• Red Nichols, Holstorian

The unusual construction of Hume gunleather

Updated: Mar 14

A standout of a circa 1980 trade show (NSGA? SHOT?) was the Hume stand featuring a long-time Hume employee hand-stitching the welt and muzzle plug into the company's trademark Jordan border-style holster. Some of the details are hazy now but I expect he was using a stitching horse or pony (the first is something we sit on, the second is held under the legs while sitting on a chair) to hold the holster in position. What's NOT hazy is that he was jabbing a big awl in a handle through the several layers of leather -- and told me that he had often run it right through his thumb! Given the force that was required to get it through the holster that would've been a mighty painful injury.

What didn't occur to me then was to wonder why Hume's were made in such a way. Our own Border Patrol holster at Bianchi Holster was stitched on a giant harness machine without trouble, and we simply didn't use a muzzle plug so that dirt and rain -- remember, the style was designed around the conditions in West Texas 1930s.

Let me explain that just a bit. The Jordan itself is not so old; it appeared in the 1950s. But the first of the Border holsters was the Askins of 1930, which Myres called its Number 5. And is said to be the first holster to feature a steel shank of sorts, as is used in shoe soles to keep the instep from bending while one walks. Bill Myres even patented it though the dates don't really work from a USPTO standpoint; the holster is in Myres' 1930 'Officers Equipment' catalog with the shank but the patent was filed circa 1935. USPTO wouldn't have granted a patent under those conditions.

And the Jordan holster, is the Askins border holster with the steel shank run full height into the belt loop and behind the belt -- very clever though it had a serious drawback -- and converted to a Threepersons construction: the trigger guard was enclosed in the Askins though the trigger exposed, while the Jordan used the Threepersons configuration of fully exposing the trigger guard.

Bill's first holster was created for him by a saddler named Dunshee in Alpine TX, at the end of WWII (side note: and Jack Donihoo's made by a different saddler at the same time, and also in Alpine). Bill continued to serve with the Marines in conflicts after the War and carried his new holster with him. By 1956 the holster was appearing in Sam Myres' catalog but Sam had died in '53 and these things often being based on personal relationships, Bill took the design and offered it to Don Hume.

Don was just starting out in the 1950s (yeah, I have all the exact dates in my Chronology, but, yawn) and he ran with it. Don was ex-Navy, Bill was a former Marine, and both were at the southernmost end of CA with Bill at USBP in Chula Vista and Don in La Mesa while wanting to make a business out of gunleather. Yup, Don originally was a CA maker then shifted operations to his home near Vinita (and Tom Threepersons) OK. Indeed Don was the only maker to actually title a holster as a Threepersons.

Arvo Ojala at left, Bill Jordan at right with an actor.

Okay, it's easy enough to understand why Bill's first holster would have been made just as a saddler would make it. But how did it continue to be constructed by Hume in such a bulky fashion with so much hand sewing? "Not a production process" as JB would often say when we created an alternative design in the shop. And how does one make big money without production processes? One doesn't and Bianchi's operation was huge while Don's remained small. They were good friends regardless.

Back to the 'why': it turns out that the two men -- Hume and JB -- had mentors of very different leather backgrounds! JB's was Wally Wolfram who was never a saddler and after WWII had come to make gunleather in NM as Wolf Leather, then moved on to Monrovia CA when he lost his bid to become sheriff in NM. Also working at Monrovia PD was a very young JB and the rest of that is holstory.

But Don Hume's mentor was a harness maker. And harness makers hand sew all of their product, and in as many layers as needed to constrain powerful horses. It's why Berns-Martin gunleather was entirely hand sewn: Jack Martin also was a harness maker. And Hume's mentor was John Konkus who was an Army saddler in WWI -- and so would've made what's called the Remount Saddle for men like Tom Threepersons who was part of TX' Remount Squad then -- and lived in CA nearby to Don (exact city is in my files).

Both the Myres and the Hume used an extra layer that I later thought I had invented first (not) and that I call 'Twister': sitting under only the frame of the revolver but stitched under the main welt, it 'twists' the grip of the pistol outwards, away from the body. Myres even used it on autos. But one can surely see how the natural tendency of a revolver is to force the grip into the body with that big cylinder -- they used the 44 frame then -- as a fulcrum. Using it in my Berns-Martin range I have to tell you -- it works!

The rest of us -- Bianchi, Wolfram, Safariland, etc. -- changed the shape of the holster and narrowed the steel shank, too, so that the holster itself would reshape itself around the revolver and allow the grip to remain parallel to the wearer's pelvis (that's not your hip, Bill; that structure is much further down, biologically). But old Don just kept hammering them out the old way and into modern times even after his own death in 2017. Just watch those thumbs, boys . . ..

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