Firearms of the American West
In 2 volumes: 1803 - 1865, and 1866 - 1894
By Louis A. Garavaglia and Charles G. Worman

4 February 1999
By Earl Perry

Firearms of the American West, in 2 volumes, 1803 - 1865, and 1866 -1894, by Louis A. Garavaglia and Charles G. Worman.  University Press of Colorado. ISBN 0-87081-466-4 and 0-87081-483-4.

Garavaglia was an assistant technical editor for the American Rifleman and is a mechanical designer.  Worman is Curator of the USAF museum at Wright-Patterson.

These are terrific.  Exhibit size, slick paper, beautifully proofed and printed; full of diagrams and period photographs: of people posed alive and dead after the stilted fashion of the times, some of the pictures being of great beauty and familiar to students of the storied, parallel pre-USGS expeditions including Powell's (there are shots of Steward in Glen Canyon and A.H. Thompson that I had not previously seen); of pieces treasured in collections and dug up beside the Santa Fe Trail; of weaponry of the military, civilians, and indians, outlaws and lawmen, divided into chapters on long arms, shotguns, and pistols.  Well indexed and simultaneously heavily and unobtrusively annotated.  Professionally designed.  The books cover the blackpowder era exhaustively and stop when the '94 and '95 Winchesters, '99 Savage, and adaptations to the '93 Marlin and Krag-Jorgensen bring gunfire to a point where advances become incremental, a point not much shy of where we are now.

These books show that ease of style that comes from perfect mastery of a topic.  Advertisements, letters, dispatches, orders, reports are seamlessly integrated into the text.  There are longueurs when actions are described but not diagrammed; you can get into descriptions of camming surfaces and rotating transverse pinions with projecting pawls that could have used some mechanical drawings.  On the other hand, they lead one through all the mazes of .45-70s, .45-90s, .45-110s, .45-2 4/10", .50-110s of the bison slaughter decade, covering not just the great names like Sharps and Maynard, Remington and Winchester, but also the less well-known like Bullard and Peabody, along with modifications to the long-barreled poison-slingers such as were produced by the great Freund and the young upstart Browning.  All the fabled shots, such as Dixon at Adobe Walls or Buckshot Roberts on Dick Brewer during the Lincoln County War, are here, but there are also bits of hard information on just how accurate the old-timers really were and how far their weapons really did carry.

You have to be something of an aficionado to do more than poke around in books like this or use them to settle immediate questions.  But I am; I read them as one would read a novel.  I confess a fondness for the period depicted in the second volume, a fondness that started as a kid and was confirmed when I picked up (and replaced) an ancient, black, corroded .44 rimfire case near a ruin along Pecos River.



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