The gun, like the axe and the plow, was an essential tool in the exploration and settlement of the trans-Mississippi West. It provided food for the cooking pot as well as protection against two- or four-legged marauders.
Of course the employment of the gun, whether for good or evil, depended upon the user. The men and women who lived the 19th-century western experience sometimes described in detail the role firearms played in their lives. Such accounts included a trapper in the 1830s, a woman crossing the plains by wagon in the 1850s, a drover (“cowboy” in modern terminology) enduring the dangers of a long cattle drive, a professional hunter engaged in the slaughter of the once seemingly endless herds of bison, or a soldier campaigning against American Indians.
Each account adds to our knowledge of firearms and our awareness of the struggle faced by those who were a part of the western experience. Gunsmoke and Saddle Leather describes the gun’s impact on the lives of those in the West – men and women, whites and American Indians – using their own words to tell that story wherever possible.