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How Were Gatling Guns Used in the Old West?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: January 14, 2014 
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Troubled by the seemingly unexplainable absence of Gatling guns (which were approved and adopted by the War Department in 1862 and used for the remainder of the Civil War) in Hollywood westerns of the '30s and '40s about the post-war subjugation of the Indian nations by the US Cavalry, I've been searching for authoritative historical information on whether or not they were in fact used. I know they weren't used at Little Big Horn, but understand that was because Custer himself declined to use them even though they were available.

Could you please point me to an authoritative source dealing with this issue?  Thanks.

Dave Toms
Ottawa, Canada

? ? ?

Dear Mr. Toms,

If you want something more specific than Julia Keller's 2008 book Mr. Gatlin's Terrible Marvel, by you might want to look into getting a back issue of Wild West magazine, specifically the April 2010 issue, whose "Guns of the West" Department article by Lee A. Silva was entitled: "Gatling Guns Generated Fearsome Fire But Seldom Dealt Death in the West; Their mere presence was enough to scare off most challengers." Among the highlights brought to my attention by editor Greg Lalire: "On August 30, 1874, Lieutenant John Pope of the 5th Infantry used two Gatling guns to break up an ambush set for Colonel Nelson Miles in west Texas….Another Miles  column, this one led by Major William Price of the 8th Cavalry also employed Gatling guns….Not many examples……Texas Rancher Mifflin Kenedy installed a Gatling gun in the bell tower of his ranch house to ward off bandits and Indian raiders."

Greg adds that "There will be an article about George Custer's non-use of Gatling guns in the June 2014 Wild West.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
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