Centennial Armies in the Movies



Prop masters seem to have been really fond of issuing the Belgian Colts to the actors. It appears that they were used in more Westerns then you would imagine. For example did you know that most of the 1860s in the famous Clint Eastwood movie THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES were actually Centaures? So, “Centennial Armies in the Movies” is another field of interest that deserves to be studied. Therefore, you will like the recollections of our pard Roger Ragland aka Major (rragland@shepardes.com), prop master of many famous Civil War and Western movies:

“This begins like most of my long winded explanations with an explanation about how this subject came about.”

“You see, I became interested in the American Civil War and re-enacting at an early age. I recall attending my first event in 1961 at all of 13 years old. It was at Cowpens in South Carolina, yeah, the revolutionary war site…But it was a War Between the States event with perhaps 100 participants.”

Now we flash forward, to 1978 and I’m still involved, with a collection of cavalry sabres, and a few carbines. Colt has come out with it’s Black Powder Series, and I order the 1860 Army (I still have it, now with ivory grips and a conversion cylinder).”

“My profession is show business, both stage & film as a prop builder and set designer, re-enacting is my hobby, and mounted cavalry is my style.”

“Early in 1982, I’m offered a position to meld both my hobby and my job. They will pay me to work at my passion … does it get any better ?...The job is coordinator of mounted cavalry for the mini series THE BLUE & THE GREY. Here I meet, future partner and friend; Karl Luthin and we put together over the next few years, our first prop trailer.”

“Several films later, including the NORTH & SOUTH Trilogy, GLORY, IRONCLADS, ORDEAL OF DR. MUDD, JACKAL AND THE ROSE and a SPECIAL FRIENDSHIP has Dr. Luthin and myself on location.”

“Each time we do a film, the script requires more and more props as the “Background Artists” numbers increase.”

“It is here, I should get to the point, in 1985, had contacted Western Costume in LA & Hollywood Gun Rentals for our needs to supply (among many other items) side arms for both principle cast members and the mounted dragoons in NORTH & SOUTH part 1. The Walkers (ASM’s) provided were for main characters, and we wound up buying out all of Navy Arms supply of Harpers Ferry 1855 Horse Pistols.”

“Next, we are prepping for NORTH & SOUTH book II in Sept. of 1985. (I’d like to insert here … I’m at this time working 60 hours + a week on the first season of “Miami Vice”).”

“The first box of props arrive and I do inventory, included are 4 Belgian made 1860 Armies (they are marked Centennial Model 1960). This is the first time, I have held the Belgian made 1860 Army. They are complete with well used (aged) leather and the four guns are themselves rather, used. Noted at the time one was totally missing all six nipples and in fact was none functioning. Another was missing a nipple or two and I think one had some kind of aluminium wedge.”

“The last one had, white plastic grips. I later discovered they were Hubley 45 cap gun grips.”

“We used the guns along with ASM’s (yes, the same Walkers were there) and a number of Uberti 51’s & 1860’s and some Palmetto Arm’s Garrett Sharps.”

“I have (and sorry) to say, I was not overly impressed with the old beater Belgians. When we wrapped, we sent the whole works back to LA. Except, one missing 1860 lost or misplaced, the Hubley grip Belgian. I turned in a claim for lost or damage, and simple forgot about it.”

“From then on, we decided to purchase our needs and build our inventory. 1986 found us on location in Texas, on the IMAX ALAMO THE PRICE OF FREEDOM … this time I’m the production designer in charge of the entire set design and construction. When Karl and our new semi prop trailer arrived, having retired the old box trailer everything had a place and was quite neat…”

“Dang, if the old Hubley gripped Belgian did not show up, lost or misplaced somewhere in the old trailer … it turned up … It of course, was unneeded for an 1835 era film and went unused.”

Sadly, when we wrapped APOF, that was the last time I saw it. Again, it was lost or misplaced or worse.

“By 1989, and GLORY we were budgeting and purchasing all our gun needs. Re-enactors supplied most all of their own equipment, if we need a side arm or horse pistol we used Taylor’s or Cimarron.”

“Belgians were rare, and I have not seen one in maybe 20 years on location. Now, I can already hear Wolf asking “Give me names, which actors actually carried a Belgian?”

“It would be easy to say SO’n SO carried this Belgian in the film SUCH’n SUCH…but that just is not the case or even possible. The fact is, working props is interesting and fun but it is not all that glamorous. You see, Karl and I basically supply the bit players, background players and add depths to extras and background artists as the re-enactors like to be called.”

“On occasion we are asked to supply principal players. Like Stacey Keach and Gregory Peck in THE BLUE & THE GREY with my Spencers. Or David Carradine using my made up Walker Carbine…”

“Mostly we get our orders from the daily call sheet … something like 14 Union officers or something like that … we need to equip them and there it is … the same prop … be it gun, leather, sabre whatever may be seen on several players … To tell who might have used the Belgians would be super human memory … sometime I can’t remember the guy from the day before!”

“I just count them and issue them, they return the correct number of props and get their day pay voucher …”

Roger Ragland aka Major aka FROCS #23

“Thanks to Long Johns Wolf and his untiring work I have learned a great deal about the Belgian 1960 New Model. I continue to hunt the Hubley gripped model (it’s like a quest), a real Colt with a toy’s grip.”

“Perhaps, I’ll have once again a Close Encounter of a Third Kind, this time, I’ll make sure it does not get away.”




WDN/March 26, 2013

© 2007 Wolf D. Niederastroth