customers were, Strauss had a strong pulse on his business. Transportation was key to commercial success for his California merchants, so he was especially interested in improvements in shipping. When he could, he had a hand in these improvements. In 1895, he gave $25,000 to help thwart the “Octopus”—the Southern Pacific Railroad, which had a stranglehold on Western freight rates. Strauss, sugar magnate Claus Spreckels and others founded the San Francisco and San Joaquin Valley Railway, which, for a time, gave shippers, large and small, an alternative to the Southern Pacific, and it was later sold to the Santa Fe Railroad.

levi jeans true west
This family needed their Levi’s jeans for their rugged outing along the Colorado River in 1906.
– Courtesy Dr. Robert J. Chandler –

Not So Serious?

Strauss was serious about commerce, and looking at his stern face in his surviving photos, you would think he was serious about everything. But the historical record offers hints that he also had a warm and even hilarious side.

In 1888, he let one of his customers use his books to check the credit ratings of mutual store accounts. The customer, dry goods merchant Henry Lash, sometimes sent his 18-year-old son Samuel in his stead. Samuel was always in awe of the famous Strauss and deeply impressed that the great man insisted on being called Levi and not Mr. Strauss. As Samuel later said, “I still remember Levi Strauss as one of the finest, kindest and friendliest gentlemen I’ve ever met.”

ming levi strauss jeans true west
Mining wasn’t the only big business in California when Levi Strauss arrived in San Francisco during the Gold Rush. He and everyone else needed to eat, and farmers were as important to commerce as were dry goods merchants like Strauss. Agriculture workers, like these men in turn-of-the-20th-century Elk Grove, wore Levi’s jeans as they manned their machinery.

Then there’s hilarious: in the late 1880s, the company began to print colorful flyers about the riveted clothing, with illustrations demonstrating the strength of the pants. In 1897, the firm put a new flyer into circulation. It featured a man in a red shirt and riveted denim trousers, hanging onto a fence by his hands and knees, as a large dog grips the man’s pants with its jaws. On the fence is a large handbill advertising the Levi Strauss & Co. patent riveted clothing. At the bottom of the flyer are the words, “Never Rip, Never Tear, I Wish They Did Now.”

That’s funny enough, but here’s the best part: the man on the fence is Strauss. This says a lot about the founder’s personality and his belief in the power of advertising. It’s hard to imagine any of his contemporaries allowing themselves to be a figure of fun in the name of sales.

miners in levi strauss jeans true west
Before Levi Strauss’s patent turned 10 years old, miners could be seen wearing his jeans at the Blue Eyes Mine in Placer County, California, in 1882.

Toughie with a Soft Spot

When Strauss died in 1902, newspaper headlines called him a merchant and philanthropist. Yes, he had built a multi-million dollar business, but he was also a man of deep compassion. He created scholarships at the University of California in Berkeley that are still in place today. He gave thousands of dollars to disaster relief all over the world. And he left equal amounts in his will to San Francisco charities aimed at children and the elderly.

miners levi strauss jeans true west
When frontier Texas cowboys wrestled their steers to the ground, they wore their tough Levi’s jeans to endure the grit and gore that could result from a day of branding.

Tributes to his character filled newspaper columns in the days after his death, and stories were shared at his funeral, all laudatory and heartfelt. But for my money, the comment made years later by one of the women who worked at his blue jeans factory sums him up best.

“He was tough, but a fine fellow.”

A member of Western Writers of America, Lynn Downey is the historian emeritus for Levi Strauss & Co. and author of Levi Strauss: The Man Who Gave Blue Jeans to the World, published by University of Massachusetts Press.

Tombstone News

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The Toughest News in the West The Tombstone Epitaph lives on…and on.

tombstone epitaph true west
In one of our nation’s most storied Wild West towns, Tombstone, Arizona Territory, C.S. Fly took this photograph of a crowd gathered in front of the town’s newspaper office from the front porch of his photography gallery across the street. The daily Prospector, launched in 1887, served as competition to The Tombstone Epitaph weekly.
– Courtesy Bob Love –

The Old West was filled with colorful names—none more so than The Tombstone Epitaph, the oldest continuous newspaper in Arizona.

Former Apache agent John Clum, who was just 29, helped found the paper soon after arriving in the silver mining boomtown in early 1880. He’d already owned and operated a publication in Florence, so he was no novice to the business.

When he got to Tombstone, Clum enlisted a couple of partners to put the operation together (the ownership group changed several times over the next two years).

Clum claimed that he came up with the name himself, contrary to stories that others had suggested it. That first issue included a Clum-authored article that trumpeted, “No Tombstone is complete without its epitaph,” evidence of the publisher’s Eastern education and natural wit.

Clum, who headed the local vigilante group and became mayor in January 1881, was pro-Republican, pro-business and pro-law ’n’ order, and so was his newspaper.  He was friends with the Earp brothers and the Epitaph made no bones about its opposition to the Cowboy faction.  The coverage of the famed 1881 street fight was decidedly one-sided in favor of the Earps and Doc Holliday.

Clum pulled up stakes in 1882 and sold his interest in the newspaper. The owner over the next several years is hard to track, and the newspaper’s political stance bounced back and forth. Tombstone began to fade after the silver ran out later that decade. The Epitaph continued to publish, but only on a weekly basis by the 1890s.

But it was still vital to the community. Thirty years later, the Epitaph helped finance and oversee Tombstone’s first Helldorado celebration in 1929.  Researchers began using its archives to write books and articles, and the paper itself featured more Old West historical sketches, helping to keep the local heritage alive, even as the town declined.

But the modern foundation was established in the mid-1970s, when Michigan businessman Harold Love entered the picture. Love had a dream of Tombstone as a tourist destination, so he bought up and renovated several Tombstone landmarks, including the O.K. Corral, Schieffelin Hall, the Crystal Palace—and the Epitaph

Love and his associates made a deal with the University of Arizona, whose journalism students would gain real-life experience by putting out two local news issues per week.  Meanwhile, a new national and international edition would print history articles on a monthly basis.

That arrangement has worked well for more than 40 years, with many subscribers to the two editions accessing the papers online.  There’s no end in sight.

If Tombstone is the “town too tough to die,” then the Epitaph is the “newspaper too strong to write its obituary.”

Badlands, Bison & Rough Riders

Thanks to True West Magazine for this content – check out their original post at

Badlands, Bison and Rough Riders Medora, North Dakota, is the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Every summer visitors to Medora can enjoy horse-drawn wagon tours of the historic North Dakota town that future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, first visited in 1883 on a hunting expedition. The natural beauty of the Little Missouri Badlands inspired the New Yorker to buy the nearby Maltese Cross Ranch. – Medora Photo by Chuck Haney, Courtesy North Dakota Tourism –

Teddy Roosevelt first came to Medora, North Dakota, in September of 1883 to
hunt buffalo. He so loved the region that he later operated two ranches there, and included the town on a Presidential tour in 1903.

He later recalled that visit, saying the entire population of the Badlands “down to the smallest baby had turned out to greet me.” He “shook hands with them all” and regretted that he couldn’t spend more time with them.

The Roosevelt name still echoes at venues around town, including in the Medora Musical, an outdoor variety act based largely on the 26th president. Over three summer months, the patriotic, Western-style show draws as many as 125,000 people to the Burning Hills Amphitheatre.

“If you plan to go over a weekend, expect a sellout,” says Natalie Beard, executive director of the Medora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re quiet until June 1 and all of a sudden it’s a different place. Things start jumping.”

The Medora Musical (right) is presented for three months every summer in Medora’s Burnt Hills Amphitheatre in celebration of the life of Theodore Roosevelt and America. – John Weber, Courtesy Medora CVB –

The town has about 350 hotel rooms, but only 112 residents. Still, it ranks as North Dakota’s most popular destination, a place of great beauty on the western edge of the Badlands.

The biggest draw is the 70,000-acre Theodore Roosevelt National Park,
the entrance to which bumps against downtown. Visitors can take a 36-mile loop drive through the park, past grazing buffalo, wild horses and stunning rock formations.

The Marquis’ Dream

Set on the Little Missouri River, the town began in 1883 as a stop on the Northern Pacific Railway. Its founder, the 24-year-old French nobleman, Marquis de Mores, named it after his bride, Medora von Hoffman.

His two-story frame chateau, now part of a state historic park, has 26 rooms furnished in the finest 1880s style. Be sure to stop at the restored von Hoffman House nearby, built by Medora’s parents and recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Take a walking tour of Medora’s charming downtown, with its board sidewalks and quaint shops. The Rough Riders Hotel, completed in 1885 and originally called the Metropolitan, was renamed in honor of Roosevelt’s famed 1st Volunteer Cavalry, which stormed San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War.

The mansion Marquis de Mores built for his wife, Medora, is now part of a state historical park. The chateau has been restored and its 26 rooms  are decorated with 1880s furnishings. – Inset, Antoine Mores, True West Archives/Chateau Mores Courtesy Medora CVB –
The mansion Marquis de Mores built for his wife, Medora, is now part of a state historical park. The chateau has been restored and its 26 rooms are decorated with 1880s furnishings.
– Inset, Antoine Mores, True West Archives/Chateau Mores Courtesy Medora CVB –

The lobby doubles as a library with a massive stone fireplace and floor-to-ceiling shelves lined with books about Roosevelt.

The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame features a 15,000-square-foot interpretive center with exhibits that explain all aspects of the area’s Western heritage. Visit the Western Heritage & Cultures exhibit on the second floor of the museum to read about its honorees, including Sitting Bull and popular Western author Louis L’Amour.

At the Billings County Courthouse Museum, see exhibits about the pioneers and a fine gun collection. Former mayor and local historian Doug Ellison recommends reading the notes that cowboy actor Tom Mix wrote to the ranch family he worked for near town.

Mix married his third wife, Olive Stokes, in Medora in 1909. “She visited from Oklahoma and Mix pursued her here, intending to marry her,” says Ellison. “She came to buy horses and left town as Mrs. Tom Mix.”

After touring the museum’s Hall of Honor, which tells about sheriffs who’ve served Billings County, stop at Ellison’s Western Edge bookstore, where Ellison will tell you all about Fred Willard, a little-known Black Hills gunfighter who became the first sheriff. Ellison is writing a book about Willard.

Medora has a strong Custer connection, too. On May 28, 1876, as his command marched toward legend at the Little Big Horn, they camped along Davis Creek, about 15 miles southeast of town.

Unaware of what awaited them, Frank Neely and William Williams, who served under Maj. Marcus Reno and survived the fight, took time to carve their names on a sandstone bluff. Those etchings are still visible at a site called Initial Rock.

Leo W. Banks is an award-winning writer based in Tucson. He has written several books of history for Arizona Highways.

A pistoleer…

A Pistoleer Goes Semi Auto Frank James started riding the outlaw trail in the 1860s, armed with percussion revolvers, and ended up in the 20th century, packing a 1903 Hammerless Colt.

Outlaw Frank James, shown here in his later years, rode with his brother Jesse and the notorious James-Younger gang in the 1860s and ‘70s. He started riding the “owl hoot trail” with percussion black powder revolvers, but by the early 1900s, he packed a 1903 semi-auto, smokeless ammo pistol to defend his life. – Photo Courtesy Library of Congress –

While we generally think of the Wild West as the era of the revolver—and it certainly was—the last decade of the 19th century and the dawning of the 20th century saw the debut of the automatic pistol. Early autos like the Borchardt (1893), “Broomhandle” Mauser (1896), Luger (1900), and early 1900s Colts had become available and a small number were finding their way into the hands of Westerners. Men who had made their reputations with six-shooters were taking notice of the new semi-auto handguns and a few started packing these slab-sided auto pistols.

Notable frontier figures Bat Masterson and Buffalo Bill Cody and some lawmen owned auto pistols. One former outlaw, who, ironically, started his lawless career with percussion revolvers, chose a semi-auto sidearm for protection in the early 1900s. He was none other than Frank James, the older brother of the infamous Jesse James, and former Confederate guerilla raider, train and bank robber, and deadly member of the notorious James-Younger gang of the 1860s and ’70s.

The hammerless .32 Pocket Autos produced before 1915 are stamped on the right side of the slide “AUTOMATIC COLT/CALIBRE 32 RIMLESS SMOKELESS” in two lines because there were many black powder firearms still in service. – Courtesy Phil Spangenberger Collection –

Although Frank James had been living the straight and narrow life for years after his 1883 acquittal for robbery and murder, by 1904 circumstances required his packing a gun once more. What this ex-rebel raider chose as his last sidearm was a 1903 Colt Hammerless Pocket Auto in .32 ACP (Automatic Colt’s Pistol) chambering.

Introduced in 1903 as Colt’s second pocket auto, but its first automatic with a concealed hammer, the handy little handgun was called the “Model M,” and ad vertised as a nine-shot automatic with a magazine capacity of eight rounds, plus one in the chamber. It was also promoted as an ideal hideout pistol since it was “flat like a book in the pocket.” Another John Browning-designed pistol, the 1903 Hammerless traced its design principles back to Browning’s patent of April 20, 1897, and to December 22, 1903,which covered the concealed hammer design. While barrels on the first 71,999 guns measured four inches, all models after that had 33⁄4-inch barrels. With the exception of the later-produced military models, there was no magazine safety.

Standard finish on the .32 Hammerless was blue, although other coverings were offered. Grips varied throughout production, with three types of hard rubber Colt logo’d panels used up through 1924. Later, checkered walnut with the Colt medallion adorned those up through 1945. Few guns in Colt’s history can boast of the production numbers of the 1903 .32 Hammerless with a total of 572,215 manufactured between 1903 and 1945.

As with other Colt automatics to date, the 1903 Hammerless was a John M. Browning design, with a Dec. 22, 1903, patented improvement which covered the concealed hammer. Early ‘03s, like this circa 1905 example, had 4-inch barrels. Starting wi th ser. no. 72,000, guns had 33⁄4-inch barrels. – Phil Spangenberger collection –
As with other Colt automatics to date, the 1903 Hammerless was a John M. Browning design, with a Dec. 22, 1903, patented improvement which covered the concealed hammer. Early ‘03s, like this circa 1905 example, had 4-inch barrels. Starting wi th ser. no. 72,000, guns had 33⁄4-inch barrels.
– Phil Spangenberger collection –

In 1904, while Frank James and fellow ex-gang member Cole Younger were promoting “The Great Cole Younger and Frank James Historical Wild West Show,” trying to run it as an honest business, the owners had ideas of their own and brought in gamblers, con men, grifters and other lawless types. Concerned about the thugs the bosses were bringing with them, and after an attempt by the owners and managers at strong-arming the two former outlaws, Frank and Cole quit the show amidst a quarrel where threats were made and guns were drawn. From then on, both James and Younger “went heeled” once again.

Afterward, Frank went on a lecture tour and, while in Butte, Montana, later that year, a man who supposedly a relative of a cashier killed in the 1876 Great Northfield Raid, threatened to kill Frank James. Not one to shirk a fight, James armed himself with the 1903 Colt Hammerless. When the local authorities asked Frank to leave town, the old outlaw replied, “I will go when I am ready.” Fortunately, the would-be shooter, who was armed with a .45 caliber wheelgun, was subdued before Frank arrived at the theater where he was speaking. Even at 60-plus years old, Frank James and his 1903 Colt Hammerless were not “a pair to draw to.”

What do you think?

Some Bad Blood…

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Some Bad Beef Between Robert Ford and Jefferson Davis Hardin

Jefferson davis hardin
Jefferson Davis Hardin and family.

There’s a story told that the killer of Jesse James and the brother of John Wesley Hardin once took up arms against one another.

Robert Ford and Jefferson Davis Hardin (pictured) were in Walsenburg, Colorado in 1891. It’s unclear what the beef was over, but they reportedly shot it out from a distance of about arm’s length.  The two were drunk and bad shots.  Both were wounded, not seriously.  Ford and Davis were arrested, charged and fined and asked to leave town, which they did. Both were later gunned down in separate incidents.

Virgil’s Six Gun


Content courtesy of True West Magazine – check out the original post here


Virgil’s Sixgun At the Old West’s best-known gunfight, Virgil Earp may have used this state-of-the-art sixgun.

Virgil Earp
Virgil Earp

Although the infamous Gunfight Near the OK Corral is arguably the best known and most written about shootout in the Old West, little is known about exactly which guns were used by the combatants. The only firearms that can be identified with any certainty are the two 7½-inch barreled, .44-40 Colt Single Action Army revolvers used by Billy Clanton and Frank McLaury. These Frontier Six-Shooters were retrieved at the site, right after the fight and were recorded. Identification of any other firearms, such as Wyatt Earp’s sixgun, the shotgun used by Doc Holliday, or the Winchester rifle fired by Tom McLaury, is strictly speculative. There is one gun however, at least in this firearms student’s mind, as well as that of a number of OK Corral aficionados, that quite probably saw action during this legendary fracas. That weapon is Virgil Earp’s sixgun.

Virgil was known to have preferred, and often carried, a Smith & Wesson (S&W) New Model No. 3 revolver, in .44 S&W Russian caliber. It is quite likely that it was this same shooting iron that he had tucked in his waistband when he, as Tombstone’s chief of police and a deputy U.S. marshal, confronted the “cowboys,” and moments later fired during the gunfight.

Although there were several variations of the New Model No. 3 produced—including the Target, Turkish and the Frontier models—based on production dates of the various versions, it would have been the standard model Single Action that Virgil owned at the time of the OK Corral fight. Introduced in 1878, S&W’s New Model No. 3 represented the last of the company’s No. 3 series, and marked the pinnacle of their top-break single-action design. Also referred to in S&W’s 1883 catalog as the “Army Model,” the sixgun retained much of the basic profile of the earlier American, Russian and Schofield revolvers, but with a less-pronounced hump (sometimes called the “knuckle”) at the rear top of the back strap of the grip, along with a redesigned, rounded butt shape (considered by many as the most comfortable large-frame single-action grip style ever produced). While it continued the use of the earlier S&W-style, circular or “bow type” trigger guard, the distinctive hooked or spurred trigger guard, as found on the Second and Third Model Russians, was offered as an option. Another factory offering was an optional attachable shoulder stock.

Although no one knows with any certainty which gun Virgil Earp (above) carried during the infamous Gunfight Near the OK Corral on October 26, 1881, he likely relied on his S&W New Model No. 3, single-action revolver in .44 Russian caliber. Chambered for a number of cartridges, it was eventually offered in more calibers than any other S&W top-break model, including .44 Henry rimfire, .32-40, .320, .38 S&W, .44 S&W American, .45 Schofield, .45 Webley, .450 revolver and more. – Courtesy Rock Island Auction Co. –
Although no one knows with any certainty which gun Virgil Earp (above) carried during the infamous Gunfight Near the OK Corral on October 26, 1881, he likely relied on his S&W New Model No. 3, single-action revolver in .44 Russian caliber. Chambered for a number of cartridges, it was eventually offered in more calibers than any other S&W top-break model, including .44 Henry rimfire, .32-44, .320, .38 S&W, .44 S&W American, .45 Schofield, .45 Webley, .450 revolver and more.
– Courtesy Rock Island Auction Co. –

Internally however, the new Model No. 3 incorporated a number of improved parts, such as a rebounding hammer with a manual half-cock notch (standard on all New Models except those with factory target sights), an improved cartridge extractor mechanism, a shorter barrel extractor housing, and a better cylinder retention mode, which omitted the need for a separate cylinder catch and retaining screw.

This state-of-the-art automatic cartridge ejector (when opened fully) S&W featured the traditional fluted cylinder, and factory finish was either blued or nickel-plated. Barrel lengths varied from a short 3½ inches up to 8 inches, with the 6½-inch barrel being standard. Weighing in at around 2 pounds, 8 ounces with the 6½-inch tube, grips of checkered hard rubber with the S&W monogram logo, or walnut, were standard. With a total of 35,796 standard model No. 3 Single Actions manufactured up until 1912, all of the New Model No. 3’s frames were turned out by 1898, which qualifies them as antiques. However, back when Virgil faced the cowboys that blustery day of October 26, 1881, if he was packing his S&W New Model No. 3, he would have been confident in the knowledge that he was facing danger with one of the most advanced six-shooters of the day!