Firearms of 1883: A Yellowstone Origin Story
“Yellowstone” is a wildly popular drama that has spurred two prequel stories that are becoming just as popular as the original. The first to arrive was “1883,” telling the story of James Dutton and his family making the trek across the country from Texas to the Montana Territory, where they ultimately settle. Obviously, firearms are a part of the story, considering the setting and plot, so we’re going to take a look at the guns used in “1883.”
This is by no means a full list of all the firearms in the series. There are some that go by too quickly to get a good look at and some are just straight-up non-firing replicas. But it’s no secret Hollywood doesn’t always get things correct when it comes to historical accuracy and firearms. Let’s take a look at the major firearms of the “1883: A Yellowstone Origin Story” and see what the show creators got right and wrong along the way.
The series includes some iconic rifles, if not entirely period-correct. Let’s take a look.
The first rifle to bear the Winchester brand, the 1866 lever-action repeating rifle was known as the “Yellowboy” thanks to the bright brass receiver. The 1866 YellowBoy was an improvement from the earlier Henry toggle-linkage action but included important improvements such as a closed magazine tube and a wooden forearm.
The rifle was used by several nations in the late 1800s, so it is no surprise that it made its appearance in “1883” employed by Pinkerton Agent Thomas, who was one of the two men that were hired to help German immigrants on their journey westward. The repeating rifle was originally chambered in .44 Henry rimfire, but based on the ammo in the character’s bandolier, it looks like a centerfire conversion of the rifle, which was not uncommon. The rifle was available in a variety of special order configurations so it makes sense in the show.
The rifle would be an easy choice for shooters of the era based on the variety of configurations alone, but with the addition of the King spring-loading gate on the right side of the rifle. This allowed for extra shots to be carried, and faster and easier reloads, and with the extra wooden forend stock the rifle was more stable to shoot and easier to handle. The rifle is still popular today with cowboy recreators and collectors alike.
With the nickname of “the gun that won the West,” the show would be seriously lacking if the Winchester 1873 rile did not appear at least somewhat regularly. Within the show, the Dutton family is shown with a few different versions of the Model 1873 rifle, which is right in line with history. The rifle was a popular choice across the West, used by indigenous peoples and settlers alike.
The Model 1873 from Winchester was an improved model of the 1866 repeating rifle. The Winchester Model 1873 rifle was chambered in pistol calibers: .38-40, .32-20, and .44-40. Much like the Model 1866, the Model 1873 was available in many special order configurations for customers to order.
Within “1883,” the Dutton family is shown to carry a few different models. One was the Winchester 1873 Short Rifle that looks to have a button magazine and a round barrel. The other Model 1873 rifle is an octagon-barreled rifle with a full-length magazine. Another version that stands out is the rifle carried by one of the indigenous people in the opening scene of the series that has been decorated in the tack of the carrier, which was popular for many people through the West during the time the series is set.
One of the biggest errors comes with the appearance of the Winchester 1885 High Wall rifle, especially since the rifle wasn’t in production until a few years after when the series is said to take place. The Winchester 1885 High Wall was a single-shot rifle that was well suited for long-range shooting or when harvesting large game.
The Winchester 1885 was available in both a High Wall and Low Wall variants, with the High Wall intended for higher-power rounds and the Low Wall designed for, you guessed it, lower-powered rounds. The rifle’s predecessor, the 1879 Browning, was being developed in Browning’s Utah shop a few years before the series is set, but it still makes for an impressive rifle.
In the series, Dutton’s Winchester 1885 rifle is topped with a long Malcolm scope. The Malcom company, one of the oldest names in American scopes, gained popularity during the Civil War with its 4X-8X telescopic sights. By the time the show is set, most of the Malcolm scopes were ¾” in diameter and ranged from 14” to 30” long, which looks like what shows up in “1883.” Some commenters on the series have stated that other models, such as the Remington Rolling Block or Sharps 1874, might have been more consistent with the time period instead, both of which do make other appearances in other episodes.
Colt Single Action Variants
The Colt Single Action Army revolver is a Hollywood favorite, and “1883” is no exception. Shown heavily throughout the series, the Colt Single Action revolver is said to be the most American gun of all time and a true symbol of the Old West. With so many in circulation by the early 1880s, the prevalence of the revolver is very accurate. The Colt was the first reliable mass-produced revolver with a metallic cartridge cylinder.
The Colt Single Action revolver had many variants: the Civilian, Artillery, Cavalry, and Sheriff models just to name a few. With the abundance of revolver models, and at the price point, it makes sense it would be used by many veterans of the war and folks in the West as well. Especially given that the cavalry had issued the revolver in pairs, it is accurate that Dutton’s character would have two. An added advantage of having two is the faster reload, like Wild Bill Cody and John Westley Hardin would attest.
The Colt Single Action Army revolver was employed by many of the characters on the show from Dutton’s 17-year-old daughter to the aging Shea Brennan character played by Sam Elliott, with some characters carrying a pair of revolvers. The various carrying displays of the revolvers might be a bit creative, but the sheer number of handguns in the series seems to be spot on.
Model 1860 Army Richards-Mason
In arguably one of the most heart-wrenching scenes of the series, James Dutton’s sister is overcome with grief after her daughter is killed in an altercation with bandits outside of Fort Worth. In a scene filled with emotion, Claire ends her life at the grave of her daughter, with the help of what is said to be the Model 1860 Army Richards-Mason style conversion revolver. While the firearm of choice might not have been what some Western settlers would have used, it demonstrates the hard life that many of them faced, or chose to not face, as the case would be.
The Model 1860 Army Richard-Mason revolvers, sometimes called the Avenging Angel, originally had ejectors fitted on the right side of the barrel, whereas the revolver depicted in the series did not. The series showed the revolver with a loading lever under the barrel, something that the original did not have. The revolver was commonly referred to as conversion, as the platform used a combination of surplus percussion parts and new parts to make up the assembly by Colt. The revolver in the series is most likely a replica.
Old West Shotguns
When most folks think of the guns that won the west, they usually think of the Colt revolver or a Winchester repeating rifle. Not too many think of double-barreled shotguns, a firearm that some would argue actually won the west. The platform was a reliable and versatile weapon that was used heavily in self-defense and hunting. In the series, the Dutton family, and other characters, use shotguns in both roles quite often.
The shotgun was just as affordable as other firearms for the settlers and was used readily. One shotgun that is seen is the Colt Model 1878. In the series, there are a lot of side-by-side shotguns wielded, and most shotguns (or scatterguns) would have long barrels close to 26” long or more. There were shorter shotguns available, like the “coach gun” that is used early in the series by James Dutton, that were used to protect freight wagons, stagecoaches, and trains through dangerous territory.
There certainly are some glaring issues with some firearms in “1883: A Yellowstone Origin Story,” but for the most part, the firearms seem to be accurately portrayed. Hollywood has gotten better over the years with firearms representation, so it was nice to see it happening in this series. The next part of the origin story is “1923,” so it will be interesting to see how firearms are portrayed in that series.