Crossdraw holsters: 19th century carry that still has its place

So put yourself in a time machine and let us go back to the 1850s. Revolvers were new-fangled items but those sold in a caliber large enough to do damage were huge. For instance, the 1851 Colt Navy, a .36-caliber cap and ball six-shooter, weighed 42-ounces and was 13-inches overall– and it was not the longest revolver on the market by any means. For comparison, a full-sized K-frame Smith and Wesson 38 of today comes in at 30 ounces and 9 inches overall.

With such beefy and out-sized revolvers, if you wanted to carry one of these so called new ‘belt pistols’ on your person the best way was in a cross draw fashion in which the holster was mounted on the offhand side (e.g. left side if right handed) with the butt forward so that it could be drawn across the midsection with the strong hand. These guns were simply too long to pull out of a holster located on the belt directly under the strong hand, especially if mounted on a horse.

The cross draw was standard until shorter cartridge revolvers like the Colt Peacemaker came on the scene in the 1870s. Still, for huge long barreled revolvers such as the S&W Model 29 and the Colt Python, the cross draw remained in use with law enforcement officers as late as the early 1980s for the same reasons as in the Civil War– it was just more practical.

Policewoman Florence Coberly preparing for undercover work luring rapists in Los Angeles. Note her 38 carried in a crossdraw holster.

Policewoman Florence Coberly preparing for undercover work luring rapists in Los Angeles. Note her 38 carried in a cross draw holster.

Female officers for generations were instructed to carry in this method as it assisted in retention since it forces the butt of the gun into the body and it was thought the female body shape (hips) worked against drawing from the strong side. Street officers of the time often wore a “Santa Claus belt” with just a 38, cuffs, and wooden baton– often still in a cross draw position.

The method still has its use today.

crossdraw lcp


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