• Red Nichols, Holstorian

Post 37: OK, everybody knows what this thing is for. Right?

You know, 'that thing', that's not on the Threepersons by the same maker, Sam Myres:

A good friend of mine, Phil Criswell (Phil, did you know that Jack Martin's partner was a Criswell, too?) calls 'that thing' a 'dogear' while the rest of us call it a hammer guard. It does more than that, and it's cleverer than it looks. But everyone also knows who invented it, and when. Right? It was Milt Sparks when he invented an all-new holster for Elmer Keith, right? When he was a maker in the '60s, yes? And Elmer said its purpose was to protect the linings of his jacket. In his book, Hell I Was There. Everybody knows that.

Well, no. Yes, it is shaped like a dogear; and there's no harm in calling it that. Yes, it can certainly protect the lining of a jacket from the pistol, if anyone wears expensive suits with fine linings any more. This image is from the 1930s (Popular Mechanics, thank you very much) in a story there about how the best-paid men in police departments including the LAPD and FBI, were 'trick shots'. I.e., they were paid more for being very, very good gunmen, like Jelly Bryce, which is part of the reason he worked so hard to be great -- it paid better:

And the dogear is cleverer than it looks. For example, compare it with the dogear on this 'late' Brill so post 1932 that is super-rare and in John Witty's collection (and fully vs. half-lined, too):

It's obvious that this particular dogear is in the way of the draw, isn't it? The mouth of the holster has become taller, in an effort to shield the hammer spur. Which is its primary purpose. This approach is not so forgiving of the revolver having adjustable rear sights, though. So it was Sam Myres whose introduction of the hammer guard that is in my first image, truly solved the problem: low mouth, protection for hammer and sights. Both:

Sam Myres' holster appeared by his 1944 catalog; we don't have every page (Witty and I) of every catalog of the S.D. Myres Saddlery Co. but it does appear then as his "No. 624 Tom Threepersons Style holster with hammer protector" at lower center:

Legend has it, though (I've been on so many forums over the past decade, I've seen all the old wives' tales) that Milt Sparks invented it for Elmer Keith. And that he did it by adding a dogear to that FBI agent, what was his name, Hank Sloan, who had a holster, too. Ah yes, it was the Sloan holster licensed by Sloan to J.M. Bucheimer:

The trouble with that legend is, well, the Sloan holster was introduced to his FBI employers in 1964. And it already HAD a hammer guard. And then, well, someone at J.M. Bucheimer (we have the letter) made the mistake of sending some Sloans to Elmer Keith (and at least three were still in his estate when it was auctioned fairly recently). And Elmer Keith was having trouble keeping his big .44 revolver in his Gaylord -- that also had a hammer guard -- and doggone it, when Milt came to him in '72, Elmer gave him a project, and patents be damned: make me a holster that looks like this (the Gaylord) but works like this (the Sloan). The former fit the .44 but the latter didn't. A sort of "show me what you can do" sort of thing. So Gaylord's holster for Keith that looked like this (from his collection auctioned this past decade; and fitted with a Bohlin-patent spring-loaded release strap):

Was combined with the J.M. Bucheimer holster that looked like this (notice the perfect nesting of the rear sight in the gap):

To become this one by Milt. This one really is the one made for Elmer by Milt:

And with a forward welt like a Safariland; the version that Sparks fans know better has a forward fold instead.

And now we get to the nitty-gritty of what a hammer guard can do for us.

Yes, we know it shields the jacket linings, more likely from snagging the hammer spur in them while it's being carried that simply wearing on the linings. And we're also reminded that the hammer guard simultaneously protects the adjustable rear sights on an S&W from being banged up from any direction.

But most importantly, it solves a problem that the the Texas Rangers didn't have but the FBI would've: the high riding holster presenting the sharply checkered target hammers of the S&Ws to the elbow! Here's Elmer with his Gaylord:

And the caption summarizes the old wives' tale beautifully: it's not a Sparks in the image after all, is it? It's a Gaylord; and it's been confused with the later Sparks because, well, Milt claimed that he invented it so it must be true! And Elmer helped with the legend because it suited his own narrative. So a 1960ish Gaylord, was combined with a 1968ish Sloan, by a 1972ish Milt Sparks (the year he began as a maker by visiting Elmer) -- to become an all-new invention by Milt Sparks! Very clever.

But back to the point. Why do we care just what is the most important thing about the hammer guard? Sure, Sam Myres' version was an improvement over the more obvious approach by Brill: the mouth of the holster remained as low as it was on a conventional Tom Threepersons holster. But the big change, was that darned hammer spur of target guns that were becoming the standard in high riding gunleather; check out Elmer's in that image above. Because now the elbow of the gunman, turned this (image flopped for clarity):

Into this:

And now this (red circle) tiny sear engagement in single action, is all that separates the expected double-action pull for the gunman, from tragedy:

And I knew a chap, who shot a man dead in Boston, in a public place, in just this way. This sort of clash of expectations is partly why holsters today often don't have safety straps; they're largely for automatics now, and those automatics are largely hammerless striker pistols now. So everything can be strapless, right? But there was a time . . .


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