The gun, like the axe and the plow, was an essential tool in the exploration and settlement of the trans-Mississippi West. It provided food for the cooking pot as well as protection against two- or four-legged marauders. As the century progressed, firearms also provided various forms of recreation for both men and women, primarily target and competition shooting.
Of course the employment of the gun, whether for good or evil, depended upon the user. The men and women who lived the nineteenth-century western experience sometimes described in detail the role firearms played in their lives. Such accounts included a trapper in the 1830s, a woman crossing the plains by wagon in the 1850s, a drover ("cowboy" in modern terminology) enduring the dangers of a long cattle drive, a professional hunter engaged in the slaughter of the once seemingly endless herds of bison, or a soldier campaigning against American Indians.
Each account adds to our knowledge of firearms and our awareness of the struggle faced by those who were a part of the western experience. Gunsmoke and Saddle Leather describes the gun's impact on the lives of those in the West--men and women, whites and American Indians--using their own words to tell that story wherever possible.