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Gunslinger from "The Great Train Robbery"

Gunslinger, also gunfighter, is a name given to men in the American Old West who had gained a reputation as being dangerous with a gun.

Often the term was applied to men who would hire out for contract killings or at a ranch embroiled in a range war where he would earn "fighting wages." Others, like Billy the Kid, were notorious bandits and still others were lawmen like Pat Garrett and Wyatt Earp. A gunslinger could either be an outlaw, a robber or murderer who took advantage of the wilderness of the frontier to hide from, and make periodic raids on, civilized society. Or, the gunfighter could be an agent of justice, sometimes a lone avenger, but occasionally a sheriff, whose duty was to face the outlaw and bring — or likelier, personally wreak — justice upon him.

Gunslingers frequently appear, along with cowboys, as stock characters in Western movies and novels. In Western movies, the characters' gun belts were often worn low on the hip and outer thigh, with exposed trigger and grip for a smooth fast draw, shot and reholster. Fast draw artists can be distinguished from other movie cowboys because their guns would often be tied to their leg. Long before holsters were steel lined, they were soft and supple so they could be comfortably worn all day long. These old rigs molded themselves around the wearer and almost became a part of the person using them. Tie-downs were used to keep the pistol from catching on the holster as it was drawn.

The possession of guns is not always necessary for this kind of character in a western. For example, in the television series Kung Fu, Kwai Chang Caine is depicted much like a gunslinger, but is a wandering Shaolin monk who instead relies on his mastery of martial arts when called for.

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