Our modern love of superheroes isn’t much different than the cowboys of the 1950s and 60s. They are everywhere you look. In the 1950s and 60s, the large and small screens were dominated by westerns, and the genre has remained somewhat popular over the years. In the late 1950s, everyone seemed to have a western show, and producers were looking for a way to distinguish one from the other. Have Gun Will Travel had a custom Colt Calvary, The Riflemen had a custom Winchester rifle, and Wyatt Earp carried a massive Buntline special. Josh Randall carried a Mare’s Leg.
The Mare’s Leg was a custom short rifle made from a Winchester Model 1892. The original models chambered the .44-40 round, although McQueen carried .45-70 rounds in his cartridge belt. The barrels were shortened to 9 inches, and the stock was nearly removed. This created the first Mare’s Leg.
To this day, you can buy your own Mare’s Leg in various calibers from various companies. The term has become a catch-all for these shortened lever guns.
The Mare’s Leg – Dead Or Alive
McQueen played Josh Randall, a bounty hunter who traveled the west seeking to collect the hides of criminals. Along the way, he often proved wanted men innocent, helped find missing people, and once even saved Santa Claus. The show was your typical heroic western. A stranger rides into town runs into a problem and solves it.
He rode a feisty horse named Ringo, and for many of my youthful years, I watched Randall across the west. My dad is a huge western fan, and a lot of my time in front of the TV involved TV land and old westerns. That likely influenced my taste in firearms. The episodes often featured his Mare’s Leg, holstered to his thigh.
His was cool as a cucumber. Although he rarely aimed, he often landed his shots where he needed to. In one of the first episodes, if not the first, he uses the Mare’s Leg as a baton to beat a man into submission before being sucker-punched himself. It was a fun show, and I have fond memories of it and the Mare’s Leg.
In Real Life
As mentioned, the Mare’s Leg was a shortened Winchester 1892 in .44-40. However, that wasn’t all. McQueen had his own input on the gun. He requested a duck-billed hammer and a larger lever loop. This required a redesign of the holster but likely made the weapon faster to cock. The weapon didn’t have sights, but McQueen didn’t need sights.
Three different guns were made for the show. Two of the three had octagonal barrels, and you can notice the change as you watch the show. Sometimes it changes from scene to scene.
The Mare’s Leg was built by Kenny Von Dutch Hwoard, an artist and gunsmith. If the name sounds familiar, it’s the same Von Dutch that inspired the clothing line and the famed trucker hats of the early 2000s. No one consulted with the ATF on this conversion, and the program was fined 1,100 dollars. In 2023 that’s a little over 11,000 dollars.
Beyond Dead or Alive
The Mare’s Leg has been an underrated part of pop culture guns. The gun has shown up in numerous films, tv shows, and even video games in the years following its creation. Most companies who make lever guns will typically make at least one Mare’s Leg. It’s a neat gun and one that has a special place in pop culture. Plus, all my homies annoy the ATF.