The Guns of Deadwood
The fan favorite Old West HBO show has finally gotten a long awaited feature length finale. We take a look at 10 characters, their guns, and how they compare to their real life counterparts, plus guns from the new Deadwood Movie!
When “Deadwood” premiered on HBO in 2004, it was a force with which to be reckoned. Fast paced and foul mouthed, there wasn’t anything else like it on TV before or since. When it was abruptly cancelled in 2006, after just three seasons, it left a void for many viewers.
Being that the show was loosely based on actual history, there was much left to be covered in future seasons. For years, fans have been inquiring about a series reboot or at least a movie or short season to tie up all the loose ends. Well, the latter is finally coming true.
On May 31 at 8pm, “Deadwood” the movie will premiere on HBO.
Here’s a brief synopsis of the film: The movie comes nearly 13 years after the drama concluded in 2006 and follows the 10-year reunion of the camp to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.
In honor of this long-awaited production, let’s take a look at 10 memorable characters from the show. We’ll go over who they were on screen and who they were in real life, along with where those two stories intersect and diverge. And since this is Range365 after all, we will take a look at the guns the characters used in the show.
While we’re talking about guns, let’s set the stage, as it were, about the kinds of firearms that would have been found in the real Deadwood. In its earliest days, Deadwood was a remote, rough and tumble mining camp. The guns one would have found there would have been as varied as the residents.
Undoubtedly, an array of older percussion arms would have been in use in the real Deadwood, South Dakota despite the advent of self-contained metallic cartridges—along with some conversion pistols as well.
After all, when you’re on the frontier, you make use of what you’ve got because technology travels slowly, especially out West. Civil War-era Colt Model 1851 Navy revolvers, cap-and-ball double-barrel shotguns, and single-shot muzzleloading rifles would have all been equally at home in Deadwood.
That’s not to say, though, that modern arms didn’t make their way into town. Cartridge guns, like the Henry Model 1860 and Winchester Models 1866 and 1873 would not have been unusual. The same goes for handguns like the Colt Single Action Army and the Remington Model 1875.
Smack dab in the middle of the two technologies are the aforementioned conversion guns, which started life as percussion revolvers and were later adapted to fire metallic cartridges. Muskets converted to trapdoors and Richards-Mason style revolver conversions likely saw a lot of use there, too.
OK, now let’s delve into the “reel” lives of these “real” people!
Al Swearengen (1845-1904)
HBO Description: The proprietor of The Gem Saloon was six months ahead of everyone else in Deadwood, and he runs the town like a corrupt riverboat captain. He knows every move that every person in town makes, anticipates problems and eliminates them. His girls aren’t exactly the class of the town, but he controls the most successful bar and whorehouse in all of Deadwood – bringing in $5,000 a day in 1876 – and anybody that threatens his sources of income may well end up fed to Mr. Wu’s pigs.
Played by Ian McShane, Al’s character shares some important traits with the Al who actually lived in Deadwood. He was indeed a shrewd businessman who was very influential in the day-to-day operations of the town who ruled with an iron fist, but he was not an orphan from England like on the show; he was actually born in 1845 and raised in Iowa, the eldest child of a Dutch farmer.
The “real” Swearengen was actually much more ruthless and vile than the “reel” man and a genuine pimp. The girls who worked at the Gem—called the “Gem Theater” in the real Deadwood, not the “Gem Saloon”—were often forced into prostitution after having been duped into coming West for a real job. And while the TV-show Al is very much not betrothed, the real Al was married at least three times, each of which ended in divorce stemming from claims of abuse and infidelity.
While the show depicts Al and his establishment as a necessary evil of sorts in town, at least during its early formative years, the real Gem burned down three times and Al eventually abandoned the town after 22 years “in camp.” The Gem did begin as a tent-walled saloon, as Al says on the show, but it was called The Cricket back then.
The story goes Al Swearengen ended up dying of a head wound sustained in a train accident. Some say he was penniless, trying to hop a train and zigged when he should have zagged, while others say it was murder.
Swearengen’s obituary was recently discovered, according to this post on Reddit, and it says, “A. E. Swearingen (sic), one of the pioneers of the Black Hills who conducted a dance hall and theatre here a great many years, was killed in Denver about three weeks ago by a switch engine. His body was taken to Oskaloosa, Iowa and buried. His parents and a twin brother live at Oskaloosa. Mr. Swearingen was for a long time the proprietor of the Gem theatre at Deadwood.”
We don’t know what the fictional Al’s fate is in the Deadwood movie, set about a decade after the show ended its original run, but hopefully it won’t be that.
Because of his status in town, Al had a lot of men to do his bidding. As such, you rarely see his character in the show wielding a gun, and when he does, it usually belongs to someone else.
Al professes to not be very good with a pistol, and prefers to do his work with a blade, up close. He’s almost as proud of that as his ability to scrub a blood stain off a wooden floor.
“And if I take a knife to you, you’ll be scared worse, and a long time dying.”
One of the few times he picks up a firearm is when he holds a double-barrel shotgun on his right-hand man, Dan, to stop him from beating another man to death on the floor of The Gem.
HBO Description: One of the best known features of The Gem is its selection of whores, and Trixie is Swearengen’s best girl. Although he has no problems using the back of his hand to keep her in line, he also knows that she’s a valuable asset. Of course, whenever Swearengen gets that particular itch, he knows that Trixie is the girl to go to.
Generally speaking, Trixie is a fictional character, played by Paula Malcomson, based on personality traits that are certain to have been present among many of the prostitutes working in Deadwood.
Historically, there is an account by a man named John S. McClintock who mentions a Gem prostitute named “Tricksie.” He tells of her shooting a man in the head for abusing her, but miraculously, the man survived. This event is depicted in the show’s pilot episode. The man Trixie shoots with her small derringer to stop him from beating her lives for a while despite the hole through his head—he even talks a bit, but ultimately he dies of his wound and is carted off to the pigs.
Like many in her profession, Trixie carries a number of small firearms throughout the series. Some of her guns include the Remington Model 95 derringer, the Colt New Line revolver, the Smith & Wesson Model 1 ½ revolver, and the Iver Johnson Eclipse derringer.
The Remington Model 95 is quite possibly the most iconic derringer design associated with the Wild West. Production began in 1865 and ran for 70 years until 1935. The Colt New Line was introduced in 1873, the same year as their now-iconic Single Action Army.
Smith & Wesson’s Model 1 ½ was chambered in .32 rimfire to bridge the gap between their smaller framed Model 1 in .22 rimfire and their larger framed Model 2, also in .32 rimfire. The Iver Johnson Eclipse was a single-shot pistol made without any sights between 1870 and 1887.
Trixie nearly shoots Sheriff Seth Bullock with a Winchester lever gun, but ultimately decides not to.
Seth Bullock (1849-1919)
HBO Description: A native of Ontario and the son of a stern British sergeant-major, Seth Bullock left home for good at the age of 16 and ended up in Montana during the silver strikes of the 1860s. A natural leader, he held a number of elected positions in his early 20s and was eventually appointed Sheriff of Montana Territory.
Having heard of the big strikes in the Black Hills, Bullock has made his way to Deadwood—not to prospect, but to open up a hardware franchise with his business partner and friend Sol Star. Veterans of frontier living, the two are undaunted by Deadwood’s lawless and dangerous nature. But Bullock has put law-enforcement behind him, and fully intends to make his way as a businessman.
A man of law and order on screen and in life, Seth Bullock ended up acting as the local sheriff in an unofficial capacity within a month of arriving in Deadwood. In less than a year, he was an officially elected sheriff of Lawrence County. His sense of right and wrong meant that his on screen issues with Swearengen carried over from real life to the show’s plot.
One of the biggest differences between the real Bullock and the TV Bullock is his family life.
Bullock’s wife and daughter really did live with her family back East while he got settled in Deadwood, but they’d been sweet on one another since they were kids. That is to say, he was not married to his brother’s widow, as is depicted in the show.
Later, Seth spent time working as a U.S. Marshal, helped draft legislation that would lead to the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, and built a hotel in Deadwood—Bullock Hotel—which is still in operation.
He met then future President Theodore Roosevelt in 1884, who later said of him: “Seth Bullock is a true Westerner, the finest type of frontiersman.” High praise, to be sure. Bullock lived in Deadwood for 43 years and is buried in Mount Moriah Cemetery.
When played by Timothy Olyphant on screen, Bullock has a bit of a rage problem when it comes to bullies and other types of bad men, and it sometimes gets the better of him.
He wields a double-barrel shotgun in a few scenes, but his signature gun is a Remington Model 1875 revolver. He carries it in all three seasons, and isn’t afraid to pull it at a moment’s notice to take care of business.
In reality, Bullock, like so many legendary lawmen of his time, relied on his stature and demeanor to handle most situations. “He could outstare a mad cobra or a rogue elephant,” said his grandson years later.
As one story goes, when Morgan and Wyatt Earp came to town looking to get into local law enforcement, Bullock quickly let them know their services weren’t needed after they didn’t see eye to eye on an issue.
The Remington Model 1875 is basically just their Model 1858 that has been purpose-built to fire self-contained metallic cartridges. Introduced on the heels of Colt’s SAA and designed to be a competitor, the Model 1875 never achieved the same level of popularity.
Sol Star (1840-1917)
HBO Description: An apostle of the private mercenary interest as an organizing principle of behavior, Sol Star is a natural entrepreneur and one of the town’s new fathers. He is also the life-long friend of Seth Bullock, and perhaps the only person Bullock confides in.
It was Star who urged Seth Bullock to head out to the new camp in Deadwood. As Bullock’s partner in the hardware business, Sol handles most of the financial responsibilities of the endeavor, and his enthusiasm and vigor complement perfectly Bullock’s decorum and self-possession.
Star is played by John Hawkes and he was Bullock’s real-life business partner. They arrived in Deadwood on August 1, 1876, and ran a successful hardware store there at the corner of Wall and Main streets, just as they do in the show.
The lot, however, was not purchased from Swearengen as is depicted in the show. Instead, they bought it from two men, Sam Schwartzwald and Henry Beaman, in April 1877.
Building on the success of their store, the two men expanded operations into three other towns and even owned a ranch, a flour mill, and stakes in some mines.
Sol never married Trixie, and not just because her character is fictional. Sol never married anyone, despite heading back East for a time in an attempt to find a wife. He was, however, heavily involved in politics. He served five terms as mayor, was the local postmaster, a town councilman, and a clerk of courts, just to name some of his civic posts.
Generally, a level-headed, peaceable guy (compared to Bullock), Sol is seen carrying a Colt Thuer single-shot derringer at different times during the show. Because of his demeanor, it comes as no surprise to me that his gun of choice held only one round of .41 caliber rimfire ammunition.
With that said, he does know his way around a gun; he helps ward off a lynch mob at Bulllock’s side with a double-barrel shotgun in the very first episode and uses a Colt Sheriff’s Model Single Action Army that he got from Trixie in a later episode. A Sheriff’s Model is simply a variation of the SAA that lacks an ejector rod and housing to facilitate a snubby barrel.
Charlie Utter (est. 1838 – est. 1913)
HBO Description: Charlie Utter is Bill Hickok’s longtime friend and travelling companion. As Hickok is given to drinking and gambling heavily, Utter does his best smooth things over in his friend’s wake and works to keep him solvent, but Hickok’s affinity to gaming and his lack of interest in mining makes this difficult. Utter also gets on well with Calamity Jane, another of Hickok’s associates.
Both the real Charlie and the character played by Dayton Callie in the show came to Deadwood with Wild Bill Hickok, and he was as faithful a friend to him in real life as he was on screen.
Charlie held more than 60 mining claims and did, in fact, set up a freight service in Deadwood. It was not, however, his first attempt at such a venture. He had run a similar business years before, and had done quite well for himself.
The show depicts Charlie as your typical unkempt resident of a mining town; more of a frontiersman that was a bit uncomfortable in town and would be more at home on the trail. If the man had met the character, he’d have been appalled at the portrayal. In all actuality, Charlie Utter was a dandy.
He was known for being well dressed, insisted on bathing daily, and would spend an hour or more each morning at the Deadwood barber shop having his hair washed and curled. A contemporary of his described Charlie as being “a figure well worth looking at.”
During the show, Charlie is seen at times with a double-barrel shotgun, a Winchester lever-action rifle, and with a Colt Single Action Army revolver. The guns are standard models in every way, which is another inconsistency between the character and the real man. Much like his wardrobe and appearance, Charlie’s guns were dandies, too. His revolvers are said to have been engraved and inlaid with gold, and that they had pearl grips bearing his name.
The TV Utter is also depicted as acting as Bullock’s deputy, though there are not records of this.
E. B. Farnum (1826- after 1880)
HBO Description: Eustace Bailey Farnum runs the Grand Central hotel, one of the main hubs of Deadwood. Just about every visitor to Deadwood ends up in Farnum’s establishment at one time or another.
Appointed by the town’s fathers as the default mayor – no one else wanted the job – Farnum has grandiose ideas about his prospects. The hotelier also has connections to Swearengen and is often involved in Al’s swindles and schemes, but he has a difficult time getting Swearengen to take him seriously.
Right off the bat, E. B.’s name is fake. The initials actually stand for Ethan Bennett, not Eustace Bailey. Why the show’s writers felt the need to change his name when he is almost exclusively referred to as “E. B.” is anyone’s guess.
In real life, Farnum was born in Massachusetts and came to Deadwood by way of Wisconsin. He is said to have been one of the town’s first residents who wasn’t a prospector or miner, and he accomplished a lot of “firsts” while living there: he sent the town’s first telegram, established its first fire department, and first school, and presided over the town’s first marriage.
Farnum is played by William Sanderson as a neurotic loner who acts as a man who deals in secrets and gossip with a rather old fashioned sense of dress—and while it’s true that he was elected mayor, other seemingly insignificant details of his life are changed in the show. For example, he was married and had three kids, but none of them are mentioned. He also didn’t own the hotel that viewers see him in constantly. Instead, he simply worked there while owning a retail shop and having some business stakes in real estate and mining.
The likelihood that he was in real life the same shifty weasel who answered to Al is slim. His own self-made professional success would have precluded any need to stoop to that level in order to make a buck. Around 1879, he left Deadwood and moved to Chicago. Little of his life is known after that.
On the show, Farnum is rarely seen with a gun and his character is kind of cowardly, so I guess that makes sense. In the rare scene where he is armed, however, he and Sol Star have similar taste in guns: both carry Colt Thuer derringers.
That gun takes its name from F. Alexander Thuer, who was a gunsmith at the Colt factory known for his percussion conversions. When he patented this derringer, one of the signatory witnesses was C. B. Richards, another percussion conversion visionary in his own right.
“Calamity” Jane Cannary (1852-1903)
HBO Description: Born Martha Jane Cannary, Calamity Jane is nearly as famous as Hickok was and is known to be as tough as any man in the West. Raised in the mining camps of Wyoming, she is a legendary horsewoman and crack shot, and is rumored to have been an Army scout for Custer.
A notorious boozer and brawler—and one of the most foul-mouthed frontierspeople of either sex–Jane is loyal and absolutely dedicated to Wild Bill. She travels across the West with him, and likes to tell people that they are husband and wife.
A lot of the aspects of Jane’s character in the show, played by Robin Weigert, are based on her actual life. She really did prefer to wear men’s clothing at one time in her life, drank very heavily, cared for those stricken with smallpox in the Deadwood camp, and was much more smitten with Wild Bill Hickok than he was with her.
Though it may be hard to believe, Jane actually did have a husband—and a child. She married Clinton Burke in 1881 and they had a daughter, Jesse, in 1887, whom they put up for adoption.
Later in life, Jane crossed paths with another famous westerner named Bill: Buffalo Bill Cody. She toured with his Wild West Show in 1893.
There were a lot of things about Jane that weren’t in the show, and several aspects of the TV Jane’s personality that don’t quite jive with the real life Martha Jane Cannary. For instance, the fictional Jane has a prominent fear of potentially abusive men when alone with them, especially men like Al and Cy Tolliver who are known for running women. Often, even though she isn’t threatened, such an encounter can reduce her to tears. She is also shown to be a bit bashful when sober, which is a rare occurrence.
The real Jane was actually one of the first dancers at the Gem Theater (it’s hard to picture the TV Jane getting up on stage and dancing) and reportedly once traveled to Sidney, Nebraska, to procure 10 girls for the Swearengen’s stable of prostitutes.
While the TV Jane is often confused for a man and is often filthy and covered in mud (and other things) from passing out drunk in nasty places, historical accounts say, around the age of 22, Jane was referred to as being “extremely attractive” and a “pretty, dark-eyed girl.”
And while the real Jane was reportedly a great shot, she doesn’t fire one round throughout the entire show.
In the show, she can be seen at different times carrying a double-barrel shotgun and a Winchester lever-action rifle. Both were incredibly influential in the West, the shotgun because it was inexpensive and the Winchester because, well, it didn’t earn the nickname, “The Gun That Won the West” for no reason!
She almost always wears a pistol belt in the show with the holster sometimes holding a Colt Single Action Army, and other times a Colt 1851 Navy revolver. Either gun would have been a good choice. The Single Action Army is undeniably the most iconic revolver in the West and it owes its origins to the earlier 1851 Navy, which was widely used during the Civil War.
Wild Bill Hickok (1837-1876)
HBO Description: James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok was one of the most legendary figures of the Old West. A renowned marksman and Civil War spy, Hickok was known for his skills with a pair of twin Colt revolvers, killing somewhere between eight and 100 men, depending on whose stories you believe.
As a deputy U.S. marshal, he was a veteran of many Indian battles and served as a scout to officers like George Armstrong Custer. He had been a marshal in Hays City, and then Abilene, Kansas, gaining a reputation as a man who could pacify an untamed community.
After touring the country in a Wild West show with the likes of Buffalo Bill Cody, Hickok drifted from place to place, drinking heavily and gambling even more. He arrived in Deadwood to stake a claim and earn some money for himself and his new wife.
Most of Hickok’s character, played by Keith Carradine, is accurate. At this stage in his life, he had a kind of “been there, done that” attitude and really was looking to settle down and make some cash.
Hickok was famously killed while playing a game of cards on August 2, 1876 – just one day after Bullock and Star arrived in Deadwood.
Due to the timing, it’s highly unlikely that the three of them ever met nor did they have time to hunt down the killers of a family of settlers just outside of town and form a fast friendship as the do at the beginning of the show.
True to life, the show’s version of Hickok carries a pair of Colt Model 1851 Navy revolvers with ivory grips. Some might wonder why a man who was so good with a gun chose to carry an antiquated technology.
Most likely, it’s because he had used percussion guns for most of his life and they were familiar to him. With that said, the historic record also shows that he owned at least one cartridge conversion revolver and a pair of Smith & Wesson Model 3 revolvers.
Dan Dority (1852-?) and Johnny Burns (18??-????)
One of Swearengen’s crew, the young and ambitious Johnny Burns is looking to stay in his boss’ favor, always gunning for a promotion. Obviously in awe of Swearengen, the curly haired Burns is constantly learning the tricks of the trade from him. With the Gem Saloon as his classroom, young Johnny has much to learn.
HBO Description: If Al Swearengen has some dirty work to be done, he knows that he can count on enforcer Dan Dority. Whether it’s working in The Gem or killing off somebody that needs it, Dority can fill just about any role that Swearengen can think up.
Dority, played by W. Earl Brown, and Burns, played by Sean Bridgers, are grouped together because, while they were real residents of Deadwood during this time period, their real lives are much more obscure than the show would lead you to believe.
All we know for sure is that they both worked at the Gem, Dan as the general manager, and Johnny as the man in charge of the working girls.
Another interesting tidbit: Dority’s last name is actually spelled “Doherty.” Why it was changed for the show is unknown.
Both men carry a variety of arms in the show. Dority’s go-to gun is a double-barrel shotgun when he’s working in the Gem, though, like Al, he prefers to use a knife. He’s seen wielding the shotgun in many scenes throughout the three seasons.
In terms of handguns, he sometimes uses a Remington Model 1875 revolver, a Colt cartridge conversion revolver, or a Colt Single Action Army. All three are solid choices, as evidenced by the number of characters listed above who used such guns.
Burns is seen with a Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle, a Colt Model 1877 “Lightning” revolver, and a double-barrel shotgun throughout the show’s run.
The Winchester and the shotgun have both been covered before, but the 1877 “Lightning” has not. It was a double-action revolver that fired a .38 caliber cartridge, and is hailed as the first commercially successful double-action cartridge revolver made in the United States. In an interesting naming convention, other Model 1877 variants included the .32 caliber “Rainmaker” and the .41 caliber “Thunderer.”
For Western fans, you’ll recognize the Lightning as one of the revolvers carried by Doc Holiday (Val Kilmer) in Tombstone (1993), though the gun in that movie may have actually been a .41-caliber Thunderer.
So there you have it, a nice rundown of some of the main characters and how they compare and contrast to real life, and some coverage about their guns of choice.
Deadwood: The Movie
by David Maccar
Considering it clocks in just under two hours, Deadwood: The Movie had to pack a lot into a few minutes while also serving as a fitting coda to the beloved series. In doing so, it took more liberties with the actual fates of the main characters than the show ever did, but somehow, its utterly forgivable. We don’t want to drop any spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, so I’ll stop there.
Audience response, mostly made of fans of the original show as one would assume, was overwhelmingly positive and most felt this was a fitting send off that should have come long ago and I wholeheartedly agree.
All surviving cast members returned to reprise their roles, which was a monumental achievement after more than a decade since the original show’s end.
That includes Timothy Olyphant again playing Marshall Seth Bullock—and in Bullock’s holster rides what appears to be the same Remington 1875 revolver he favored in years past.
Seth has occasion to pull his gun when he is called to intervene in an attempted lynching. He faces off against a pair of bad men and comes out victorious.
The trigger guard on Bullock’s Remington is brass just like the one from the original series along with the dark walnut grips, indicating it is supposed to be the same gun.
Also, in the bottom photo above we see Sol Starr with a Colt Single Action Army Artillery Model with a 5.5″ barrel backing up his old friend and business partner. A decent step up to a full sized gun from the derringers and pocket revolvers he always carried in the show.
While covering the guns of Deadwood the show, we realized Jane Cannary never fires a shot on screen through all three seasons, though she always wears a pistol and often carries a lever gun. In the movie, Jane finally gets a chance to show off her skills, firing a single crucial shot that hits right where its supposed to.
For the movie, her holster carries a Colt Single Action Army pistol with a 7.5-inch barrel and pearl grips—a slight nod to the ivory grips on her old friend Buffalo Bill’s pistols. And she’s still drinking.
You might think one of Hearst’s henchmen, only called Seacrest, looks a bit familiar, but you can’t quite put your finger on it. That’s because he was played by Don Swayze, older brother of late movie star Patrick Swayze. While he does resemble his brother, the elder Swayze has been acting in movies and TV since 1984 with over 100 credits to his name, so he might look familiar because of that too.
Seacrest carries a nickel-plated Smith & Wesson Schofield Model 3 break action revolver, though it does him little good when going up against Bullock and Starr.
We see a graying, aged but markedly better dressed and groomed Dan Dority with a Rossi Overland side-by-side coach gun in the streets when things start to heat up outside the old hotel. This double barrel is clearly meant to stand in for an older external hammer break action as the Overland was manufactured from 1978 to 1994 and was very popular among cowboy action shooters.