Historical Figures and Their Firearms By: Travis Pike


Firearms are integrally built into America’s legacy. As a country, we were established by men with guns fighting other men with guns. As far as I know, we are the only country to enshrine arms into its founding documents. They are in our blood, and for that reason, they’ve filled our history and that of our historical figures. Some are more famed than others, but each has made a mark on our country in one way or another, from leaders to thinkers, freedom fighters, and heroes.

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Today we examine some historical American figures and their favored firearms. These are people that left a mark on the United States with and without a gun, but seeing as the nature of our website is guns, let’s focus on that aspect.

Davy Crockett and His Betsy

Davey Crockett liked to name guns Betsy. When I say his Betsy, I’m talking about three different rifles. Over the years, several of Crockett’s rifles bore the Betsy title, apparently named for either his wife or sister. It’s likely the latter since the first Betsy came to be in 1803 when Crockett was 17. He named the rifle Betsy and owned it for three years before trading it for a horse. This was a 40 caliber.

Portrait of Davy Crockett
Crockett was an American frontiersman and representative. He died at the Alamo in 1836.

In 1822 the Tennessee State Assembly gifted Crockett a .48 caliber rifle for his service with the state. He kept this rifle for several years before gifting it to his son in 1835 when he headed to Texas. This rifle was known as Old Betsy.

Replica of Davy Crockett's Kenty Rifle, Old Betsy
This is a replica of Old Betsy.

A third rifle that became known as Pretty Betsy was gifted to Crockett by the Whig Society of Philadelphia. Sadly the current owner isn’t keen on sharing details, photos, or displaying the rifle. Crockett died at the Alamo and became a hero of American folklore.

Harriet Tubman’s Percussion Pistol

Harriet Tubman freed slaves, fought oppression, and acted as a guerilla and spy for the Union army. She was a total badass who saw injustice and sought to correct it. Harriet Tubman is one of America’s most important historical figures. She reminds us that the oppression that comes for us is often completely legal.

On her adventures, she carried a percussion cap pistol. The pistol is currently in possession of descendants of Tubman and resides in Tallahassee. It’s unknown if she ever fired a shot from the pistol, but when dealing with southern slave patrols, I imagine she’d much rather be armed than not.

A Still taken from the film Harriet, with Harriet Tubman aiming a percussion pistol
A still taken from the film Harriet represents the percussion pistol she carried well.

Details of the pistols are unknown, but it’s likely a larger caliber, as was common with pistols at the time. It could easily be a .54 caliber pistol which was a fairly common caliber at the time.

Harriet Tubman was not afraid of bad men and had a determination most of us could only wish for. She may have never used the pistol, but I don’t doubt she would have to help free her people.

Geronimo and His 1873 Rifle

Geronimo has a famous name but remains an enigmatic character in American history. He was relentless, vicious, and determined that the Apache people would not fade away. He fought both Mexican and American governments and did so with his trusty Springfield 1873 rifle. Geronimo supposedly preferred the full-size rifle and used it to great effect.

He was known to be an expert marksman, and during a clash with the Mexican army force, he reportedly prevented a flanking attack on his position by killing three Mexican soldiers with headshots.

Geronimo holding Springfield 1873 rifle
Geronimo was a deadly shot

The Springfield 1873 rifle was a single-shot design that used a metallic cartridge, specifically the .45-70. This rifle was an absolute powerhouse of a gun.

Geronimo was an enemy of the American government—a government that subjugated and persecuted his people. Yet his name and legend have become a part of American folklore. In WW2, paratroopers famously yelled Geronimo to show they had no fear when jumping from planes.

Hemingway’s Model 12

Ernest Hemingway was a great American author who became a household name. His complicated history leads him to be more than an author. His strength, intelligence, and wit made him a legendary author and one of America’s beloved historical figures. He owned many guns and was reportedly a fine hunter.

Hemingway with his Scott 12 gauge duck hunting in Italy in the 1940s.
Hemingway with his Scott 12 gauge duck hunting in Italy in the 1940s.

Hemingway was big, boisterous, brilliant, and loved his guns. It seems that his favorite or at least one of his most used was the Winchester Model 12.

Winchester Model 12
Hemingway loved his Model 12, a gun much like this one.

This 12 gauge pump action shotgun was a descendant from the 1897 and corrected numerous faults the weapon had. The gun was dubbed the Perfect Repeater and became America’s favorite shotgun for some time.

Hemingway’s model 12 featured a 30-inch barrel and full choke. He used the gun in the United States, Cuba, and Africa on hunts. He once remarked the gun was a “once burnt up, three times restocked, worn smooth Winchester Model 12.”

Theodore Roosevelt’s Winchester Model 1895

Theodore Roosevelt is an all-American badass. He was a soldier, police chief, and president. He was also a notable hunter who believed in walking softly but carrying a big stick. As far as historical figures go, it’s tougher to find a manlier one. His big stick was a Winchester Model 1895 in the very powerful .405 Winchester. Roosevelt called this his Big Medicine.

Theodore Roosevelt holding Winchester 1895 behind rhinocerous
Roosevelt’s Winchester took a number of big game animals.

The rifle went with him on Safari and helped kill a mess of lions, elephants, and hippos. The Winchester 1895 fired .300 grain projectiles at over 2,200 feet per second. It was brutal on both ends.

This cannon was a powerhouse. Theodore Roosevelt even topped the weapon with a custom Maxim suppressor. Maxim didn’t offer their suppressors in .405, so it must have been a custom piece. It would still be a very capable platform even today. Roosevelt was well ahead of his time.

Audie Murphy and the M1 Carbine

Man, did the Marine Corps screw up when they rejected Audie Murphy for being too small. It turns out you don’t have to be a giant to slay them. Audie Murphy is credited with killing 241 Germans during WW2 and earning the Medal of Honor. He was a titan regardless of his stature. Historical figures like him don’t come around often.  

Audie Murphy with M1 Carbine
Audie Murphy carried an M1 Carbine in real life and in his film.

After the war, Audie Murphy was a fan of firearms. His favorite is the M1 Carbine. The M1 Carbine was a light and handy rifle; it was fed from a detachable magazine and was the proto carbine everyone loves today.

It’s no surprise Audie Murphy preferred the rifle. He had gifted one to friends and owned several. He even remembered the serial number of his rifle, which helped the Army eventually find his exact rifle and preserve it in a museum.

Historical Figures and Their Weaponry

These are the six American Historical figures and their weapons I could come up with. I aimed to find men and women who weren’t just soldiers in a war but owned weapons and seemed to believe in the 2nd Amendment. While this is clearly a rather short list, I’d love to expand it. What other historical figures we should add to our list. Let us know in the comments.