In a fashion accessory called a muff. Sewn inside was a holster. Inside the holster was a honking big Merwin and Hulbert .44 Russian revolver.

From the time my grandfather came home from the War of Southern Secession and married her, she never set foot outside without her muff. And no one in the family was able to remember any time when she was offered any sort of “insult” that would have caused the revolver to magically appear in her capable hands. But the big revolver was well used.

Hardly a Sunday passed that the buggy ride to church was not punctuated by gunfire. A healthy rabbit or sage hen would bring a dime – while ammunition was 72 cents for fifty. So grandmother gathered eggs, raised chickens, and did a little market hunting on the side. Just like almost all of the farm women between the Mississippi and the Missouri in the 1870’s and 80’s.

Contemporary records suggest more than seven Iowa women in ten carried some sort of weapon when they left their home. As did more than half of the men. But even in the “civilized east” “going heeled” was quite common.

Going through my files today, I found a clipping from 1904. A new law required all guns to be checked at precinct doors. One metropolitan precinct recorded 845 votes cast, and 174 guns checked. That was before Women’s Sufferage, so those voters were men. And if that big city precinct was typical, more than one man in five was “carrying.”

What was the crime rate? For 1904, American newspapers reported just over 1,000 homicides – 1,031 for 74,000,000 Americans. Call it one murder for every 70,000 Americans. In a year when more than one man in five and a substantial number of women carried a gun.

Remember, Annie Oakley was an unusually fine shot. But it was by no means unusual for a wife to outshoot her menfolk. That takes practice. Putting meat on the table practice!


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