Gun Holster Origins

Where Did the Western Holster Come From?
A History of the Western Leather Gun Holster Origins

Madeleine Jacobs
(source P. Spangenberger, True West Magazine 2008)

There is still, undeniably, a fascination with western culture and memorabilia. As a young lady in high school, I read dozens of accounts of stories like the Hole in the Wall Gang, Jesse James, and Wyatt Earp. Every story made the old west more romantic than ever.

Along with their stories, there was a curiosity about their guns, their clothing and even their horses. In my mind, I  created elaborate and detailed pictures of what the old west looked like. Photos of these ‘evil’ men and their deeds, both dead and alive, weren’t even close to what I had pictured. But growing up with and learning to shoot with my dad made me curious about the weaponry used in this time period….especially the hand guns.

The old six shooters sported much smaller hand grips and some were slimmer and longer in design than what we see an use today. But these pistols and rifles were their tools of trade, so to speak, and were very important. And worth taking exceptional care of.

Some of the holsters and rifle scabbards were a detailed study in excellent craftsmanship, showing detailed and finely worked leather tooling. Originally created with an efficient and functional purpose in mind but by the mid 1850’s, that had changed. Care was now given to protecting pistols from dirt and dust from binding the mechanism in the pistol rendering it useless when needed in immediate situations. To that end, flap covers became a part of holster design.

As prohibited and illegal activities increased, the need for immediate access to a pistol increased. The protective flap became a hindrance and thus was eliminated. Eventually, enterprising businesses, saddlers and leather workers, saw an evolving need for quality and functional gun holsters. Some of these, such as Main and Winchester and L.D Stone Company, filled the gap resulting in what we now see today as a definitive western holster, giving birth to the ‘California Pattern’. (Just a personal note; too bad it wasn’t the ‘Wyoming Pattern’ or the ‘Texas Pattern’!)

These scabbards and holsters were custom created for particular revolvers and rifles, conforming tightly to shape, some of which featured either the full or partial flap.  Belt loops were usually stitched to the reverse side and in some cases riveted and occasionally included detailing and was uniquely ornamental as well as functional.

Eventually the pattern for this West Coast Holster became very popular and spread everywhere through the western territories. Actually by the Civil War, the pattern used in for these holsters became a standard design used commonly by many.

In the mid 1870’s, as the six gun progressed to the metallic style cartridge, the Mexican Loop Holster pattern began to take precedence over the California style holster pattern which readily fitted over wider belts.

The elaborate and beautifully detailed leather pieces we see today are thanks to the California Holster for being the frontrunner for what constitutes holsters today

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