Hello and welcome to my blog. What I'm doing here is documenting my personal expression of "hands-on history" from a craftsman's perspective. I've been on this path for a large part of my life and it's taken me to some interesting and challenging places. I hope to share the processes and the historically inspired objects I've crafted along this journey into our past. This adventure has deepened my appreciation for past craftsmanship and the intelligence of common place things in Early America. Besides, now I have all this cool stuff to play (teach) with.

Jim Miller

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Eureka Moments Revisited, Part 7, A Gold Rush Gun Rig for a Colt Navy

     When I recently aquired an Uberti 1851 Colt Navy, it occured to me that the belt and holster that I made for it might make an interesting blog posting. This story starts several years ago, when I was researching the common use of web belts and military style buckles in Gold Rush California.

     Stamped or cast brass tongue and wreath (aka spoon and wreath) buckles are fairly common artifacts found in gold rush camp sites. I have several  friends with large and varied collections, which is strong evidence of their popular use in the period. Dagguereian scholars consider them a key element when trying to identify "Gold Rush" portraits. In fact, it was one of those incredible, documented images that actually inspired this project.

Image Courtesy Cowan's Auction

     What I love about this image is how it captures the spirit of the age. These guys knew they were making history and proudly left us a record of their part in it. I feel that the buckle on his belt is likely a stamped brass version, possibly Taussig - Pollack & Co., San Francisco, similar to the example below.

Image Courtesy of

     The belt in the image appears to be made of webbing and a clue to it's actual weave and color came from an associated artifact that I had previously blogged about. The contemporary "gold porter" below, has what looks like the same webbing to join the two buckskin halves of the vest, as you can see in the picture. The most compelling evidence that it's the same webbing, comes from the historic record that Taussig - Pollack & Co. were selling gold porters in San Francisco. The only flaw in my theory is that the original porter below is unmarked.

Photo by Lindy Miller

     With this evidence, I proceeded to make a facsimile of a classic miner's web belt and buckle. The buckle was the easy part as Hanover Brass has been casting copies of Gold Rush buckles for years. The belt on the other hand, would take some thought. I knew I wasn't going to weave a belt from scratch but instead settled on dyeing modern cotton webbing that had a similar pronounced woven pattern. After the webbing was dyed a dark indigo blue, I picked-out the woven threads along its borders to make room for the two white stripes. I carefully wove white cotton cord back into the webbing to simulate the stripes of the original. All in all, it didn't turn out too bad. To improve the overall appearance of the belt, I applied another length of dyed webbing to the back to hide where my white stitches came through.

My Facsimile Belt and Reproduction Buckle
Photo by Author 2013

     After I made a brass keeper slide, I assembled the belt around the repro buckle. It's not a perfect replica but I consider it a good impression. Before I had started the belt part of the project, I had made what collectors call a "Slim Jim" (no relation) holster for the Colt Navy. Using origninal examples form Richard Rattenbury's classic book "Packing Iron" for the pattern, I made mine in veg tan leather, sewn with linen thread. I like the look of the straight throat on many documented examples (including the one in the daguerreotype above) and left mine unadorned as many of the earlier holsters appear to be. One last detail was to wet mold it to the revolver.

Photo by Author 2013

    So there you have it. Now, if I choose, I can sport my shooting iron in a style not commonly seen today but very much a part of our California history.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful work and attention to detail Jim. My son has been sewing Slim Jims for our Colts too. Just "discovered" your blog. Great stuff. Seems we both know Nelson Snooks. I'm a Bay Area California native as well. Interested in living history and reenactment. Work in Hayward live in San Leandro. I hand sew, and do leather and woodworking as well. I would like to see more of your kit and work. You can reach me at johncarlson72@yahoo.com.