Photos Don’t Lie! Western movie accuracy experts take note: some of our long held beliefs are just not true.

jun09_photos_dont_lie_250We got a sneak peek at a great new photo book Historic Photos of Texas Lawmen by Mike Cox. Really some stunners in there.

Great hats, great guns, great gear. One photo, in particular, shows a lawman using the two-handed pistol grip (the so-called Weaver’s Stance, which was popularized by California Deputy Sheriff Jack Weaver in the 1950s) that is somewhat controversial in our world. No expert hired to ensure authenticity in a Western would allow an actor to use this stance because it’s believed to be a modern invention. Evidently, not as modern as we once believed. There’s more….

It all started with a rendering I posted. The study, Brothers In Arms, showed Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid standing side by side. The critiques from our resident experts were immediate and blistering:

“Cowboys did not wear V-topped boots in the 1880s.”

“No gunman would wear his knife sheath directly in front of his holster.”

Well, then, what about the photos, also from the Texas Lawmen book. More than a few Rangers wear their knife in front of the holster.

“The photographer asked them to move it around so we could see it.”

Really? In every case? What about the casual shots, where the Rangers are eating? Could it be that, for a time, some Texas Rangers preferred to have their knife and pistol handy, and in the same place? I think the photos prove they did.

Another misconception we seem to have is that all boots were square topped in the heyday of the cowboy. Multiple photos in this book show Texas Rangers with V-topped boots, one of them is from the 1870s (Gus Gildea, who also wears his knife sheath directly in front of his holster). Another photo shows a dozen Rangers in 1887, and a few of them have V tops.

Granted, these photographs may be the exception to the rule. It’s probably safe to say that in the 1880s, most cowboys wore stovepipe boots and wore their knife sheath as a counter-weight to their pistol holsters. Most also probably fired their pistols with one hand extended in the duel stance.

What these photos do prove is: You can’t say “never” when it comes to these rules. Photos don’t lie (or, at least, unretouched photos don’t lie).

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What do you think?

Bob Boze Bell

In 1999, Bob Boze Bell and partners bought True West magazine (published since 1953) and moved the editorial offices to Cave Creek, Arizona. Bell has published and illustrated books on Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, as well as Classic Gunfights, an Old West gunfight book series. His latest books are The 66 Kid and True West Moments.