September 29, 2008


by Stephen Bly

Letters received from fans of all ages who enjoy a story set in the Old West provide one of the unexpected pleasures of writing westerns. Kids offer welcome compliments. Gals ask questions. Guys give advice, such as point out potential historical errors. Readers seem to delight in correcting authors’ gaffs or typos. I enjoy all the correspondence and answer each one.

One time a young man from Saskatchewan, Canada, reminded me that the western part of his country was still called the British Possessions in the 1870s. I appreciated the info. He also inquired about why my hero carried a Colt .44 revolver instead of a .45 caliber model: “Wouldn’t he have wanted a bigger bullet?”

Well, my heroes, such as Stuart Brannon (Stuart Brannon Series) or Tap Andrews (Code of the West Series) tend to be pragmatic fellas. In my opinion, the best rifle or carbine in the Old West was the Winchester ’73. I also believe that the best handgun was the Colt Peacemaker (with the 7 ½ inch barrel). The Winchester ’73 fired a .44-40 bullet. You could also buy a Colt .44 and use that same bullet. That left one cartridge to purchase, which could cost a cowboy about $20 per thousand rounds. Plus, you only had one type of cartridge to reload. It made sense not to carry two different types of bullets in your belt. That’s why my battle-ready heroes carry ‘73s and Colt .44s. Not that all of them use their guns a lot. Most don’t.

However, Stuart Brannon once said that he never accepted a public office because he had killed too many men. All of them justified, of course. Many foes threatened his life. But, he knew, first hand, that taking a man’s life changes you. Stuart Brannon dealt with that reality with many meditations on the meaning of life and death. That, and his longings for the wife who died in childbirth, has resonated with many women readers. Maybe that’s one way my traditional historical westerns may be different than others. The hero’s not that anxious to shoot anyone. But he (or she) also knows there are incidents when he who hesitates will be the one shot. Especially when fighting the bad guy over a vicious vendetta. . .or triangle love interest.

As a rule, my heroines carry .32 caliber pocket pistols. However, in my WIP, The Lady Who Lingered Too Long, first book in the Creede of Old Montana Series, the gal named Sonny (alias Mary Jane Cutler) has no problem handling either of the aforementioned weapons. She’s trained plenty on the trick shooting circuit.

Stephen Bly


Tina Dee Books said...

Wow Steve! Great post. Do you have any links where we could look at some of these guns you mentioned?

Thanks very much!
Tina Dee

Vickie McDonough said...

Thanks for the info about weapons. I especially liked that fact about the Winchester '73 and Colt .44 could use the same bullet. That makes sense why a man would only want to mess with one type of bullet.

How many years could a man use a Winchester '73 before having to replace it?

Stephen & Janet Bly said...

Tina: Yes, there's a website where you can view the old guns--at my antique Winchester collectors home place. Check it out at

On the trail,

Stephen & Janet Bly said...

Greetings, Vicki: As to your question . . . depends on how much rough use the owner made of their Winchester. I personally have bought, traded and sold hundreds of Winchesters that are 125 years old and still operate efficiently. Wear and tear depends on several factors of physical abuse: How much it's banged against the wagon or used to hit someone on the head, for instance. If the bore isn't cleaned after firing, the corrosive black powder and primers will foul the bore and make it too inaccurate. Few men would ever shoot enough bullets to wear out a gun, they're so well engineered. But life was hard in the Old West and a gun had multi-purposes. It was a tool as well and owners didn't give a thought to preserving one as a collectible item, like we do today. They could be substitutes for hammers or a pair of pliers. When a gun turned to a beater, they bought a new one.
On the trail,

Jeanne Marie Leach said...

I just had to comment on your post - not because of the valuable information on rifles, but because THE CODE OF THE WEST is among my top two all-time favorite series ever written. During this time of tough economics, I have had to sell off about half of my books, but THE CODE OF THE WEST and Jeanette Oke's LOVE COMES SOFTLY series will forever reside on my bookshelves - never to be sold, lent or given away. :) I talk about THE CODE OF THE WEST frequently to other authors and readers alike. I'm blessed to actually be able to tell you how much I love your books. :)


Stephen & Janet Bly said...

Wow, Jeanne! What an incredible compliment. . . especially coming from another writer. Thank you so much for making my day. I especially enjoy telling the story about how Book #1 in that series, It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own, came into being. The great bummer is that book is now OOP.
On the trail,