Wild Willie: Blog

Back to Wild Willie's Blog

Times, clothing and weapons - an explanation

September 14, 2014
Posted at 9:31 am
Updated: September 14, 2014 - 1:12 pm

I have been asked a few questions about the times in which the Unremarkable stories are set, and about the geography and people. So I thought I'd try and explain it as I see it.

First of all, these are works of fiction. They are not carefully written historical studies, but adventure stories. Having said that, I have made some attempt to be reasonably accurate.

Jake and Sue first meet in around 1848, and the goings-on in An Unremarkable Town are around 1849.

This was the time just before the major Indian wars started. These began in around 1853, although there had always been skirmishing as the whites pushed westwards, and really came to a head after the end of the civil war in 1865. A lot of it was caused by just the sort of paranoia described in my story, and by clashes between hotheads and unscrupulous men on both sides.


Although almost every Indian tribe had its own language, there were major groupings of similar languages. Jake and Sue can pick up languages so quickly because Shoshone, Comanche and Ute are all in the same family. In fact, Shoshone and Comanche are very similar, and are largely mutually intelligible, although this is hampered by changes in consonants. When Red Hand couldn't understand Jake and Sue, he probably was confused by those changes, Jake's bad accent, and the low levels at which they were speaking.

Ute is in the same family but is further away from Shoshone and Comanche. The Comanche people had split off from the Shoshone only in around 1700. At the time of these stories, the Shoshone and Ute lived on the edge of the Great Basin with the Shoshone up towards Idaho and the Utes, unsurprisingly, in Utah. The Comanche had moved out onto the Great Plains of Colorado.

I write so that the usual speech of the people involved is in plain text. Any short-term variant is then in italics. So, when around white men, the plain text is English and the various Indian languages, not understood by most of those involved in the story, are in italics.

Similarly, when the action is in an Indian village, that language is in plain text and English, or a different Indian language, is in italics.

I don't try and write in dialect, though some white men may speak badly and Jake's Shoshone is a bit basic.

Some white-men's words are used by the Indians as they have no word of their own for the concept. Hence koffeee, munee and so on. They are my own invention to simulate what Sue and Grey Cloud might have called them.

Similarly, some Indian words have found their way into English. Teepee (or tepee or tipi) is a conical dwelling made of poles and animal skins that is easy to assemble and disassemble by nomadic tribes. Both the Shoshone and Comanche used them, although most Ute didn't. The word comes from thipi - the word for dwelling in the language of the Lakota tribe of the Sioux people.

I use the term Indians as that's what the people of the day called them. Native Americans is a modern term and, apparently, is thought to be patronising by some of those it describes.


Most of the weapons used in western movies didn't appear until the Civil War (commenced 1861). So Henry (first produced 1860) and Winchester (1866) rifles didn't exist at this time and even the early model Sharps didn't come into production until 1850.

There were some Paterson model Colt revolvers around. First produced in 1836, a major redesign in 1839 made it much easier to load and to use. There was no trigger guard, instead the trigger was usually hidden inside the body of the weapon and only folded into view when the gun was cocked.

The Paterson Colt was a .36 calibre five-shot revolver which weighed just under three pounds.

The Walker Colt, a six-shot .44 calibre weapon, arrived in 1847 but weighed four and a half pounds and was over 15 inches long. It was generally reckoned to be too heavy to carry on a belt and was often strapped to a saddle. 1,100 were produced and only 100 of those went into private hands. Jake never had one.

The first model Colt Dragoon appeared in 1848 and 7,000 were produced by 1850. Slightly lighter (four and a quarter pounds) and shorter (14.75 inches), those small differences made it easier to handle.

The relative scarcity of these weapons (only 2,600 Patersons were produced) meant that most people still used single shot pistols. All pistols and revolvers were loaded using loose black powder and separate lead balls. The first brass cartridges wouldn't appear until 1860 and smokeless gunpowder powder not until 1890.

Black powder is terrible stuff. 55% of it remains after firing as soot and residue. Some of this causes a big cloud of smoke, the rest stays in the gun. To make things worse, the residue absorbs water from the atmosphere to form a caustic compound that attacks the metal that the gun is made from. No wonder Jake spends so much time cleaning his weapons.


Not surprisingly, Jake mostly wears Indian-style clothing made from buckskin or deerskin. White men tended to wear roughly-woven wool or cotton pants, or even canvas. Levi didn't start making jeans until 1873.

One liberty I have taken is to give them Stetson hats. Various felt hats and fur hats would have been more typical as John B Stetson didn't start his company until 1865. But this is fiction, and who can imagine a westerner without a Stetson?