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John Wesley Hardin’s Guns

John Wesley Hardin was one of the most famous gunfighters of the old west. He claimed he’d killed over 40 men in his days but it was more like 27. That’s still a pretty damn high number. He was certainly a bit of an exaggerator when it came to his confirmed kills but one thing he didn’t BS about was his skill with a firearm.


He is well known for giving away or selling his business card and playing cards he shot with a pistol from various distances. Above you can see both displayed. He was the real deal with a handgun and a very dangerous man who would kill you as easy as breathing. No doubt he enjoyed it or at the least he didn’t lose any sleep over it.

Beyond his skill with the handgun he also was a man that thought about how best to get them into action. He had a concealment vest made that allowed him to carry two colt revolvers under his armpits on each side. He was able to appear to casually cross his arms then rapidly dual cross draw the brace of colts out in a flash.

His various guns are well documented and are preserved in various collections. Especially the ones from the end of his years.

JWH’s Colt Thunderer .41 Colt

After being released from prison in February 1894, Hardin became an attorney. His inner demons still plagued the hair-trigger tempered Hardin though, and he quickly reverted to his old ways of gambling and drink. The firearms from this notorious Texas pistoleer’s final years are solidly documented through official court records resulting from his murder. Among these were a .38 caliber Model 1877 Colt Double Action “Lightning,” which his cousin by marriage, “Killer” Jim Miller, gave him after Miller represented him in a murder case. Hardin also owned a pair of .41 caliber 1877 Colt DA “Thunderers,” a Smith & Wesson DA “Frontier” in .44-40 chambering and a 4 3/4-inch barreled, .45 caliber 1873 Colt Single Action Army (with the ejector housing removed, most likely for an easier draw from his pocket). At the time of his death, Hardin was packing these two latter six-shooters. One of Hardin’s ’77 Colts, along with his .45 Colt-chambered ’73 Peacemaker, are housed at the Autry National Center’s Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, California.”

Several examples of the Texas gunman’s weaponry have survived, thanks to court records, Hardin relatives and dedicated historians and collectors such as the late Robert E. McNellis of El Paso, Texas, who discovered several of Hardin’s documented guns and other memorabilia. Hardin’s guns at the Museum of the American West are the only ones I know of on exhibit; the rest of Hardin’s hardware is presumed to be safe in private collections”

Hardin’s watch and .38Colt Lightning

The Colt M1877 “Thunderer” was a double action design chambered in .41 Colt. The “lightning” being a .38 long Colt. You can see it looks like a slightly smaller M1873 “peacemaker.” Even thought it was a DA revolver, it wasn’t very durable. The DA spring and parts didn’t hold up well and it was hard to repair. Luckily for the owners it didn’t render the gun useless. Just single action. Which I’m sure a lot of modern readers would consider the same thing. Billy the Kid , Doc Holiday and Hardin are among its more famous users.

Writing in his book “Sixguns” Elmer Kieth said that the “41LC was a better fight-stopper than its paper ballistics would indicate” and it was “better for self-defense than any 38 load made”. Keith would go onto design the 41 magnum possibly influenced by the advantages of the .41 Long Colt. The .41 long Colt was a moderately popular chambering in several Colt models. It was available in the Model 1877 Thunderer double action revolver, the series of New Army and New Navy revolvers.

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