Hanging above the fireplace at Medicine Spirit Ranch is an object with special meaning for me- a Winchester Model 1873 Carbine. It is not that this model gun that is said to have won the West is so rare or valuable, but rather because it represents a tangible connection to my great grandfather, Thaddeus Septimis Hutton. The carbine is one of the few connections I have to this relative about whom I wish I knew more. The Winchester pictured below is better polished but otherwise looks like the Hutton Family rifle.
Thad Hutton, or Pappy as he was called later in life, bought the carbine for his use as a cowboy in Texas. The Hutton Family rifle was made in 1881 and is the second model of the 1873 Winchester. It weighs 7 3/8 pounds, has a short overall barrel length that is perfect for a saddle gun, and has a magazine that holds twelve rounds. This model of Winchester 1873 was manufactured in New Haven, Connecticut from 1879 to 1884. According to family lore, this Hutton carbine was one of the earliest of its type to enter the State of Texas.
This model 1873 was the rifle that put Winchester on the map of the West, trotting along with the equally formidable Colt revolver tucked into the belt of the frontiersman. The Winchester carbine is said to have killed more game, more Native Americans, and when the Native Americans awoke to its virtues, more US Soldiers than any other type of rifle. The development of powerful repeating rifles in the 1860s and 1870s of which the Winchester 1873 was the most popular, meant that hardy young Americans could penetrate the West, provide food, and exist in a hostile environment.
Thad Hutton left the Kansas City area around 1874 and struck out for Texas. He married Elizabeth Ragan in Palo Pinto County, Texas on November 1, 1876. Thad was a tall, affable cowboy while Betty was a diminutive Irish lass who reportedly possessed a sharp tongue. The wedding was performed by an itinerant preacher who came through the small town of Gordon near where they lived. Their first son, Thaddeus Leslie Hutton, was born two to three miles north of Gordon on May 11, 1878. Thad’s occupation on the birth certificate was listed as “cowboy.” He was at the time 29 years old and Betty was 24. The picture below was taken years after their marriage.
Not long after Leslie’s birth, Thad and Betty moved further west, relocating near Seymour, Texas. The reason for the move is unknown, but a strong hint exists in that the Great Western Trail traversed Seymour, leading to Dodge City, Kansas. Dodge City was the major railroad terminus for Texas cattle and this booming western cow town developed quite a reputation. Did Thad ride the trail to Kansas as a drover, pushing large herds of Texas Longhorn cattle up the trail? Did he interact with any famous lawmen and gunfighters of the era including Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and Wild Bill Hickok? What were his recollections, if any, of Dodge City, called the wickedest city in the country and home to the Long Branch Saloon and China Doll brothel? Unfortunately this possible family history has all been lost to history. What is certain is that had Thad Hutton ridden the Great Western Trail, his 1873 Winchester carbine would have accompanied him on his long and arduous journey.
What is known for certain is that while in Seymour Thad worked on the P8 Ranch. Apparently this ranch no longer exists as no record of it can be found. While in Seymour three children were born to Thad and Betty including Emma Jane Hutton on March 9, 1880, Margaret Mary Hutton on October 5, 1881, and George Earl Hutton on August 30, 1885. My grandfather John Francis Hutton was not born until 1887 when by then Thad and Betty had left Texas and settled in Garden City, Missouri. Below are pictured Thad and his three sons.
One day while hunting wild cattle in Texas, Thad had a memorable experience. Thad and his friend, a Mr. Reid, found four head of wild cattle in a thicket. The hunters managed to separate one young bull from the remaining cattle. Thad at the time was carrying only an old shotgun but had exhausted his ammunition by shooting into the thicket in an attempt to scare the wild cattle out into the open. The men had gotten off their horses and the young bull, seeing the men on foot, got his fighting blood up. Thad reached into his pocket but found he had exhausted his supply of ammunition. By this time the bull had decided to charge Thad. Mr. Reid gave Thad some rifle balls that Thad put down the barrel of his shotgun following a load of gunpowder. He did not know if the shotgun would even fire loaded this way or would fire with any degree of accuracy. The infuriated beast snorting and galloping with head down drew near. Thad raised his gun and squeezed the trigger. The bull had drawn within ten yards of Thad when the shotgun fired, driving a rifle ball into the forehead of the bull. It fell mortally wounded. The meat from that wild bull fed the hunter’s families for a long time thereafter.
Another incident occurred in 1887 involving the Hutton 1873 Winchester when Thad and Betty had moved back to Missouri. The .44/40 saddle gun was loaned to a neighbor who needed a gun to kill a beef. Several days later the neighbor came to return the rifle and was asked how it had worked. The neighbor replied, “Sure it killed the beef all right, but that gun’s too dangerous to have around this country. The bullet went through his head and whistled on out across country. I’m wondering if I killed anything else besides the beef.”
Perhaps on hearing this story and learning of the power of the carbine Adele Hutton demanded of her husband, Howard, that the gun could only remain in the household if it were disabled. Apparently the firing pin was removed or damaged in such a way as to satisfy Mother as the gun remained in the house. Great Grandfather Thad’s gun was later passed on to me.
This 1873 Winchester saddle gun currently is encased above a fireplace at Medicine Spirit Ranch. It returned to our Texas ranch well over 100 years after it had departed Texas. It is a tangible tie to my great grandfather, Thad Hutton about whom I wish I knew more. I am proud to own this rifle of his and one day look forward to passing it on to my offspring.