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Updated on December 13, 2013
The western gun holster, sometimes also called the cowboy holster, has a long history, beginning at the end of the Civil War and American West. Texas Rangers and the United States Border Patrol officers were some of the first to give the idea of decorating gun holsters to holster and saddle makers. Many legendary lawmen of the day also wanted a holster that allowed for quick draw; most of this happened before 1890. Even though the epic days of the Old West were over, both lawmen and citizens still carried weapons as a normal, everyday thing. Newer western styles that came out during this period were more practically designed and more comfortable to wear.
Much later, during the 1940s and 50s, western film and television flourished, and holsters took on a new meaning. They were no longer just a place to put a gun, but instead became an expression of personal style. More thought and innovation went into producing these highly decorated, fancy holsters, and fully lined leather belts and holsters began to pop up. Fancy stamping, carving, and silver trims became popular decoration. Most of the actors who wore these holsters weren’t skilled gunmen, and not too many skilled holster makers still existed, so film took great liberty with the look, style and function of holsters. The designs were, sadly, almost always historically inaccurate. The quick draw we all associate with John Wayne wasn’t possible with frontier-style holsters, but this in no way detracts from the accuracy of cowboys of the Old West. Today, western gun holsters are still used for stage props, western movie and television productions, western reenactments, cowboy shootouts, or just at home on the ranch.