ture grit

The Guns of True Grit

by Bryan Harris

Some may say the Coen brothers treaded on thin ice when they ventured to remake an American Classic of the silver screen, True Grit.   Stepping near one of the Duke’s finest can spell trouble.  However, I think the 2010 version of this classic western was well done and can stand on it own merits.  It was certainly not a simple remake of the 1973 John Wayne version, but a return to the 1968 novel of the same name by Charles Portis.  But enough of the movie nuance, let’s go to the real purpose of this piece. Which is steel, wood, brass, and lead…the Guns of True Grit!

(Spoiler Alert)

Mattie Ross’s Colt Dragoon Revolver


Mattie is the outspoken, self-assured, father avenging 14 year old girl from Yell County, Arkansas.  She came into the movie unarmed.  However, she was soon united with her murdered father’s possessions at the bording house.  In his things was a fine looking blackpowder revolver.  The Colt Dragoon of 1848 was first produced in Eli Whitney’s factory in Connecticut.  It featured a barrel 7 ½ inches long with a 44 caliber bore.  As Rooster informed Mattie at the courthouse “…that piece will do the job.  If you can find a high stump to rest it on with a wall behind you while you take aim and shoot.’  It is undoubtedly a powerful cap and ball revolver, and it was right at home in her 5 cent flour sack.


Rooster Cogburn’s 1873 Winchester

Marshall Cogburn apparently likes to pop a cork, but he might like shootin’ men better (see Judge Parker’s court record, 23 men in 4 years as a US Marshall).  Let us first begin with his long gun the 1873 Winchester.  The gun that “Won the West” was commonly chambered in 44-40 and 38-40.  Rooster’s version looked to have a 20" barrel as he fired from the cliffs above the dugout.  Several of Lucky Ned’s party felt the wrath of this repeating rifle, but somehow Ned got … well … lucky.  Ned was not so fortunate though when the Marshall wielded his Colt Navy Pistols against him.

Rooster Cogburn’s Colt Navy

As Ned was being shot by the Marshall he was surely thinking “I wonder what the specs are on Rooster’s revolver”.  Well, the Navy Sixes, as Rooster referred to them, had a 7 ½" barrel, weighed around 42 ounces and fired .36 caliber lead balls at around 1000 feet per second.  Amazingly that is the approximate muzzle energy of our modern .380 auto cartridge which is considered a marginal handgun cartridge by today’s standards.  The Navy was possibly Samuel Colt’s most beautifully designed revolver, but weren’t they all?

Rooster Cogburn’s Colt Single Action Army

We cannot forgot Rooster’s other handgun that he brandished with great effect in this movie.  Remember the gun that stopped the spanking?  That was a Colt Single Action Army, ‘The Peacemaker’.  This revolver fired metallic cartridges in .45 Long Colt.  First manufactured by Colt Manufacturing in 1873 it’s official moniker was ’New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol’.  

Ranger LeBeouf’s Sharps Carbine

The Texas Ranger LeBeouf sure liked to talk up the Sharps Carbine he carried with him, often to the annoyance of Marshall Cogburn.  However, Rooster would come to appreciate the long range effectiveness of this rifle and its .50 caliber 475 grain projectile.  LeBeouf expertly dropped Lucky Ned at 400 yards with the Sharps as he was about to apply the coup de grace to Rooster.  The Sharps was first produced in 1848 with various models produced in the 1850’s and 1860’s firing paper cartridges.  The rifle came into its own with the metallic cartridge versions starting in 1874.  The carbine versions like Lebeouf’s fired the .50/70 cartridge with versions firing the .45/70 cartridge becoming more common in the decades following the Civil War.

Lucky Ned Pepper’s 1875 Remington Revolver

Ned Pepper’s 1875 Remington revolver sported 4 leaf clover grips.  Lucky he was until he got shot with Marshall Cogburn’s Colt Navy, followed up shortly by the Sharps carbine of LeBeouf.  Up to that point he dished out a lot of pain with this revolver.  The revolver was made in .44 Remington, .44/40 WCF and .45 Long Colt.  It was a popular handgun in the post Civil War era competing with the Colt Single Action Army for revolver dominance.

Tom Cheney’s 1860 Henry Rifle

The villain Tom Cheney was known to carry a Henry Rifle.  The Henry Rifle Model 1860 was chambered in .44 rimfire and had a magazine capacity of 16 rounds.  The legendary firepower of the Henry started in the Civil War when Confederates referred to it as 'the rifle that could be loaded on Sunday and shot all week’.  This rifle was manufactured by the New Haven Arms Company which later became Winchester Repeating Arms.  Winchester’s first successful repeating rifle was the model 1866 'Yellow Boy’ which was a direct descendent of the 1860 Henry.  

True Grit, a great movie featuring some of the most famous guns of the Old West.