The man that the family refers to as “Unc” was my grandfather’s mother’s uncle. He was uncle to my great-grandmother, on my mother’s side, if I get that right.
Unc was something of an enigma. He left home — as many did at that time — during his teens; headed West.
The story he told family and friends was that he was a cow-puncher and worked trail-drives until his niece became a widow, and then Unc rode back to Texas, settled down with his niece and her two sons to help out.
He was, at that time, in his forties, and Great Grandma was the only one of his family who would speak to him — his estrangement from the rest of his family is just one of the mysteries around the man.
He — to use his own words — wasn’t nuthin’ special.
I have two things that belonged to Unc. One of which is the badge of a U.S. Marshal which was found in his property after he died.
The other is an 1873 Colt Single Action Army in .41 Colt.
When Unc rode into town to help take care of his niece and her children, he had two pistols. One was a stag-handled .38-40 that was his everyday gun, and the other — the one sitting on my desk now — was nickled with mother-of-pearl grips carved to resemble the head of a long-horn steer and was Unc’s “church gun”.
Unc had the right-hand pocket of his trousers lined in leather, and it was deep enough that when Unc’s .41 was slipped into it muzzle-first, just the grip and a bit of the trigger-guard protruded. Unc would then button his Go-to-meetin’ coat and no one noticed the six-gun.
Sometime after Unc settled in the town, he got cross-threaded with a man. Some family tales have the man being a local bully. Others have it as someone who recognized Unc from his past. Either way, the other man seems to have wanted a fight — or a killin’ — we’re not sure which.
Anyhoo, things came to head one fine Sunday afternoon when Unc and the stranger met up on the street. Some tales have it that the stranger shouldered Unc off the boardwalk, then dared him to do something about it, others have it that the honour of a lady was questioned.
What we do know for certain, is that Unc slipped the .41 out of his pocket, held it behind his back and then proceeded to eloquently and with a great deal of verve, describe the ancestry and personal habits of the stranger.
Right there, in front of God and the gathering crowd, Unc opined at great length on what this man was, and what he wasn’t.
Finally, pushed beyond his limits — and not knowing that Unc already had the drop on him — the man attempted something. The most popular version is that he whipped out an Arkansas toothpick.
Of all the things we don’t know about this story, we do know two things for certain:
1) The last thing that man saw on this little green dirtball was the muzzle of this .41 Colt; and
2) The Sheriff fined Unc five dollars for discharging a pistol inside the city limits.
Unc gave this pistol to my grandfather. When the Texas Company sent my Grandad to Central and South America, this pistol went with him.
It was a more civilized time.
Family stories hint that Grandad used this pistol to proper effect more than once down thataway, and when Mom went to college, this .41 Colt went with her.
Mom used it in college to convince a would-be break-in artist that her bedroom window was Off Limits — seems like the sound of the hammer being eared back on a Single Action Army can inspire a man to sprinting excellence.
After Mom married my father and went overseas, Grandad kept this pistol for her, it was during this time that the original mother-of-pearl grips were broken and the current scimshawed ivory ones were put on. The initials are my grandfathers brand, and the twisted horns were a personal design he created.
When I graduated from the Panhandle Regional Law Enforcement Academy, Mom gave me this pistol at graduation. The first year I wore a badge, I carried this pistol as my “dress-up gun” to court, church and the like.
These days, there’s too much sentimental value tied up in this pistol. One day — God willing — I hope to have a wife and a family and I surely do favour giving this pistol to one of my offspring so they can write themselves into it’s history.
Plus, it’s become bloody expensive getting .41 Colt ammo for it.
So, I’m going to clean it up, store it somewhere safe and then I’m going to get myself an old Ruger Blackhawk or Colt SAA and see about building a project gun in .41 Special.
Unlike the .41 Colt, the .41 Special is easy to fabricate and handload — just trim .41 Magnum brass down to .38 Special length and feed with standard .410 bullets — unlike the .41 Colt which used to be a heel-based round … argh. And the .41 Special pretty much duplicates the ballistics of the older round rather nicely.
It’ll be something I can carry and use with fond thoughts of Unc, Grandad and Mom, but without the apprehension of damaging a priceless heirloom.