On April 28th of 2011, the Arizona State Legislature declared the venerable Colt Single Action Army (SAA) revolver as the Official State Firearm. While Sturm, Ruger firearms (who manufacture their single action Vaquero right here in AZ) might have preferred to get the nod, it makes perfect sense to award the designation to the old Colt model, as it was an important tool in establishing law and order on the southwestern frontier.
The Colt SAA came out in 1873 as Colt’s most successful revolver in the then-new self-contained metallic cartridges, and sales to the Army quickly made this revolver a hot commodity. This was a wholly new model, replacing the 1872 Open Top that had been built on a rehashed design from the 1860 Army that had been one of the primary sidearms of the Civil War (which is still a fine weapon in its own right). The new SAA employed a solid top strap and a new, more powerful ammunition, the 45 Colt. Loading 35 grains of black powder underneath a 255 grain conical bullet, the 45 Colt boasted being the most powerful handgun cartridge of its day, and in fact this claim to power was not eclipsed until the advent of the .357 Magnum cartridge in 1935. Even afterwards, many big-bore aficionados, no less than the Dean of Sixguns, Elmer Keith, still preferred the old 45 to the new and modern 357, feeling that the mass and diameter of the bigger bullet outweighed the high velocity energy figures that the smaller round produced. Keith also noted that the SAA was the fastest gun of any design for getting the first shot out of the holster
The Colt SAA has been made in three major “Generations.” The First Generation ran from 1873 to 1941, when handgun production for World War Two shut down production. Then the Second Generation ran from 1956 (taking advantage of the popularity of westerns and “fast draw” on TV) to 1974, when the original tooling was just too worn out to continue. They quickly retooled and began production of the Third Generation in 1976, and continue production in limited quantities.
The Colt SAA, chambered in 45 Colt with a 5.5 inch barrel, was the official sidearm of the Territorial Arizona Rangers during their tenure from 1901 to 1909, which is perhaps the most compelling reason for it to be chosen as the official State Firearm. The Modern Rangers have since moved on to more contemporary semi-automatic pistols as their primary duty weapons, but even now individual Rangers can still qualify with the old thumb-buster and carry it on ceremonial duties.
So slip out of your quarantine for a bit today and go burn some powder to celebrate the State icon!
Civilization is what separates us from the animals, and in a free society people should be able to comport themselves, especially with regard to their personal hygiene needs, without permission from others. But there is an insidious movement encroaching on our freedoms lately, a scourge that threatens the very moral fiber of our culture - the locked “public” restroom.
There was a time when public facilities and retail businesses had public restrooms, and they were open to . . . the public. But in recent years there has been a disturbing trend among local businesses to secure their facilities behind locks and keypad entry systems; the facilities are still “public” in the sense that they are available to anyone, but they are only available to those select few who know “the code.” This code is obtained by conferring with an employee, any employee, to get the code or in some rarer cases, an actual key. Such keys are almost always attached to a sheet of wood or other signage so that your intentions are publicly broadcast.
I understand there are reasons for this increased security; I live in an older section of my city where the demographic is less . . . sophisticated than elsewhere in town. Across town the MOD pizza place has open bathrooms, but at the one nearest my house it’s locked and I have to ask for a code . . . But my girlfriend doesn’t. See, only the men’s room is locked. At PetSmart both are locked, even though it’s not a quarter mile away. I’m not sure what this says about the men who frequent that MOD pizza, or the general clientele of PetSmart, but none of it is good. I don’t doubt that these businesses have had incidents that prompted such measures, but I also don’t care - when you have to ask a stranger for help with your own bodily functions, that’s a sure sign that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. Grown adults should not have to ask permission to go potty.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Colt nearly had a corner on the revolver market. They were the biggest seller of pistols to the Army in the Civil War and were a popular choice for civilians who needed a weapon. But the winds of change were blowing.
Competitor Smith and Wesson had bought the rights to a patent for bored-through cylinders that allowed the use of fixed (what we would think of as “regular”) ammunition. The pistol market was about to change in a big way, and Colt found itself on the wrong side of the power curve.*
Colt needed to offer a cartridge version, but they had to avoid infringing on the patent - the solution was a crazy front-loading cartridge named for its creator, F. Alexander Thuer. It was a metallic cartridge that loaded from the front of the gun, just like then-standard paper cartridges did. A special cylinder was required which contained a firing pin and an ejector - once the gun was fired empties were ejected out the front. It was kind of a nifty idea, but it was far from ideal.
Today there is no true Thuer conversion; they remain a historical oddity and they were so cumbersome to load and shoot that few would be interested in having a reproduction, so the reproduction market has focused on the slightly later cartridge conversions.
Until now. Gary Barnes, a gunsmith in TX who specializes in cartridge conversions of the old percussion revolvers, developed what he terms a “Modern Thuer.”
Gone is the front-loading metallic cartridge that relies on an unreliable friction fit to stay loaded. Still there is the loading ring with the tab. Gary uses a rimless cartridge (45 in my case) that loads from the rear through a simple cut in the recoil shield - no formal loading gate. He also modifies the original percussion loading lever so that it pops right out to use as an ejector rather than attaching an ejector rod as was done on later conversions. This creates a weapon that very closely imitates the look of a historical Thuer conversion while deftly avoiding all the untenable features of its actual design. Pretty ingenious, really.
I love the Colt 1860 Army. It is, in my opinion, the finest revolver produced. Ever. It’s small and handy, but powerful. It has horrible sights, but makes up for that by having the best balance and most natural pointing of any other revolver before or since. It is an elegant weapon, for a more civilized time (okay, that may be a stretch).
The downside of a percussion revolver is the percussion ignition system. You must load loose powder into each chamber, then a ball, then grease it for lubrication, and finally cap each nipple. If all goes well it takes a few minutes to reload . . . if all doesn’t go well you get misfires. You can load paper cartridges to speed things up, and this helps quite a bit, but it’s still a somewhat tedious process. After twenty years with my Colt, I found myself not shooting it so much because of the hassle. So I sent it off to Gary Barnes. Here’s what I got:
The Good, The Bad, & The Upshot
The good thing about this conversion is that it works! It’s easy and pretty user-friendly; you load your cartridges, switch the conversion ring to “fire” and away you go. Once fired, you flick the conversion ring to the other side, dismount the loading lever and use it to dislodge the fired cases.
This conversion is unique in that it maintains the overall lines and beauty of the original 1860 Army Colt and retains fidelity to the image of the original Thuer conversions without all the additional hassle of their peculiar loading system.
For SASS and NCOWS shooters, this is a super cool option because it’s NCOWS approved for its historical authenticity.
There are only a couple of downsides to this conversion system - the first and most important is its ammunition. Because it uses a rimless 45 Colt, users must grind down cases before they can load them (or ask Gary to supply some brass!). Now, grinding the rim off of 45 Colt cases is an inconvenient project, but that’s not all - because what it means in the long run is that you can no longer use your fancy Lee or Dillon press to reload your ammo - the shell holders won’t grip your cases anymore!
You’re back to the old Lee Loader. Now I used one of these as my primary reloader for literally years, and it’s not a big stinkin’ deal, but man, it is a tedious process. Is it more tedious than making paper cartridges for a percussion revolver? I think not . . . but it’s close. The saving grace here is that a tediously loaded brass cartridge is still more reliable on the range than a tediously loaded paper cartridge and percussion cap.
If I had my druthers, I’d prefer to see this chambered in a more standardized rimless cartridge so that one could reload on a press rather than using the Lee Loader. But I see why Barnes chose not to do it this way; using a standard modern rimless cartridge lowers the historical authenticity and could impede its acceptance among NCOWS and SASS shooters, who are likely his primary client pool. Also, only the largest, like the 45 Winchester Magnum, would hold the volume of black powder to equal the original 44 Colt loads, and this brass is neither “frontier” nor commonly available. Neither of which would please many of the clientele Gary serves.
The upshot is that Gary Barnes has hit upon a brilliant new way to convert a percussion revolver to shoot cartridges that gives shooters a very authentic and historic looking weapon that closely imitates the original Thuer conversions without any of their liabilities in design. Should you be in the market for such a conversion, drop Gary a line at his website http://cartridgeconversion.com/
*This is sort of funny, because Rollin White offered his idea to Colt in 1867, but Sam Colt turned it down.
Writing can be a lonely pursuit. On good days, it’s you and your story, peopled with interesting characters and exciting plot lines. On bad days, it’s just you and a blank screen, the blinking cursor mocking you for your haughty ideas about “being a writer.” Oh, that cursor!
So writers must find like-minded people where they can, to provide community, guidance, editing, and moral support.
Enter Scott Harris. Author of the award-winning Coyote Canyon series of western novels, Harris came up with a brilliant idea to bring together a bunch (51, to be exact) of his friends and acquaintances to write a series of short-short stories, each answering the same prompt. His first prompt was an iconic “A shot rang out!” - every story had two requirements; it must begin with this prompt, and it must be 500 words. Now, 500 words is a very short story, so it offers writers a certain challenge indeed!
We all submitted our stories, and the final product is available on Amazon at the link below. It was well received, making the top 20 list in its first week as a new release! It’s a bit of a fascinating exercise to see how different 52 stories can be that all begin with the same 17 words, and I encourage everyone to go check it out. When you like it, keep an eye out for the next installment, as this will be a regular feature running on a quarterly basis - 52 authors, 500 words, but a different commonality each time!
A couple three weeks ago I said goodbye to a dear friend. But far from being a sad occasion, it was inspirational and uplifting, because you see, my friend Melissa is chasing down her dream. She is a DreamCatcher.
When I was a young buck in college, I dreamed of graduating college, buying myself a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and riding off into the sunset. I would travel the highways and byways of America, meeting people and taking odd jobs when I needed money, and while “on the road” I would write the Great American Novel. As you might expect, this did not come to pass. I often say I grew up, but I’m not sure if growing up is exactly what I did so much as I got distracted and derailed by the same things that distract and derail us all.
But Melissa . . . well, Melissa had long chat with her inner young adult, and they decided that enough was enough and they were going to do it! So she sold off most of her earthly possessions, traded her mature compact sedan for a truck and her adult condo for a trailer. Now she’s off to see the country!
Now, I’m a big fan of travel and new experiences, but what makes Melissa’s journey so noteworthy is that she’s not coming back - not here, anyway. Melissa isn’t simply taking a sabbatical, she is finding - no, she is forging a new life for herself.
Melissa is a healer and Reiki master, and her ultimate goal is to open a healing center on a nice plot of land where she can blend Reiki, equine therapy, and other modalities to welcome and support fellow travelers, seekers, and those in need of balance and restoration. She is also working on the completion of her book, a memoir of her own struggles, survival, and ultimately healing. I’ve seen early drafts, and it’s a transformative read. You’re going to want to read it as soon as it comes out.
In the meantime Melissa (with her trusty co-pilot/daughter Emily and their dog Lucy) is on the road, seeking her new home. But you can follow her exploits on FaceBook and Instagram. Go check out her pages and tell her I said “hi!”
I ride a Harley Davidson. I love it, and for those who understand Harleys, they’re kind of a special breed. Harley Davidsons are all about tradition, and quite frankly, much of their operating systems are inefficient. Power is transferred through a system of gears and belts, and their transmissions are no exception. Shifting is accomplished through a somewhat tedious transfer of levers, involving no fewer than four moving parts. All is well until something vibrates loose, and brother, those old style V-twins vibrate to beat the band.
Today something vibrated loose. My inner shift lever, to be exact. This is the lever that actually connects to the transmission, shifting from one gear to another, and it’s a real drag when it comes loose on the I-10 at 70+ mph.
I pulled over and dug the right sized tool from my saddlebag (as a Harley owner, this has happened before, and my tool box grows in size with each passing year). This is not a complicated repair, but it is tedious and uncomfortable, as the lever is tucked between the primary case and the transmission, and is thus surrounded by hot engine parts.
But this is not my point. My point is that I had not been on the side of the road three minutes before another biker pulled in behind me. He asked what my problem was, and if he could help. I had the right tool, but he had a glove, and a couple of other tools that made my job a little easier. Perhaps more importantly, he brought a bit of comaraderie to the roadside that I was sorely lacking. We shared tales of other shift-related issues that had befallen us with our rides, and how we fixed them or limped home. His name was Danny.
My other point is that while we were messing with my bike, TWO other groups of riders stopped to see if they could help. One was a group of three or four guys whose vests said they were with the Gatekeepers club. They pulled over to offer to help. Another three or four riding in a group stopped to offer help. A DPS car whizzed by in the carpool lane; I guess he thought we looked like we had it under control, and anyway, he was in a cage; he wasn’t one of us. I was on the side of the road less than 40 minutes, and no fewer than 7 people stopped to help me. Because I was on a bike, and they were on bikes. We had never met, but we were in the same club, brothers of the bike.
My brothers helped me today, and I’ll be adding to my on-board tool kit so maybe next time I can help you. So until we meet, on the roadside or at a rally or local watering hole, keep the rubber side down.
Hostiles is a great western. According to the previews, an early reviewer declares it this generation’s Unforgiven, and perhaps it is. The movie is deceptively simple, but there is much going on “behind the scenes,” and the film is rich in layers of meaning. I won’t give away too much; perhaps in a few months I’ll do a more complete analysis, but for now just go see the film.
Hostiles is a classic western, and addresses the classic western themes of captivity and savagery.
At its core, Hostiles is essentially a captivity narrative. The plot centers on the primary captivity of the aging Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi) and his family, who have been held prisoner for 7 years. Yellow Hawk is now near death and has been granted his request to be returned to his native homeland to die, and his long time nemesis Capt. Joseph J. Blocker (Christian Bale) is assigned the detail. But the movie does a marvelous job of examining all manner of captivities for many of the characters.
Capt. Blocker says in an early scene that “every time we lay our heads down out here, we’re prisoners,” and indeed, this remark proves prophetic. Chief Yellow Hawk is a literal captive, being escorted in chains, and in turn Capt. Blocker is held captive by his duty and obligation to escort and protect his sworn enemy. Sgt. Charles Willis (Ben Foster) is literally a prisoner, and in spite of being a U.S. soldier he finds himself held in a captivity even more severe than the “savages” he’s traveling with.
Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) is held captive by the trauma she endures in the opening scene, and Capt. Blocker and his entire detail are held captive by their duty to assist her. Msgt. Thomas Metz (Rory Cochrane) is held captive by his “melancholia.”
And finally, the entire detail is held captive by the savage Comanche who threaten them throughout the film. This captivity is central to the overall theme and connects viewers to the theme of savagery, which permeates the film.
The film destabilizes the issue of savagery almost immediately with the character of Jeremiah Wilks (Bill Camp), a Harper’s Bazaar writer who asks Capt. Blocker if it’s true that he has taken more scalps than Crazy Horse himself. Capt. Blocker defines Chief Yellow Hawk’s savagery by his brutal treatment of foes and prisoners, but it quickly becomes apparent that the Capt. has as brutal a history as his opponent, begging the question of how savagery is defined.
Savagery is clearly demonstrated in the opening scene by the Indian attack, and when Mrs. Quaid is brought to the Army detail’s camp, she is upset by the appearance of the native prisoners - they are racially identified as “savage.” But shortly thereafter, the wife reaches out to her, and her status as a savage is destabilized through her charitable action.
In the same vein, when the entire party is threatened by the Comanche, the Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk tells Capt Blocker that “these people are rattlesnake people” and are dangerous, that they will not discriminate, and will kill them all. Yellow Hawk’s message to Capt. Blocker throughout the film is that they must work together against a common enemy.
Their Army prisoner Sgt. Charles Willis (Ben Foster) appeals to the Capt.’s sense of common enemies in a different way, pleading for mercy and arguing that his guilt is no greater than the Capt.’s or any other Army soldiers’ from that time. His argument is that they are all guilty, essentially that they are all savages, and it is hypocritical to condemn him for crimes that are fundamentally no different from what others have committed, yet he should hang while others go free. Capt. Blocker says only “I was doing my job,” thus falling back on his commitment and the captivity of his will and conscience to the demands of his duty, wholly sidestepping the question of his savagery.
The definition of “savage” is destabilized by several characters across several scenes, and in fact the movie directly addresses the “Indian question” through both its plot and the dialogue of several characters. I have seen various people on social media criticizing the film for its “liberal” bias, but I found their criticisms ill-founded. The dialogue representing differing perspectives on how natives should be treated by the govt, by the army, and who represents the real savage are all questions that were being actively debated in the late nineteenth century, and the film does justice to its characters, subject, and its viewers by presenting fully fleshed out characters facing a complicated period of history.
Book Review: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
I just finished The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. I got my copy on loan from my writer friend Melissa Birkle. She said the book was good, but it just didn’t quite gel with her. She thought it was more of a ‘guy’s book’ and said I might like it. She was right on the money.
When reviewing a book, I don’t normally comment on its published format, but my initial impression was that this book felt thin; what I mean is that the layout is very open, and chapters are done in a page or two, with lots of white space. The book is 165 pages, but could easily have been done in 120 or even fewer. This is not a matter of wordiness on Pressfield’s part, but a matter of layout. The cynic in me wondered if the publisher were trying to make the book feel thicker so it would seem worth its $12.95 cover price. However, as I settled in to read the book, I began to see the wisdom of its layout. Pressfield doles out his ideas in small, compact little tidbits, almost anecdotes, and this “open” layout makes it easy to read his work in short bursts, or to slow down and read more reflectively, slowly digesting the content of the last chapter before moving on to the next.
Pressfield divides his work into three “books:” Book One defines the challenge set before all artists and writers, that he terms “Resistance.” Book Two outlines the battle plan to combat Resistance, and Book Three details the allies writers and artist may come to depend on, and lays out a hopeful vision for victory.
Book one begins by defining Resistance. Resistance is, essentially, a combination of inertia and fear. Pressfield covers fear later, but spends most of his time on the inertia here. It’s easier (and safer) to plan great things than to do them, and Resistance is our inner procrastinator. Pressfield quickly aligns the artist with the warrior, which is perhaps why my friend Melissa thought it more of a guy’s book. He begins with the assertion that “the warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day” (14), and it is here that he seals his metaphor - the artist, like the warrior, must fight for his Muse and his creation; it won’t come easily, and every painting or chapter will represent hard-won territory. Pressfield asserts “when we fight [resistance] we are in a war to the death” (15).
Book Two begins to offer a plan of action; having defined Resistance in Book One, Pressfield now suggests how to address the problem. In short, Pressfield’s advice reads like an old Nike ad: Just Do It. Action is the salve that will aid the artistic soul - and perhaps not unlike the physical action of the warrior, who trains his body, the artist must train his mind and creative outlet in a similar way. Pressfield compares the artist to a Marine, saying that “The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable. This is invaluable for an artist.” (68) He makes his case for action most clear when he notes that “The concept . . . seems to be that one needs to complete his healing before he is ready to do his work. This way of thinking . . . is a form of resistance” (48). Waiting until everything is ready, or perfect, is the ultimate procrastination. Here we get the Nike slogan again (though Pressfield himself deftly avoids this): Just Do It. Action is the cure.
Book Three gets even a bit more optimistic, and here Pressfield goes just a touch “woo-woo” in asserting that there are forces in the universe conspiring to assist the artist/author - angels, he calls them, or the Muses, though he’s quick to say that you could call them anything you like, as long as you call on them. I’m good with angels. This section follows up on his exhortation to action, as he says “when we conceive an enterprise and commit to it in the face of our fears, something wonderful happens” (123), but nothing wonderful will happen until the artist takes that first step. No angel or Muse is going to drag you out of bed, or off the couch, and make you write, or paint, or whatever it is that you feel called to do. But once begun, they’ll pitch in and help you. The artist avails himself of the Muse, because he understands that his inspiration is in part divine. Pressfield points out that, “the artist and the mother are vehicles, not originators. They don’t create the new life, they only bear it (156).
But giving credit to otherworldly inspiration doesn’t relieve the artist of their responsibility. They must take ownership of their work, and “when the artist works territorially, she . . . aligns herself with the mysterious forces that power the universe and that seek, through her, to bring forth new life. By doing her work for its own sake, she sets herself at the service of these forces. (156). The artist can’t work for an external reward - fame, money, or film residuals. The artist must do the work for its own sake, embracing the struggle and finding reward in the process itself. As Pressfield ends his work finally concedes the Nike connection:
“Do it or don’t do it” (165).
My friend Melissa Birkle is a Reiki Master and writer who has her own blog. Check it out here: https://www.essenceawakened.com/blog
I found this delightful new TV series on Netflix. It’s called Skinwalkers, The Navajo Mysteries. Starring Wes Studi (famous bad guy from Dances with Wolves, Last of the Mohicans and a dozen other films) and Adam Beach (famous cop from Law and Order and Smoke Signals), the show is based on a novel by Tony Hillerman, and it is set in my old stomping grounds of northern Arizona and New Mexico, up on the Navajo Reservation. This looks to be a television remix of a 2003 made-for TV film with the same cast. Virtually all the cast is native, and the characters are fully rounded, keeping viewers engaged while the plot builds slowly. I was quickly hooked.
And then it was gone. Just like that. I pulled up Netflix to watch more of my new favorite show, and *poof!* it was just gone. Not since the abrupt ending of Deadwood have I experienced such cognitive dissonance as searching for episode 4 of Skinwalkers.
But indeed, it was done. Only one “season,” and that season was only three episodes. Just enough to hook me. I know how Netflix works, so thought perhaps the new season simply hadn’t posted yet, perhaps it was a mid-season addition . . . but then I saw the copyright date - 2004. So I shan’t wait up nights for Season Two. So it’s worth a look, and those three episodes are worth watching, but be warned that it will be a damned short binge.
Join me as I postulate about literature, popular culture, martial arts, and who knows what else.