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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Peake

The Last Word... Almost

Updated: Jan 23, 2022

Capturing the essence of Elmer Keith's historic No. 5 Revolver

Many believe Elmer Keith’s No. 5 revolver is the finest single action in existence. The holy grail of sixgunners, it’s the gun all others are measured against. How does one capture the essence of Elmer, along with the gun he wore for more than 30 years? Right, wrong or indifferent, this is what I did…

"How does one capture the essence of the legandary sixgunner and the gun he wore for over 30 years?"

It's hard when dreams finally come true, but it happens! The only problem? I had a short amount of time to create a photograph I knew I’d go back to, time and again, for the rest of my life. But this was the task in front of me. I have photographed a lot of beautiful guns, but never one with such a prolific story.

Telling The Story

I felt the worst thing I could do was just take another pretty picture. It was important telling Elmer’s story through the photograph by providing the feeling he had worn this gun all day and taken it off for the night. Elmer was a rancher and hunting guide living in a one room cabin, with no running water or electricity, in Durkee, Oregon.

While living in such rugged conditions, the heavily customized #5 was his daily working companion. I wanted props that would convey this story without being too heavy handed. I utilized old, scavenged barn boards, a well-worn lasso, an elk hide from a hunt ten years ago and Doc Barranti’s cowboy hat to set the scene. These props created a striking juxtaposition from the smooth floral carved Lawrence 120 holster and shiny engraved revolver.

I had to pre-light the night before due to the extremely short amount of time we had with the gun. I utilized my engraved Ruger Blackhawk as a stand in, but it was so different I could only get about 60% there, utilizing just six White Lightening strobes. I went home and wasn't able sleep that night awaiting the opportunity to be in the presence of the famed wheelgun.

The Shoot

The morning of the shoot I added a few more props including the Lyman/Ideal 429421 original Keith bullet mold and box of primed brass from Brownells founder and patriarch Bob Brownell, who knew Elmer way back when.

When the gun arrived, we wiped it down with a cotton rag and propped it up on the scabbard and got to work lighting. There are two ways of lighting engraving, milking the flats (throwing light into the not engraved areas making the engraving darker or making the lighting in the engraving glow. I thought we would do the later so I might be able to show off the high gloss bluing and not wash out the carved ivory grips.

The results of our few hours with the No. 5 is what you see above. The images were displayed in the March/ April American Handgunner Magazine with a great article written by Jeff "Tank" Hoover who was also present for the shoot. Not many have had the opportunity to photograph this part of history. I am really blessed to now be in the small group. Special Thanks to Joel Kolander, from Rock Island Auction Company for making this all possible.. Though Elmer wrote story of the No. 5 entitled, "The Last Word" 93 years ago, the gun hasn't stopped telling us stories.

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