Keep Yer' Head Down Pardner

When The Movies Used Live Ammo!

Posing at the Carey family ranch in Saugus, CA, are from left:
Olive Carey’s sister, Mignonne Fuller; Olive Carey; director “Breezy” Easton; Harry Carey, Sr.; Harry “Dobe” Carey, Jr. (age 4);
cowboy Otto Myer; artist Charles Russel; Ed “Pardner” Jones and an unnamed friend.

Today when there’s gun play in the movies, small explosive electrical “squibs” are planted and camouflaged to simulate ricochets off rocks, holes in wood and even body hits with “Hollywood blood.” They’re detonated remotely by experts behind the camera. However, from about 1916 until “squibs” were developed in the early 1950’s, real bullets were used — not on the actors — but they came pretty close!

From 1992 to 2000 my wife and I lived near and were close friends with the late actor, Harry “Dobe” Carey, Jr. and his wife Marilyn, in Durango, Colorado. This was when “Dobe” wrote his famous book, “Company Of Heroes,” filled with tales behind the scenes of western movies he made with John Wayne, Ward Bond, Ben Johnson and others who were members of the “John Ford Stock Company.” Dobe also told me many stories that weren’t in the book, one of which I can repeat here.

Harry Carey, Sr. in a scene from one of his many movies with his Colt SAA
and .44 WCF cal. Winchester Model 1892 SRC.

Personal Sharpshooters

In the early days of silent films a small group of sharpshooters were employed to work in western movies where they carefully fired .22 ammunition mainly at specially selected rocks around the cowboy actors to simulate a real gunfight.

The big stars of the day had their own sharpshooters with whom they carefully rehearsed their scenes. For example the hero or other actor would come up and fire a blank, and then quickly duck behind an angled rock so his sharpshooter could fire one or two rounds of .22 rimfire against the rock, making dust and leaving a mark. “Dobe’s” famous father, Harry Carey, Sr, was “The” biggest Hollywood cowboy star in the early days of motion pictures, and his personal sharpshooter was a man called Ed “Pardner” Jones. Little is known about “Pardner” Jones’ past, except his real name was Ed Garrett, a cousin of Pat Garrett’s. Ed killed a man in Texas around 1890 and fled to California, where he changed his name to Jones.

A strong minded Olive Carey, c/1920,
starred in many films with her husband Harry Carry.

An Apple A Day?

Dobe’s favorite story of “Pardner” Jones occurred about 1920 during a Wild West show put on by Universal Studios to entertain automobile maker, Henry Ford and others. Movie stars such as Hoot Gibson and Art Acord were in the show and each had a special act. But Harry Carey, Sr., one of the biggest cowboy stars at the time, didn’t have anything special planned.

According to Dobe, his father and “Pardner” Jones sat on a bale of hay behind a tent drinking bootleg whiskey talking about what the elder Carey could put together in such a short time when Pardner suggested he shoot an apple off of Harry Carey’s head. Carey thought that was a great idea and after a short rehearsal, the two staggered out in front of the crowd where Harry Carey announced what he and Pardner were going to do. Carey took off his Stetson and put a big red apple on his head. Facing Carey, who was standing in front of several hay bales, Pardner Jones chambered a round of .22 Long Rifle into his Model 90 Winchester and aimed at the apple.

Just then, Carey’s wife, actress Olive Golden Carey, came around a corner to watch in horror as Pardner fired the shot and to see the apple fly apart. Harry Carey and Pardner Jones bowed and the audience went wild with applause.

Olive Carey, a beautiful girl in her 20’s, who never lacked a choice of words, angrily ran to her husband and screamed, “Goddammit Harry, you could have been killed!” When Carey assured her there was no chance of that, Olive replied, “Oh, no? You’re both drunk and both of you were weaving.”

“Yeah, I know,” replied Harry, but we were weaving together!” Dobe said his mother repeated that story dozens of times.

Harry “Dobe” Carey, Jr. — who got the name from the color of the adobe clay
on the ranch — poses in his home in Durango, Colorado, in 1990.

No Injuries — Ever

That incident was the first of hundreds of trick shots safely fired by Pardner Jones at Harry Carey, Sr. and other cast members in the western movies of yesteryear. Dobe told me he never heard of anyone getting hurt by it.

Harry “Dobe” Carey, Jr. grew up knowing Ed “Pardner” Jones, and described him as one of the finest men he ever knew, and one hell of a good shot. Nearly all of the hundred or more silent films starring Harry Carey, Sr. were not preserved after “talkies” came in, but one of his most famous talking westerns can now be owned and seen in your own living room. It’s “Powder Smoke Range,” also starring Hoot Gibson, Bob Steele, Gwen “Big Boy” Williams and Tom Tyler. “Powder Smoke Range” was the prototype for the western series, “The Three Musketeers,” and features a number of scenes where Pardner Jones shoots rocks using real bullets, with Harry Carey and others ducking behind them — just in time!

Harry “Dobe” Carey, Jr. passed on in 2012, the last member of John Ford’s Stock Company of Heroes.

We hope you enjoyed this Sneak Peek!

Contact your FMG representative to reserve space in the January/February 2020 issue of American Handgunner.

West: Delano Amaguin 888-732-6461 || [email protected]
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North East: Tom Vorel 800-426-4470 || [email protected]
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