Skip to comments.Elmer Keith : The most famous gun writer of all time.
Posted on 01/20/2013 1:22:34 PM PST by virgil283
"What really made Elmer special was not his skill with or knowledge of guns, but his commonness. Even though he was to be the most famous gun writer of all, he always had time to talk to the ordinary guy and often answered, personally, without a secretary....... In 1911, Elmer was burned terribly in a hotel fire ... with his left hand turned upside down on the back of his left wrist.... 'I told Father I had to have a left hand so I could hold a rifle and do normal things'. Father contacted every doctor in Helena to try to get them to operate on the hand and break it over and straighten it out. None of them would tackle the job. They all said I would never live to be 21 anyway and they were not going to torture me any further..... Finally, I had had enough of going with only one hand, so I asked Dad if he would break it. Mother said, "Can you stand it?" I said, "I dont know, but you can go ahead and do it anyway.".....
(Excerpt) Read more at sixguns.com ...
Elmers dad had a dozed buckskin gloves made to fit his left hand, and for the next two years, Elmer wore a glove with melted deer tallow in it and forced himself to use that hand.
"In this way, I finally made a new left hand, but it was a long struggle. At first, I could hold it up to the light and see daylight between the bones right down to the palm of my hand. After a couple of years working with it every time I could and also riding broncs and pulling on the rope with that hand, I finally wound up with a pretty good hand. Even today, its a sorry looking hand, but its useful, and for a time, I even did two gun demonstrations with sixguns."...... During the 1920s and 1930s, Elmer was a rancher and big game guide in Oregon and Idaho with his first articles starting to appear at this time. His first published work was in the American Rifleman in 1924, and 60 years later, his works are still being published in Guns and Ammo. In World War II, he served as an inspector at the Ogden Arsenal and went full time as a writer in the 50s. During his career, he served on the staff of The Outdoorsman, The American Rifleman, Western Sportsman, Guns, and Guns and Ammo.
When the Outstanding American handgunner Awards Foundation was established to recognize outstanding contributions to handgunning, it was a foregone conclusion that Elmer would be the first recipient. The original award was given to him in 1973.
Elmer also wrote 10 books, beginning with Sixgun Cartridges and Loads in 1936 and ending with his autobiography, Hell, I was there! In 1979. Two of his books are absolute musts for handgunners, those are his last one, his autobiography, and, of course his Sixguns, first published in 1955.....H/T Ace Of Spades.
I read Elmer Keith articles in Guns and Ammo for years.
Knew about his development of the 357 and the 44 mag.
Never knew about the fire/hand incident. Tough man, and his dad & mom must have been tough also.
Elmer and his wife lost their only Daughter at something like 7 years old. He went through a lot of sorrow.
I always enjoyed his columns. He had strong opinions and that usually makes for interesting reading.
” and ending with his autobiography, Hell, I was there! In 1979. Two of his books are absolute musts for handgunners, those are his last one, his autobiography,”
I will second that. The other being “Hatcher’s Notebook.” I would love to have lived a small fraction of Elmer’s life.
In 1964 I bought the Keith-designed S&W .41 magnum revolver. Still my pride and joy.
Elmer Keith, Bill Jordan and Skeeter Skelton...my early years mentors.
Miss him, Col. Jeff Cooper and Bob Milek in Guns and Ammo.
A man’s man, even when he was a boy.
Skeeter Skelton and Peter Hathaway Capstick were my favorite writers. Unfortunately both died at a fairly young age.
Jeff Cooper was another one. I agreed on everything he said except a little bit on guns.
IMO the .41mag is a much better round than the .44mag.
Stupid easy to load for.
I have 3 right now. A S&W 57 and 2 Ruger SA. One old model and one new model.
You might very well be right. I had a model 57 which was not only beautifully made, it shot as well as any revolver I have ever owned. It pretty much equals the .44 mag and has thicker cylinder walls and should hold up a little better.
Despite that, I do really like the model 29 and the Super Blackhawk. Also ammo is much more available for the .44 mag.
I started reading Elmer’s stuff in the 70s and found he was right about most everything. After he died, I moved just down the road from where he lived and I know many people who knew him around here. They all have good stories.
One guy showed up at Elmer’s house near the courthouse one morning. Elmer was on the front porch and a big British double rifle was leaning on the railing. What’s up, Elmer? We’re having a wake for the crow. Up in the trees was a flock of crows, and in the yard was a crater with some black feathers around it.
I dunno. I have the M19, the M57 and the M29. Love the 29, not so much the 57. I suspect it’s because my 29 is an 8-3/4 barrel, so barrel flip is a little bit less. The 57 is a standard 6.
If you don’t handload the .44 is clearly a better choice, but the .41 is a handloaders dream.
I would choose the model 29 over the 57 but it is not because I think the .44 is better. For maybe 30 years I handloaded for just about every caliber. I finally decided that I just did not enjoy it and sold all my presses dies etc. I did keep an old Lee hand held press.
I did keep 9mm, .308 and a 6.5 Swede dies just in case of emergency. Also a Lee hand held priming tool and a Bonanza scale. I probably would have to really look to find them now.
.44 Ammo is just far more available.
I actually like the 6 inch better, think it is a good all around compromise. I don’t care for the 4 inch barrel tho I did pick up one at a great price and admit it was a fine shooter.
My 57 is 6”, the new model Ruger is 7”, and the old model Ruger is 4 3/4”.
That 4 3/4” does have a bit of flip, I will give you that.
The only one I would let go is the new model Ruger, but only if I could get an 7” old model to replace it.
I’ve seen some of Elmer’s letters back-n-forth to gun cranks.
Gun cranks being what they are, sometimes would get heated with Elmer’s ideas that were published in his columns. Elmer was always professional, on-point and prompt in his responses. What’s more, unlike make gun-rag writers of today, Elmer made it quite clear when he didn’t know something.
And as for being tough: Lots of folks in those days were tough. It wasn’t all that remarkable back then. Today, with the country being over-run with metrosexual pussies and whiney women writing their “look at me, dammit!” screeds... well, it seems remarkable that parents would break and set their own son’s arm at home.
It is covered in his books, HELL, I WAS THERE and SIXGUNS. Both of which I have in my library.
My friend from Oregon wrote him in the 1960s with a problem concerning his 41 magnum bullets, plus he couldn’t find brass. Elmer wrote right back with a solution, plus a sack of brass and a Lyman mold.
Every time I go past Williams Lake I envision him out on the ice with a sled loaded with all his guns and household possessions including a tomcat in a feed sack, dragging it across with horses. And the ice cracked. He made it, but I wonder what he was thinking taking a shortcut like that.
Did you know that the first human killed with a .44 Magnum was by Charlie Askins Jr? He was in South Vietnam (1950s) hunting when he was warned to be on the look for communist Viet Cong.
He heard a noise in the bush and saw tow VC armed to the teeth, so he shot them with the .44 mag. They were armed with a strange weapon which he took with him. They were the first AK-47s seen in the West.
Askins said the .44 Magnum should have been stillborn. He did not like it.
***In 1911, Elmer was burned terribly in a hotel fire ... with his left hand turned upside down on the back of his left wrist***
Years later he had his hip bone slip out of it’s socket while working with a heavy load. His story of how they put it back makes me hurt even now. It is in HELL, I WAS THERE.
When I first tested that M29, it was on a friend’s nack porch, he was selling it for a guy who had used it as an arctic backup gun. Took aim at a clod fist-sized clod of dirt 70-80 yards away, and it just blew away. Fell in love with the gun right there and grabbed it. It’s one of two favorites - I can regularly hit thumb-sized targets at 25-30 yards on mil shoots with the 45 1911, and the old 29. Have an “assault” 9mm too (18-shot mag), but it doesn’t feel that natural. The 9 seems to have more “bite” to it than the 45 softie, for some reason.
I traded my model 57 off when I was in grad school and needed money. A fellow student traded me 7 guns for the model 57.
We met at his place which was in a rural area. He had me shoot it instead of shooting himself. I was really in good form that day and he was impressed.
Several students told me I had made a bad trade as all the guns except one were sort low price ones. The only nice one of the 7 was a Ruger Security Six. I had done some quick figuring in my head and knew I was getting the better end of the deal and sure enough I sold them all separately for a total of around $900.
I’m also a fan of Keith. I like the .45 Colt in a strong frame, though. ;-)
I have a cache of brass (never re-loaded) somewhere in my storage space. What do you pay for those?
It was hard to pass up 100 rounds for $4, so I didn't.
I've probably got at least 500-600 new .41 mag in my stash. Probably the same or more for other handgun cals.
I try to keep anywhere from 500-1000 loaded rounds for each handgun cal.
The only thing I'm short on is .32-20 and .32mag.