WILTZ: Our ancestors needed their gunsBecause so many anglers have successfully fished open water throughout our mild winter, I can’t go into my usual “the fishing season will soon be upon us” mode.
By: Roger Wiltz, The Daily Republic
Because so many anglers have successfully fished open water throughout our mild winter, I can’t go into my usual “the fishing season will soon be upon us” mode. The walleye spawn is kicking in, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed bank fishing for trout beneath the Randall Dam. The northern pike fishing on both Francis Case and below the dam is good, and with some effort, bass can be had from our area prairie ponds.
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By the end of our great Civil War, technology had brought the world to the end of the muzzleloader firearms era and the dawn of cartridge firing rifles and handguns. No one took greater advantage of this cartridge technology than the Colt and Winchester corporations. They were ready with guns that would revolutionize shooting forever.
In 1873 Colt unveiled its single-action Army “Peacemaker” revolver, the most recognizable and collectable firearm in the world. It was first issued in the .45 Long Colt caliber, and today it’s still being made by Colt.
The year of 1873 also witnessed the marketing of Winchester’s Model 1873 lever-action rifle — “The Gun that Won the West.” It was manufactured in Winchester’s own .32-20 WCF (Winchester Center Fire), .38-40 WCF, and .44-40 WCF calibers.
Thanks to someone’s genius at Colt, Colt decided to offer its SAA “Peacemaker” in Winchester’s .32-20, .38-40, and .44-40 calibers. This move gave Colt and Winchester owners the opportunity to feed both their arms from the same box of ammo. The year was 1878, and it would be a hard act for any arms manufacturer to follow.
Why had guns become so important to Americans? Shouldn’t the bloody Civil War have made Americans sick of guns? During this time period and into the 20th century, did the average American need to be concerned about personal armament and fire power? Today, we think of the early Colts and Winchesters as “Cowboy” guns or guns of the Old West. Did cowboys need, and actually carry, Colts on their hips and Winchesters across their saddles? Did this mentality flourish in our own South Dakota?
Based on historical photographs, as well as the journals of such noted cowboys as our own Ed Lemmon, the answer is “yes.” Guns were a necessary tool. In 1900, the turn of the century, many of our South Dakota towns were in their infancy. Gregory County, a new frontier, hadn’t opened yet to settlement and homesteading.
How hard were the times, and how mean were some of the characters that came to this part of the country? Jack Broome, who writes his “From The North End” column for the Burke Gazette, recently wrote of some of the activities taking place 100 or more years ago. Jack uncovered this micro-filmed material that came from the archives of Rosebud area newspapers in our South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center at Pierre.
E.L. Senn was owner and publisher of Iona’s newspaper, The Pioneer. The “tell it the way it is” newspaper man was also an Iona school board member. When student behavior warranted corporal punishment, school board members were called in to help when it was too much for the teacher to handle. As a result of one of these corporal punishment episodes, Senn was charged with assault and battery.
At the trial, the defense showed that parents of some of the misbehaving boys encouraged their sons to break up the school. Senn was found not guilty! I’m thinking that if there was this much trouble at school, what was it like out on the range?
Senn also crusaded openly against cattle rustling. In a May 19, 1904, edition of his newspaper, Senn is quoted as saying, “A few killings will do more good to rid the country of rustlers than a dozen courts.” His outspoken philosophy led to the burning down of his newspaper office. These local boys played rough. (from the March 7, 2012 Burke Gazette)
In today’s newspapers we find a court docket mainly composed of driving violations with a few bad checks etc. In Senn’s heyday, most of the docket listing were about cattle rustling. Yes, the ranchers and homesteaders of that era needed guns to protect their lives and property.
Winchester didn’t just sell rifles. The Winchester trade mark can be found on reloading tools that looked like a big nut cracker. They also sold bullet molds. Imagine the typical homesteader castling lead bullets on the kitchen’s wood burning stove, and reloading shells at the kitchen table. Powder and primers were purchased at the general store.
It wasn’t rocket science to those old-timers. The Colt cap & ball pistols that preceded the Peacemakers often came with a two cavity bullet mold.
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I received a nice note from LeRoy and Mary Brandt of Avon. Mary appreciated the column about Olive Reamer, and went on to tell me that Olive Fredrickson (second marriage) wrote a book called “The Silence of the North.” I can’t wait to read that book, and I thank her for letting us know about it. See you next week.