• Red Nichols, Holstorian

The true-to-life story of Milt Sparks

A friend recently sent me yet another old puff-piece that was published about Uncle Milt; this one from the late 1980s and not long before Milt's death in the same year that took Bruce Nelson. That's relevant because Milt Sparks was a creature of Bruce Nelson's making not the other way 'round.

Doggone it, these founders tell their tales falsely for so long that they no longer remember the truth. And that's why I'm not sorry I couldn't interview, say, August Brill for the Second Edition of Holstory (in-house name: Holstory II).

Case in point is Milt, who I knew back in the day as just another wanna-be holster maker. Somehow his story melted completely, to the point where a chap who first appeared on the scene in the 1970s making line-for-line copies of Andy Andersons competition sets was really from the '60s while creating all his own designs! This latter claim being in this article I saw for the first time only recently.

The Milt Sparks company even had the chutzpa to claim that 2014 was its 45th anniversary because they claimed that Milt started out in '69! And gleefully marked that year's leather production '45' to match the lovely coincidence of that being 'the' caliber. This claim made it into various stories about Milt that he was a maker to the competitors in the '60s; but that was not his era. Oh, he did make gunleather for them -- in the mid-'70s! But that's misleading, eh?

Nowadays we have a complete understanding of the chronology of Milt Sparks' life, thanks to an article by an API instructor who wrote an article that was an interview of Milt himself and published in '92. We also have the product of the U.S. Census, and war records, that only now are accessible because the Census is published 72 years after it is taken; so the 1940 Census was available to us researchers only by 2012, and the 1950 not until next year in April. This is Milt's mark, overstamped on one that had been made for Novak's operation (a man who was not ever forgive by my old friend Armand Swenson, over that rear sight):

Milt Sparks, birth to death, no legends:

Milt was born a loooonnnggg time ago, in 1917; so the beginning of WWI for the USA (which war began in Europe in 1914). A few years later a friend of his who would also be a WWII Army pilot, Ellwyn Laxon, was born; and this is relevant because Milt says that it was Laxon who motivated him to jump into the market in 1972. Which date is also significant because it's the year that Andy Anderson was put out of business by the San Fernando earthquaek in February. It's also the year that Milt called on Elmer Keith to say he was 'thinking' of getting into the holster biz, and would Elmer help.

Backing up: for some reason Milt is away from ID and in WA for the 1940 census, where he is a salesman for Montgomery Ward (this last is from his draft registration in that same year). His interview with Mark A. Moritz in '92 states that Milt wanted to learn to fly and served WWII accordingly; he was enlisted after marrying Bonnie in 1942 and was released in May of '45 as the war with Germany ended with its surrender.

In this particular article (above), in which Milt claims he has invented everything himself, he does not ever mention Bruce Nelson; and 'corrects' this in his next appearance.

This all fits with Milt's interview, and quite precisely. There he also states that he became a commercial pilot -- everyone who left the service at War's end was released where they were serving at that moment, then needed to find work without the military paycheck -- and he did this for 25 years. That brings us then to 1970, and at that time the article points out that Milt worked as a stitching machine operator for Eubanks (not for Royal Eubanks, as stated, who was long dead by then; and neither was Royal's business operational in the years after the War ended -- because he had sold it). Milt says he stitched holsters there, for two years.

That two years, which now is 1972, is the year that Eubanks Pioneer closed. Milt is out of work. And believe me, one doesn't learn to be a holster designer nor holster maker by spending all of one's 'apprenticeship' on a stitcher. It's perfect -- Andy is out of business because the promptly has three severe strokes, and his friend Laxon has noted to Milt that 'nobody's making quality any more'; which Andy couldn't do because he was incapacitated. So like the cuckoo bird, Milt swooped into Andy's nests at various pistol matches -- big names like my old friend Ray Chapman were using Andy's and suddenly were using Milt's -- and laid his eggs in them. Silly competitors switched to Milt, thinking that Milt's eggs were Andy's, and raised him as their own (this really is how the cuckoo operates, look it up).

The most recent article says that Milt invented all his own designs but of course that's false. By 1974, Cooper's book appeared and is replete with compliments for Milt who is making the Summer Special that is the idea of an unnamed LEO who we now know is Bruce Nelson. "Oh, look, that nice Uncle Milt is doing Bruce a favor by making his holsters because Bruce is busy. And with his permission! Awww." But, as it turns out, in Milt's interview he acknowledges that didn't have Bruce's permission after all; it was another undercover narc who had commissioned him to copy the Summer Special before Cooper's book (which Milt says 'brought him mail by the sacksful). It was in 1976 that he was confronted with the need to ask for permission, because who should rock up at the founding conference of IPSC but Milt and Bruce (hey, I was there, too, but not competing):

We absolutely know that Bruce was not paid for his work. Never mind, all his designs were based on Paris Theodore's of the moment (late 1960s) anyway, as were some of my own in the mid '70s. Well, Milt complained, pistol competitors were not loyal (he used the word 'fickle'); and the likes of Bianchi Holsters (you're welcome, Milt) and Davis (former Bianchi designer) and Safariland (former Bianchi partner) began to play in that arena -- so he found himself selling only the concealment holsters that Bruce had crystalized for him. Now we're into the late 1970s and the Bianchi Cup has appeared in '79 (I was its COO until persuading NRA to adopt the course of fire, and the event, as its Action Shooting program in '84 because it was costing 'us' a fortune to operate).

So, although Milt was an avid pistol competitor, and doubtless received training from the very best, he did not EVER work as a gunleather designer/maker for a holster company. That is, he was self-taught and not trained by experts. Neither did he design his Andy Anderson copies; neither did he design his Bruce Nelson copies; neither did he invent the retention system of Sloan's that he incorporated, upside down, in his competition holsters; neither did he invent the curved gunbelt; neither did he invent anything at all in gunleather. Nor was he qualified to. He was a cuckoo and that false legend of Milt Sparks has been perpetuated by his second-in-command, Tony Kanaley who not only no longer owns that business -- but couldn't prove he ever paid Milt anything for his company when Milt retired to AZ.

Notice that in Milt's time, even he knew his company hadn't appeared in the '60s. At least he got close with the sticker's claims.

Which is where Bruce Nelson retired to after marrying a few years prior, and the same Mark A. Moritz later wrote an article about him (Bruce also was an API instructor) and both Bruce and Milt died in '95. It wasn't until around 2011 when I, having retired to Australia, discovered the mythology that had been built up around Uncle Milt. Here's a great example: a Guns & Ammo image of an Elmer Keith revolver that is captioned as being with a Sparks holster -- but instead that's the Gaylord holster that Milt eventually copied! A full circle of falsehoods in that image and its caption.

205 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All