Elmer Keith & The Golden Years of Gun-Writing

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posted on July 26, 2019
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This past weekend, I played an event in southern Wyoming and then headed to Idaho on assignment for American Rifleman. Of course, I made time to be sure to visit Salmon, ID. Now, you old-timers reading this will know exactly why I was compelled to visit Salmon. It was the home and final resting place of Elmer Keith, one of the great gun writers of years past.

During a long life of cowboying and ranching in the northwest, Keith found time to assist in developing the .44 Mag. and .41 Mag. revolver cartridges. Early on, Keith supplemented his ranching ventures by writing stories for American Rifleman and most other popular magazines of the day. He was certainly one of my heroes. But I didn’t stop by to visit his grave. I think that the rugged, Idaho mountains that surround Salmon are a far more fitting monument to this grand old man of sixgunning.

The years following the end of World War II became what I consider the golden years of gun writing. In addition to Mr. Keith, we read and enjoyed writers like Bill Jordan, Skeeter Skelton, Jeff Cooper and Bob Milik, just to name a few of those who wrote mostly about handguns and handgunning. Again, the old timers in the audience will add some favorite names of their own to this list.

Some of these writers taught us a lot about how to shoot, while others of them taught us a good bit about gunfighting, since the two are not always the same. What they all had in common was the ability to entertain us while they also informed us. In that era, the gun writer had also better be an above-average storyteller.

Times change and publication focus changes, too. Storytelling is not as big a priority in today’s gun magazines. Quite frankly, I miss it. I surely wish that today’s magazines would reprint some of the articles of these great writers of the golden era. Today’s shooters, especially the younger generation, could get a lot out of the yarns and experiences of these men from years gone by.

Now, I’m not knocking today’s writers and shooting instructors; most of them do a great job, and many are my friends. It’s just that our handgunning history is full and colorful, and it’s a real shame to see it fade away. We historians believe that you can’t really know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been. 

So I’m sitting in Salmon, ID, and this evening, I just believe I’ll raise a glass to those writers and handgunners who have gone before. May the red gods smile upon them.

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