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Life Is Too Short To Spend It With An Ugly Gun.

Theodore Roosevelt had one. General George S. Patton had one. Even Pancho Villa had one. What each of these men had in common -- a fetish for fancy firearms. For Roosevelt, it was a 7 1/2" Colt SAA .44-40 with full engraving, nickel plating and ivory grips with TR carved into them. Carried in an equally fancy carved cross draw holster, the .44-40 was his constant companion on his ranch in the Dakota Badlands in the 1880s.

Young Lt. Patton chose a special sixgun before he joined "Black Jack" Pershing to pursue Pancho Villa in 1916. That sixgun was a Colt SAA .45 with the "gunfighter" length 4 3/4" barrel, also fully engraved with ivory grips initialed GSP. This sixgun, carried in a Myres Border Patrol holster, became his symbol of authority in World War II. (Contrary to popular belief, Patton did not have a pair of Colts. His second sixgun, also packed in a Myres holster and sometimes packed in tandem with the Colt, was an ivory stocked Smith & Wesson 4" .357 Magnum, one of the first out of the factory. Patton bought his in Hawaii in 1935.)

Pancho Villa? What else but a Colt SAA .45 with a 4 3/4" barrel, full nickel plating with extra fancy ivory grips that carried a carved steer head with gold horns and ruby eyes.

Texas Rangers routinely carried fancy sixguns and semi-automatics. The early years of GUNS magazine often featured articles highlighting such Rangers as Clint Peoples and Bob Crowder, both of whom packed a pair of engraved and ivory stocked 1911 .45s. Rangers Charlie Miller and Lone Wolf Gonzaullas both preferred fancy sidearms as badges of authority. Gonzaullas' engraved and ivory stocked 1911 .45 also had the trigger guard cut away for speedy draws.

Frank Hamer, the Ranger who came out of retirement to stop Bonnie and Clyde, is known for his carrying of a plain vanilla .45 Colt SAA that he called "Old Lucky." But Hamer also had his fancy sixgun, a fully engraved and ivory stocked Colt SAA .45. Tom Threepersons, who designed the famous holster that still bears his name, packed a nickel plated Colt with pearl grips bearing the Colt factory medallion and a carved steerhead.

A look through any museum or book of Colt firearms will reveal dozens of fancy firearms carried by peace officers and outlaws alike, especially in the Southwest part of the country. But today we have seemingly entered the Age Of The Ugly Gun. Fighting handguns are vying to see which can have the least aesthetic qualities. Plastic and rubber abound instead of the steel and ivory preferred by these legendary fighting men of a bygone age.

Most of today's semiautomatics are highly efficient, like Intel-powered computers, but they just have no soul-stirring qualities.

It hasn't always been so. Even the U.S. military, until very recently, adopted good lookin' guns that were also efficient at least for their time period. Consider the 1851 Navy, 1860 Army, Colt SAA, Schofield, 1911 Government Model, 1917 Smith & Wesson and Colt .45 ACP sixguns, all with classic lines to go with their performance as first class fighting handguns.

Today the guns of the military are highly efficient tools, but that is all they are Tools. There is nothing good looking about them. There is nothing there to make the heart beat faster.

Call me a throwback, but I for one am fighting the Ugly Gun. Not only am I fighting it, but also I have had three very special handguns made up that will go to three very special people when I no longer can use them, my grandsons John Christopher, 10, Jason Michael, 9, and Brian John, 5. As they grow older, they will be shooting these sixguns and know that each of them will eventually receive one for their own. I'm sure they will grow to be the kind of men who appreciate fine guns, know how to use them and when to use them.

A Dream Gun

I have always yearned to own an engraved revolver, but putting myself through college while raising a family of three kids and a wife who stayed home with them left little money for anything so frivolous as an engraved sixgun. As it so often happens, time passed ever so quickly. The kids grew and were soon out on their own and I dreamed once more of that engraved sixgun. Finally my wife said enough is enough, do it and stop talking about it.

Do not make the mistake of thinking the cost of engraving is out of reach. Of course we are not talking museum pieces here. I see no practical use for a sixgun that has taken hundreds, perhaps even thousands of hours to complete and is replete with 100 percent coverage of very intricate patterns. A sixgun such as this is highly valuable, strictly for show and only for the rich.

So, finally, 30 years after the dream started, I contacted Jim Riggs about engraving a sixgun. Now the problem was which sixgun to choose. It did not stay a problem very long as the most natural thing was to engrave a sixgun that Elmer Keith would like, a Smith & Wesson 4" .44 Magnum.

My 4" Model 29 from the early 1960s was sent off to Riggs and he was given carte blanche to "fancy up the sixgun." When it came back, I could not have been more pleased. Riggs had executed scrollwork on more than 75 percent of the big Smith and then had it satin nickeled to better show off the engraving. I recommend this subtle finish highly for both protection and good looks.

I was so pleased with the first engraved sixgun that I wanted to do another one. Again time got away. Finally this past year I decided to have a second sixgun done to picture on the cover of my book Big Bore Sixguns along with my Riggs engraved Smith.

This time I chose a Colt SAA, also from the 1960s, a 4 3/4" .45 Colt with ivory grips by Charles Able. This sixgun, like the Model 29, would be a shooter, not a piece to hide away. I made sure it shot to point-of-aim with a favorite .45 Colt load. It took a slight bit of filing on the front sight to get the sights right, but then the blued Colt went south to Boerne, Texas, where Riggs hangs his shingle.

On this sixgun Riggs used a style that looks very much like pictures I have seen of sixguns that were engraved in the frontier period. The scroll work is more subdued than that found on the Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum and a sunburst effect graces the loading gate and recoil shield.

My name is also engraved on the backstrap so this sixgun will, in all probability, eventually go to my oldest grandson who also bears my name. With its satin nickel finish and ivory stocks, the overall effect is one of which Buck Jones, Hopalong Cassidy or even old Blood And Guts himself would approve.

Third Base

There are three truly classic handguns: the Colt SAA, Smith & Wesson Model 29 and Colt 1911 Government Model. A singleaction, a doubleaction and a semiautomatic. Two bases were covered. Two of the three grandsons were provided for. It was time to provide the third leg of the tripod.

Enter Ed Delorge. Ed is both a gunsmith and an engraver from Louisiana. We first made contact early this year and I asked him to send some pictures of his work. He went one step further. Not only did I get pictures of several handguns he had engraved, but also he sent a picture of himself with his family. A man who is proud of his family immediately gains points with me.

I decided to send him a Colt Series 70 to be given the fancy treatment. This is not just an ordinary run-of-the-mill .45-- it shoots exceedingly well. With target loads, it will cut a cloverleaf at 25 yards one-handed, standing on my two legs, shooting off-hand-- or, I should say, it would 25 years ago when my hold was steadier and my eye was keener. I can't do it quite as well anymore, but the .45 still will print those groups in the right hands.

Off went the tack-driving Colt to Delorge who was also given carte blanche with only one stipulation-- a satin nickel finish to match the Smith and Colt SAA.

The contours of the Government Model are quite different than either of the revolvers. Working with flat surfaces for the most part, Delorge executed a smaller scroll and leaf pattern than found on the two sixguns. The result is stunning to say the least. The scrolls and leaves are perfectly executed and set off by a very subtle stippled background. Delorge covered the slide, frame, even both sides of the ambi thumb safety with his pattern.

My fancy guns are working guns. Fancy working guns, but working guns nevertheless. They are carried in quality leather, they are used, they are shot routinely. A gun that isn't for shooting has no value for me. I do have two very collectible sixguns that I don't shoot. However, these have been given to my wife to put away as an investment for her golden years.

Both Riggs and Delorge are very reasonable and will provide an engraved piece worthy of great pride of ownership. For less than the cost of a new sixgun, one can have a truly personal, engraved firearm. It will look great and also still be a true working sidearm.

My paternal grandfather was killed three months before my father was born. Grandma continued with the plans to come to America and made the trip on her own, carrying my father with four other youngsters in tow. My father was killed before I was a year old. I have nothing that belonged to my grandfather and only a broken pocket watch and a belt buckle that belonged to my father. When he was killed, his brothers confiscated his .22 rifle and 12 ga. shotgun for their own. They weren't worth much, but they should have been put away for me. They were not.

For the past two decades I have been putting things away for my grandsons. Interesting books, special pictures, copies of my articles. These sixguns are more than fancy firearms that fulfill a whim. It is my legacy to future generations. What's yours?
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Author:Taffin, John
Publication:American Handgunner
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:1753
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