Saturday, April 3, 2010


One of my father's self-defense gun projects in the 80's or early 90's was a gun as pictured above, a Smith and Wesson Model 1917, chambered in .45 Auto. His good freind since law school in the late 50's, Big John, was an avid sportsman, hunter, fisherman and shooter. Big John had been a Fed after law school and then retired and joined my father in his law practice. My father had been a long-time Harris County prosecutor and then became a longtime criminal defense and civil attorney.

Big John was always buying guns and trading guns for my dad. My dad would often give Big John certain types of cases without splitting the fee and threw quite a bit of business his good friend's way without taking any referral fees either. So Big John was always buying my dad what Big John thought the best self defense gun was that particular week.

Big John favored revolvers of larger calibers. If my dad didn't like a particular gun, Big John would take it and indian trade it for another at a gun show. It was always interesting to see what kind of guns and trades Big John had going on.

One of the guns Big John got for him was a keeper for my dad. It was a gun like the one pictured above, except my father's was parkerized and refurbished at Smith and Wesson prior to being sold to civilians after decades of military service. From WWI to possibly the Vietnam War, these guns saw service in battle. There is a long and storied history of this gun at a lot of sites, and it was the first in a long line of Smith and Wesson combat revolvers.

Big John outfitted it with a set of Pachmayr presentation grips, which look sharp with the flawless gray parkerized finish. The front sight is in good shape and the action is tight and the triggers (DA and SA) are not bad at all. For a nearly 100 year old pistol (that's been refurbished a few decades ago), it's in damn good condition.

So this gun was a favorite of Chic Gaylord as he wrote in his book on gun fighting and self defense. It's a big gun, basically an N frame in size, and the 5 and 1/2" of barrel don't do much to aid concealment.

Yet the reason my father was a fan of this weapon was that a lot of homicide and robbery detectives carried guns of this sort in the 60's in Houston. The old heads. The old dudes. The dudes that had been in more than one gunfight and lived. They carried this gun because it was an ultimately reliable, good shooting, quick to reload with full moon clips and powerful cartridge that was capable of one-shoot-stops in law enforcement shootouts.

Most of them had trained with the 1911 .45 Auto in military service. It had jammed, at some point or another, on most, and all of those old guys who had been gunfighting bad guys in Houston since the 1940's or even back in the 20's and 30's felt they'd rather have six sure shots and a slower reload than 8 faster shots with a fast reload but a chance of jamming during fire.

Most of them old head cops in Houston back in the day carried revolvers, and many of them carried some variety of a .357 or bigger. Most of their guns that I recall seeing had 3" or 4" barrels. I was well into shooting by second grade, and was very interested in all of the models and the reasons why these people carried these different guns as cops.

In Houston back before the early 70's, many firemen, prosecutors, judges, lawyers and businessmen who were friends of the sheriff or a constable had commissions as peace officers and were duly deputized, in many cases solely for the purpose of legally carrying a handgun. Those who were carrying these reserve commissions (which were sometimes actual police commissions) or the "honorary" variety mostly wanted to legally carry a handgun in Houston and since there was no such thing as a concealed handgun license in Texas until the 1990's, that was the only way to do it.

In the early 1970's, police standards went into effect limiting the issuance of police commissions both reserve and honorary, but those who had held them before the change in law were grandfathered in by law.

So all of the interesting characters that my father did business with such as divorce lawyers, criminal defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges, police officers, private investigators, bondsmen and the like pretty much all carried guns with them. They each had different reasons. Bondsmen and sometimes attorneys carried large amounts of cash money, and people knew this. Sometimes, lawyers and judges had angry clients or defendants or witnesses or their families and had due concern about retaliation or attack.

Gunplay has been like a thread in the cloth that is the history of Houston (a cynical nod to Morgan Fairchild in WANTED, a great movie with a stupid theme about weavers and secret societies. It was a cool movie until the loom story arose. I don't see how Morgan told that story with a straight face.)

First indians, then the Mexican Army, then cowboys and bandits and blood feuds and law enforcement actions. Throughout the decades of the 1800's and 1900's, gunplay was not unusual, and even semi-common at times. The famous Fifth Ward was known throughout the world as "The Bloody Fifth" for decades in the mid-1900's. It was not the only part of Houston known as a tough part of town where the crooks and "Tush-Hogs" carried their guns and were not afraid to use them.

And so I come back full circle to the purpose of this post. I'd like to hear some Model 1917 stories. I found a few out there and will post links later in an edit, but I bet that the Model 1917 and it's successors were widely used and carried in Houston for 4 or 5 decades by good and bad guys alike.

Now all I need are some half moon or full moon clips and some kind of holster and I'm ready for some shooting fun.

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