A Shootout At The St. James


A King Custom .32 Long is a rarity. And a treasure,
when you know the whole story.

Built in 1872, the St. James Hotel is nestled in historic Cimarron, New Mexico. Known for being the hotel of choice for infamous outlaws in need of a soft bed and fully stocked saloon, famed people such as Wyatt Earp, Jesse James, Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley, Billy the Kid and Thomas James Wright were known to stay there. There are still bullet holes in the decorative tin ceiling in the bar, gratis many a rowdy cowboy, outlaw and desperado.

On my yearly pilgrimage to the Whittington Center in Raton, New Mexico, a group of us usually got to the St. James for lunch.

The pinned front brass sight provides a wonderful sight picture.

The ivory stocks really set the tone for this classy little plinker.

Scheduled Shootout?

After taking delivery of a vintage Smith & Wesson revolver several years ago, I wrote an article on how to make shotshell loads for it. A few weeks later, my cell phone rang …

I recognized the Texan drawl immediately. It was Madbo.

“Tank, I got me a new gun like yours, only mine’s a little different. When I see you at the St. James Saloon this year, we’re going to have a shootout with our .32 Smiths.” Not really — but play along.

The gun he was talking about was a new to me S&W pre-model 31 chambered in .32 S&W Long with 3.25” barrel. But Madbo, being Madbo, found the same gun, only his was fancier and a 5-screw. He was famous for that. It wasn’t about one-upmanship; Madbo really liked cool stuff.

Original bluing is exquisite.

The recessed & painted half-moon rear sight is a very nice touch.

Gun Shark

Madbo scoured internet auctions, gun shows, gun shops and casual acquaintances for guns like no other. Watching him work was masterful. He was cleverer than the grizzliest of detectives when talking guns.

He had a knack for convincing people they wanted to sell their guns when they had no intention to. “How much would it take if you were to sell it,” was a line I heard more than once.

You’ve heard of gun sharks? Madbo was better than a school of starving great whites, or worse, depending on how you looked at things. He was masterful, for sure!

The king of bargains, finder of rare guns and friend to everyone in his wake would be an accurate description. But he knew his limits and the value of guns and walked away whenever price and value didn’t agree.

Roll-marked barrel is sharp and crisp inside and out.

New Plan

The “planned” shootout was mentioned every time we talked, having a good laugh at different scenarios playing out. Then, one day, Madbo tells me there’s going to be a change in plans, “I figure it won’t be much challenge shooting you, so I’m gonna’ sneak up and pistol whip ya’! Then I’ll drag your limp body to my truck and dump you along the highway for coyote bait!” We had a good laugh at that one! There was only one Madbo, that’s for sure!

Madbo always had a glint in his eye. Here he is with Bill Jordan’s
American Handgunner of the Year Award which he owned. He loved Bill!

Trick Shooter

My fast draw buddy was known for duplicating Bill Jordan’s shooting tricks — shooting a chest-high held ping pong ball in his strong side hand, dropping it, then drawing his holstered gun and shooting it with a wax bullet before it hit the ground. He was that fast!

That was just one of his tricks! He could do more. And it’s a good thing we were only joking about a shootout, otherwise I’d a been riddled with .32 caliber holes.

The guns for the pre-planned “shootout” at the St. James.

A King for the King

Madbo loved King Custom guns. The gun he found like mine just so happened to be one. While my gun is nice, Madbo’s King Custom is exquisite. Starting with its white ivory stocks alone sets it far apart from mine, in both coolness … and price. Madbo said he bought it from someone who didn’t know what they had. Another trait of his was knowing guns were of value that others didn’t.

The front sight consists of a pinned piece of brass rod. Coupled with a skillfully white painted rear sight that is inlet, it provides a beautiful sight picture. The gun bluing is in excellent condition, almost looking new, as is the color case hardening on the trigger and hammer. And the action is second to none, both double and single-action shooting.

A page from the King Sight Co. showing the sight work in upper left corner.

The cover of a King Sight Co. catalog.

Another Auction

Poor Madbo died last year, and his guns were auctioned off by his family. His guns were to be his retirement plan. He figured when he needed to, he’d sell off a gun or two at a time while enjoying them now. Unfortunately, he never got the chance. We never know what’s in store for us.

I ended up with three of Madbo’s guns. The last one was the S&W King Custom pre-model 31. Bobby Tyler actually won it at auction but sold it to me for what he paid after hearing this story. He’s that kind of guy!

Owing this gun is a double-edged sword, as you can imagine. Although the guns are cherished, I miss my buddy more. He never got the chance to sneak up and pistol whip me, but he surprised me in another way. I never believed I would one day be the keeper of some of his guns to remember him by. One day, someone else will be the keeper, and I hope they know the history behind them.

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