Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Pistols and Handguns:
There are a references in the journals of the mountain men regarding the use of handguns.  It is known that the handgun was a constant and necessary accessory of the fur trade.  Often a man would have two pistols, carried in holsters on his saddle (horse pistols).  
Because of the short effective range of these guns, whether smoothbore or rifled, they were probably only used as a defensive weapon of last resort.  A majority of these handguns were single
barreled smoothbores of the horse-pistol type, well adapted for both ball or heavy buckshot, although some mountain men preferred rifled pistols.  Ignition systems included both flint and percussion..  It has been suggested that the caliber of the pistol was the same as the rifle carried by the Mountain Man so a single bullet mold would serve to provide ammunition to both guns.  However, I’ve found no documentation thus far to confirm this.
Pepperbox Revolving Pistols and true revolvers were beginning to appear by the very end of the Mountain Man period.  Samuel Colt initiated production of the Colt-Paterson revolver in 1836, and by 1842 some 2,000 of these pistols had been manufactured.  For more about the Colt-Paterson revolvers.