Updated: Feb 11
"The Gun That Won the West." Winchester and their 1873 model lever-action rifle would eventually become widely known as The Gun that Won the West. Produced from 1873 until 1919, by 1900 Winchester's factories had manufactured over half a million of these versatile rifles. Often paired with Colt's Single Action revolver, the Winchester '73 found good use in the hands of America's most famous and infamous westerners, including lawmen like Pat Garrett, ranchers like Granville Stuart, outlaws like Butch Cassidy and Billy the Kid, and showmen like William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody.
Cody's most famous gun was Lucretia Borgia, the Springfield .50 caliber trapdoor needle-gun that he used to kill buffalo to feed the westward expansion of the railroad and earn the nickname that followed him the rest of his life. The gun was named after Lucrezia Borgia, an Italian aristocrat (and daughter of Pope Alexander VI) who became the heroine of the play Lucrèce Borgia by Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
Lucretia Borgia may seem like a strange name for a gun, but Daniel Boone reportedly named his favorite rifle "Tick-Licker" because he could "shoot a tick off a dog's ass and not scratch the dog." Texas Jack's favorite rifle wasn't a Winchester '73 or a Springfield .50 caliber, but a Remington rolling block rifle he dubbed Lazy Kate. Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill were both presented with these rifles by Elijah Greene, son-in-law of Philo Remington, and the gun soon became Jack's favorite. It's a good story, so I'll let Texas Jack himself tell it:
Texas Jack on the “Wide Range”—The History of Lazy Kate
(Chicago Field - Saturday, March 19, 1881)
By Texas Jack
The following sketch was written by John Omohundro, better known as Texas Jack, who died in New Mexico last year [note: Texas Jack died in Leadville, Colorado]. It is an autobiography of a brief passage in his eventful life, and we print it as written, that the peculiar characteristics of the man and his experiences may shine out the more conspicuously. There are many gentlemen, both American and English, comprising the hunting parties whom he served as guide, who will read Jack’s story with greater interest, because it comes naturally and literally from his own pen, something as he would have told it by the camp-fire.
“Lazy Kate” was the name I gave to one of my favorite old rifles; she was of Remington patent, Egyptian model, caliber, .43, and was presented to me by the Remington Gun Works, February, 1873. She was beautifully gold mounted, and at first I thought her too pretty to be of much real service, but I found my mistake in after years. I first used her on the stage; she made her debut at Niblo’s Garden, New York, and for several months after received her equal share of banging and pounding around behind the scenes, such as all articles have to receive in that part of the theater.
During the Summer I took her to Nebraska on a buffalo hunt, and Kate made her first appearance on the plains at Fort McPherson, Nebraska. There were several of us in the party, including Buffalo Bill, Dr. W. F. Carver, and some New York friends. Most of us had new rifles, and of course did some target practice before starting the hunt. I hit an oyster can, one hundred yards, two out of three. That was good enough, and it was right there and then that I went dead stuck on Kate, and christened her “Lazy Kate,” because I couldn’t work her quite so fast as some of the boys could their repeating rifles.
A few days ride brought us among the buffaloes, and with a little maneuvering I got my New York friends right in the midst of a large herd, some three or four hundred head. At a signal they were off; buffalo and hunters all together. It was fun to see the New York fellows popping and banging about among the buffaloes just like old timers. I hung back to see them go; I expected to see some of the boys go over their ponies’ heads, but they didn’t, and I began to think it was time to do a little something myself, if only to keep up appearances, when an old bull broke off from the herd all by himself. I at once gave chase, and was surprised to see Dr. Carver (no the champion rifle shot) come swooping down from another direction after the same bull. He was some one hundred yards to my right, and the buffalo about the same distance in front of us. Now came the race for a shot; I yelled, pounded and spurred, so did Doc; but it was no use, the old bull’s legs were a little too long for our ponies, and we couldn’t gain an inch. This was kept up for a mile or more, when I decided to try him one, any way. Doc followed suit. I fired again, and Doc gave him another. By this time the bull had disappeared over a bank, and when we came up to the place, the old fellow had turned up his toes, down by a little pond of water. Our shooting had been good, for three out of the four shots had taken effect. Our ponies were red hot, and mine made a straight dive for the water. Alkali or no alkali, he was bound to have a drink. I was bound he shouldn’t. When near the edge he reared on his hind feet, twisted around, and came over backward right on top—not of me—but poor Kate, kerflumux in the mudhole. I thought she was all broke up sure, but when I fished her out and washed the mud off, she was sound and pretty as ever.
I brought her back to the states and put her in the show business again. We had a long season, went as far south as Galveston, Texas, using the old rifle and firing blanks nearly every night. About this time there was a call for the riflemen of the United States to come forward and form a team at Creedmoor, New York. I was the first to enlist, and intended to use Lazy Kate in the match, and should have done so, only for a previous engagement with the Earl of Dunraven, to accompany him as guide to Montana, which came just in the way of meeting for practice. I hadn’t tried Kate at long range yet, and after sending my name for the team, I went out one day and had some of the boys to set up a New York Herald, stretched between two sticks stuck in the ground for a target, at a guessed distance of one thousand yards. I overshot twice, lowered my sights to nine hundred, and struck it the third time.
Lazy Kate was dragged around with me until I joined the Earl in Denver City, Sol. In July, ‘74, I went to Ft. Bridger, Utah, but had bad luck for the three weeks we were there; I moved on to Salt Lake, thence to Corinne. Here we struck it rough for Kate as well as the rest of the outfit. Being literally shook to pieces for four days and nights in a stage coach is no light usage on either men or things, and of all the things I ever saw going on our hunt, they were mixed up in that coach. We struck Bozeman City on time, and I soon rigged a pack train to go up the Yellowstone river to the Government Park.
Now came the tug of war against porr Kate and the rest of the guns. Most of us had light short rifles to use on the saddle in the thick timber, whilst the heavier ones were assigned to the packs. Kate was heavy weight and had to ride on a pack mule, and many is the time I have seen one end of her going over a limb that had grown out a little too low, whilst the mule and rest of the pack would go under. Then came the stand-off between Kate and the mule. If nothing gave way Kate got the best of it, and the mule hung fire until we came up; but when the belly-band busted and lash-ropes gave way, Kate generally went back about twenty feet on the trail, and the mule straight on, stringing out the rest of the pack. Sometimes the mule would try to go under a log that had fallen a little too low; Kate was sure to strike it dead center, set the mule back a peg or two, and then all was right again.
Nothing seemed to hurt that gun. She was always ready to shoot when I wanted her. One day I sent a ball through three antelopes grazing by a lake (fortunately, for us, as we had been out of meat four or five days); but that wasn’t where the laugh came in; I shot at the bunch and didn’t know that I had hit them at all, as the rest of the band ran right toward me, and I was hurried reloading; fired again, and crippled another; it was badly hurt, but made off fast, and was soon out of sight,
“Here,” think I,” is a pretty rough case;
No meat to-day, without a race,”
So I jumped my old pony and struck off like I had been shot out of a musket. I soon came up near to the antelope, but the country was rough, full of little ridges, and every time I came over one, he was just going over the next. I put on all steam now; my pony put his foot in a badger-hole; he swapped ends, so did I, and the Lord knows what poor Kate done. After gathering myself up, and catching the pony, I found her come twenty feet from where we got the tumble, lying on the loose stones all right. I returned to the lake to find Bottler, my assistant guide, butchering one antelope, and two others lying near. I had evidently killed all three the first shot!
Some two weeks after this I came pretty near going back on Kate. We had been bear-hunting several days without success, when late one rainy afternoon, I come on to a large grizzly, feeding on some elk we had killed the day before. It was rather dark in the line sapling thicket, and I got pretty near before I caught sight of him. Gosh, but he was a thumper! I at once looked about for a tree to climb, in case of an accident. There was one near by, and about the only one in the thicket that had a limb nearer than forty feet to the ground. I left my hat, boots, and coat at the root of it, and crawled down within eighty yards of the bear. If I had fired then it would have been all right, but the confounded brute was so comical in his actions, that I had to lay there and watch him awhile.
He had raked up about five wagon loads of dirt, logs, brush, and stuff, and piled it all on top of the elk carcass, and yet he was not happy, for he still continued to heap on more. It was growing dark, and the rain began to fall faster. I noticed this and saw there was no more time to be lost. I was sure, when I raised up to get a fair shot, he would see me, and then for a fight or a foot race. “Now, methinks, Kate, it lays between you and the bear. I am going up the tree!” I raised right up, and the bear didn’t, btu went right on with his work just as if nothing had happened (he hadn’t seen me at all), and kept up a perpetual motion, round and about, in such a way that another moment was lost before I could get a fair shot. When I raised Kate to fire, I could see the bear, but devil the bit of a sight could I see on her at all. I took chances and let fo, not only the charge but the gun, butt and all, and broke for me tree, for of all the bawling and squalling, growling and howling I ever heard, it was right there and then.
I ran to where my tree ought to be, but it wasn’t there—not a tree that I could get a hold of had a limb in it, and I didn’t think I would have one left on me in two seconds more. When the racket suddenly ceased I looked around, only to see Bruin shuffling off in another direction. I had missed my tree by twenty yards, and liked never to have found Kate. I believe I would have fought a bear dead earnest them (after that one was plumb out of sight), for I was riled up and mad enough at Kate to have broken her back! But she redeemed herself three days after. I tied her to a log near another elk carcass a little further up the mountain, then fastened a string to the trigger in such a way that, by touching the string, she would go off at the object that touched it; and that is just what she done, for the next morning there lay Mr. Bear, not ten feet from Kate, with a hole through his head half as big as my first. It was the same bear I had wounded three days before; my ball had entered the shoulder and passed through the chest too low down.
But this wasn’t the end of Kate’s troubles on that trip (or mine either). We quit the bear business soon after and took to the rocks after mountain sheep. I brought Kate East and used her another long season on the stage, and took her one more trip to the plains. She did great service, always shot well, and never failed fire but a few times, and one of these few I was mighty glad of, as I would have killed an Indian or a bad white man (which amounts to about the same thing). There were trying to stampede our ponies; I rushed out of camp and passed the ponies just as one of the gang passed me, not more than ten steps off. It was dark, but I think I would have given him a pretty close call if Kate hadn’t throwed off on me.
She was all right until last Winter. Whilst playing an engagement in Boston, I let her fall lightly on the stage, as I had hundreds of times before, when her stock broke square off, or nearly so. I felt kind of superstitious about it then, and do yet, as I have never had a day’s luck on stage since; but I roped her up with a buckskin string and used her awhile. The Remingtons kindly offered to restock her for me, but I refused. It was no use; Lazy Kate had seen her day (the same as we have all seen, or will have to see).
I laid her quietly away in the property box, which served as her coffin at the Howard Athenaeum, Boston, until this Winter, when the box was set outside and the deep snow covered it. When I dug her up poor Kate was all rusted inside, and worse broke up than ever. I took her back to Remington’s gun store, Broadway, New York, where I had gotten her six years ago, and there she will remain as a relic, perhaps, so long as the works may last.