Many cowboys never owned a gun or carried one, according to Charles F. Sprague, noted Texas and New Mexico cattleman before the turn of the century. There were few double-action or self-cocking pistols on the range and few cowboys used them. Billy the Kid — William H. Bonney, legally — used a Colt .41 double action and by constant practice became a dead shot with the weapon. Billy at 23 years of age had killed 23 men, but he could hardly be classified as a cowboy even though he did punch cows for a time with Sheriff Cape Willingham on the LX Ranch in ’78.

Willingham, incidentally, soon left the unprofitable ranks of the cowmen and became a famous peace officer and a top-notch marksman. He maintained he had little to fear from a working cowboy, and though he almost lost his life in a gunbattle with five of them, the incident does bear out the contention the cowboys were pretty poor shots. It happened in old Tascosa. Cape got into an argument with five cowboys on the main street. When the smoke cleared, four cowboys were dead or dying, the other was permanently crippled and Sheriff Willingham was badly wounded. He recovered and later reiterated, “Generally speaking, cowboys are lousy shots.”