Historic Holsters

Legendary Leather Of The Masters
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I’ve never seen a leather holster which was not interesting. A teenager in the 1950’s, I was captivated by the new adult TV westerns. My fascination with the TV gunfighters led to a life-long interest in the sport of fast draw and gun leather in general. Always a reader, I spent many hours reading Keith’s Sixguns, Border Patrolman Bill Jordan’s No Second Place Winner and Ed McGivern’s Fast and Fancy Shooting.

My first handgun was a Hahn 45 SA BB-gun. This CO2 powered SA was the same size, weight and balance as the legendary Colt SAA and the perfect fast draw trainer. Combined with a Tandy Woolem Fast Draw holster kit, I was on my way to becoming a fast gun.

Finding a fast draw club in Topeka, KS while attending college, I acquired a Colt Scout .22 SA and my first professionally produced fast draw rig from Alfonso of Hollywood. Ever the reader, I bought Guns, Guns & Ammo and Gun World magazines as all ran feature articles on the sport of fast draw. By the mid 1960’s these magazines were featuring articles on the new West coast sport called combat shooting. It was interesting that this sport, starting as the live ammunition branch of fast draw, had caused the fast draw holster makers to introduce their competition leather modified for the Colt 1911 auto pistol.

By the mid 1970’s I had found the Mid-West Practical Pistol League (MPPL) which held monthly combat matches in Columbia, Mo. I purchased a used Anderson Thunderbolt combat rig and started shooting in the MPPL matches.

A small notice in Soldier Of Fortune magazine mentioned an upcoming Jeff Cooper shooting seminar to be held in Columbia, Missouri. A phone call and a check in the mail and I was attending what is now known as the IPSC Founding Conference.

All of this time I was acquiring more holsters, until today I have one of the major collections of Hollywood, Western and practical holsters anywhere. Gunleather really tells a story, and historical Gunleather — especially — can really talk to us. Let’s take a look at a few.

Bill Jordan was a legendary US Border Patrol officer. His speed and accuracy with his DA duty revolver verged on the miraculous. The rig, made by Oklahoma State Police officer Dan Combs, is steel lined and was used by Jordan when he toured giving shooting exhibitions for the NRA. It’s covered with African elephant hide, which Jordan told me he had because he brought home one elephant ear from a Safari. The Colt SA was Jordan’s “loser’s gun” used by a volunteer in the “beat the drop” trick as the volunteer always lost to Jordan’s amazing speed from the holster.

Audie Murphy was a popular Western movie star. He was also the highest decorated US soldier of WWII, including the Medal of Honor. He and Nudie, of Nudie’s of Hollywood, were known to be close friends. Nudie’s was the tailor to the stars, including the Rhinestone Cowboy outfit worn by Glen Campbell. This high ride full carved break front holster for a Colt SA revolver was made by Nudie’s and the belt loop is professionally stamped with the name “AUDIE MURPHY.”

Robert Horton starred on TV’s Wagon Train series for 187 episodes. He used this custom Arvo Ojala rig, made by Andy Anderson when he worked for Ojala, when the actors were supposedly using percussion revolvers as shown in the promotional photo. Note the lack of bullet loops, the rough-out finish, the strap encircling the holster lacks the usual buckle, and the belt buckle is a solid brass garrison buckle rather than the usual nickel chaps buckle. When the cast switched to standard Colt SA revolvers, Horton walked into Anderson’s new Gunfighter shop, tossed the rig to Andy and said “make me one of yours.” I obtained this rig from Anderson approximately 30 years later.

J. Henry FitzGerald, known as Fitz, was a professional exhibition shooter for Colt Firearms for many years prior to WWII and the author of Shooting. The custom one-of-a-kind gun belt, which attached to Fitz’s waistband with extra buttons, was made by fellow exhibition shooter and holster maker A. H. “Cap” Hardy. The carved holster for a mid-frame Colt DA revolver with custom swivel belt loop was also by Hardy. The wrist band clip holster, by S. D. Myres, was auctioned several years ago with other Fitz items.

Rodd Redwing was an American Indian who taught Hollywood actors how to look good while using guns in Western movies and TV shows. He taught such stars as Steve McQueen, Alan Ladd, Glen Ford and Elvis. The old and well worn rig is one of Rodd’s personal rigs, hand made by him and having “corset stays” in the holster to enhance a fast draw. When Rodd offered his rig commercially, they were made by Andy Anderson and the one shown was made for me and was the last one made. Note the two dummy .45’s located just in front of the holster, which were used to slip cock the SA revolver by raking the hammer spur across them.

Joe Bowman, known professionally as “The Straight Shooter,” was a colorful professional exhibition shooter who represented Sturm, Ruger Co. for many years. Also a professional leather worker, having made two pairs of Rose Bowl Parade cowboy boots for Roy Rogers, Joe made all of his personal gun leather. The Ruger New Vaquero is a limited production Joe Bowman Commemorative and the rig is the one he is wearing in the photo with Patrick Wayne. I wear the scarf, which was Joe’s, when competing in Cowboy Fast Draw matches.

Thell Reed was a Fast Draw prodigy while still in his teens. He was one of the original five Combat Masters in the South West Combat Pistol League and achieved that rank using Colt SA revolvers. The B&W photo shows a young Reed being fitted for an Anderson Walk and Draw rig by Anderson in the early 1960’s. The rig shown, a rough out working rig, is a special pattern developed for Reed’s small stature. The invoice for this rig is dated 1-27-66. Reed gave this rig, with right hand holster only, to a mutual friend who shot live ammo fast draw with him saying that the friend was going to blow his knee cap off using the junk rig he had. The friend added the Reed rig to my collection 30 years later.

Though little remembered, Chic Gaylord is the father of the modern molded leather holster. He produced the finest handmade concealment and police duty holsters in his New York City shop in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. He favored revolvers and used the High Standard Sentinel for maximum speed shooting. This is his personal Gun Hawk exhibition shooting fast draw holster, as illustrated in his book Handgunner’s Guide.

The Anderson Thunderbolt was the state of the art speed holster for the Colt 1911 in the early 1970’s. The holster was steel lined, enclosed the trigger guard to prevent premature access on the draw and had an adjustable tension device. The Western drop loop rig was Anderson’s personal “Combat” rig. The high ride Walk and Draw version with high front holster was originally developed for Col. Jeff Cooper. At the IPSC Founding Conference Cooper told us if he lived where the Communist rebels might attack at any moment he would carry his .45 in a Thunderbolt.

Anderson patented the IWB “Sidewinder” holster. The belt loop attached to the pouch with a heavy duty snap fastener allowing the loop to swivel. This provided superior user comfort, as the holstered handgun could move slightly with one’s body movement. The fancy lined and carved holster was Andy’s personal Sidewinder, while the plain unlined holster was the commercial version. Andy told me he sold many Sidewinders to Texas Rangers, who bought one pouch and multiple belt loops for different width belts.

These two Berns-Martin “Speed” holsters are special. The SA holster is custom made for the Colt Sheriff’s Model SA and may have been used by a Las Vegas casino guard. The Berns-Martin was the first security holster, as the revolver had to be rocked forward to clear the trigger guard before it could be drawn. The left hand Speed holster is for a S&W N-Frame revolver and was used by an FBI agent. It is marked “BERNS-MARTIN EVALUATORS LTD. QUANTICO, VA.” which was a purchasing agent for the FBI.

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