printed in The Shootist, Nov. 1984 - published by John Linebaugh)
Antonio, Texas Police Dept. was not a happy one in 1973. For some time
there had been discontent over the issue gun and load which was the S&W
M10 heavy barrel .38 Special and Winchester-Western 200 gr. roundnose
ammunition. Many of us felt the gun itself was a good one with excellent
handling qualities, but the choice of ammo was among the poorest of all .38
loads then on the market. The heavy bluff-bowed slug was pleasant to
fire due to low velocity, but it had two faults: it shot high in M10's which
had been factory regulated for 158 gr. loads, and it had poor terminal
ballistics. Penetration was low and so was shocking power. Only a
precisely placed hit at close range could save an officer in a gunfight.
was brought to a climax that year by a shooting incident involving Officer
Tony Canales. Tony stopped a vehicle on a routine matter only to learn
it contained two gunmen who had robbed a service station only minutes before.
When he approached, one of the men shot him in the lower right side with a 12
gauge shotgun, knocking him to his knees. Tony took the full charge and
must have known it was all over for him in that moment, but he drew his gun
and fired back at the fleeing vehicle.
fire hit the car but the 200 gr. bullets merely ricocheted off the metal
making Tony's last courageous fight a futile one. He died a few hours
later in a nearby hospital.
This was a
surprise or ambush-style shooting and plainly no gun or type of ammunition
could have saved Tony's life. He was as good as dead before he drew his
gun. Nevertheless he was a popular Officer and his death prompted both
sympathy and outrage. Many Officers felt he might have killed or wounded
his assailants had he been carrying more effective loads. These views
were made known not only to the Chief but to the press as well, which gave the
event wide coverage.
of Police at that time was a cool-headed wise veteran of some 30 years service
and while not particularly knowledgeable about firearms, was responsive to the
needs of his men. He immediately ordered a comprehensive test of all currently
available .38 Special loads to be conducted by the forensic laboratory. Along
with several other firearms instructors I was ask to help evaluate these
different ammo types. Unfortunately our efforts were largely wasted
through bureaucratic mismanagement and other factors, among them the
non-availability of some brands of ammunition. Bluntly put, the
"comprehensive" test became a farce and little good came of it.
Somehow on nobody's specific recommendation, the new issue .38 round turned
out to be the S&W-Fiocchi 158 gr. jacketed soft-point. Although this
cartridge shot closer to point of aim in our fixed-sight M10's it had no
better terminal effect than the old 200 gr. slug. The velocity was in
the 800 fps range, too low to expand. I once viewed the X-rays of a
felon's thigh who had been shot with this bullet and it didn't expand.
It could have been retrieved and fired again.
seemed hopeless we got another chance. Budget restraints were eased to a
point where it appeared there might be money for new guns. A firearms
study group was authorized by the Chief and charged with finding the most
effective gun/load combination for the Department. Only two restrictions
applied: due to the risk of malfunction and accidental discharge no
semi-automatics could be chosen; and because of of the risk of
over-penetration no .357 Magnum revolvers were to be considered. Though
reasonable these restriction left the firearms committee in a quandary.
What gun could possibly be adopted except the .38 Specials we already had?
It looked a lot like a stacked deck for the heavy S&W N-frames in .44
Special and .45 ACP had long been discontinued.
of course was the M58 S&W in .41 Magnum. Available since 1964 it had
met with limited success and was not well-known in Police circles as late as
1973. The caliber and its 210 gr. "Police Load" at 950 fps
were pretty much the brainchild of Elmer Keith who conceived the idea with the
help of Bill Jordan and Skeeter Skelton. These experienced men felt it
would be the ultimate in a Police sidearm and those of us who used it agreed.
The only problem was to convince our skeptical firearms committee and this
proved to be an uphill fight in every way.
Bill McLennan, now Detective, was appointed as an official member of the
committee while I acted in an advisory capacity only, without a vote. As
longtime fans of Elmer Keith we adhered to his advocacy of large caliber heavy
bullets at moderate velocity for manstopping purposes.
many days of conferences which followed, McLennan and I gradually swayed
the committee opinion toward this view. Elmer Keith aided us in every
way possible including much correspondence and advice. Wanting as much
prestigious evidence as possible we presented positive comments from Dean
Grennell and Jeff Cooper. There can be little doubt their help was
decisive. In the end a decision was made to purchase 400 M58 revolvers for
trial issue, enough for about half the patrolmen on the Department.
We received these revolvers in 1974 and I helped inspect them on arrival.
We rejected 13 for mechanical defects and the rest remained in service until
this purchase was approved an objection was raised that the barrel markings of
".41 Magnum" might cause adverse public comment. Although we
had no intention of issuing true magnum loads both McLennan and I realized the
public sensitivity over the word "magnum". We contacted
S&W and they replied that for a fee of $200 another rollstamp could be
made to place whatever markings might be desired on the barrels. The
committee was divided on this issue. Most wanted the barrel to read
".41 Police" while McLennan and I held out for ".41 Keith"
in honor of the man who helped so much. The conflict was resolved when
the city government advised it would not pay the extra $200 for the rollstamp.
Both Bill McLennan and I offered to pay this modest sum out of our own pockets
but this was refused.
know why we have no ".41 Keith".
M58's were bought by our Department and today they are something of a
collector's item, traded off in 1979 for M65's in .357. The .41
succumbed to the popularity of stainless steel revolvers and some inherent
faults in the cartridge itself.
gr. Police loads leaded badly. Remington was the sole manufacturer of
.41 ammo at that time and we had quite a lot of trouble with it. In fact
both our revolvers and ammunition showed every sign of hasty assembly to meet
what was probably an unexpected order for 400 guns and 63,000 rounds of
ammunition. The .41 was tottering on the brink of extinction even in
1974. We found this Remington Police load gave approximately one misfire
every 300 rounds ... totally unacceptable. Several Remington engineers
were flown to San Antonio and I demonstrated this to them. Later I
received word that the priming compound had been left out of several lots of
.41 and .44 Magnum ammo by mistake. I didn't believe this was the
complete answer for I had seen several long hangfires with the .41's.
It's possible this was old ammo stored under poor conditions since 1964, but
this was never determined.
sought the cause for the leading problem. The guns leaded so badly after
25 rounds they wouldn't stay on a silhouette target at 25 yards. This is
of no consequence in a gunfight, but it is bad during qualification where many
rounds are fired. Miking the swaged slugs we found many were only
.403" and ran to a maximum of .408". Although fairly soft they
apparently didn't upset enough to fill the .410" bore. This may
have been "early" ammo, put through new dies which were expected to
wear to larger diameter later on, but this is only a guess. The leading
problem never was corrected. In fact, when Winchester began marketing
their .41 ammo I miked their slugs and found them even smaller than the
Remingtons. Remington did correct the defective ammo worry by replacing it
with new lots. Most of the time my .41 held my own handloads of a
hard-cast 215 gr. Keith over 9 gr. of Unique for about 1000 fps.
always said, if you wear a gun every day you'll get to know it, and I suppose
I know that M58 better than any gun I own. I had been carry a M58 for two
years before the Department bought any and then I carried one of theirs for
another 6 years. It has never given the slightest trouble through many
thousands of rounds and although I never had to shoot a felon with it I've
certainly beat a few to the draw.
along about 1975 or 1976 some Police official decided they should carry
Departmental markings. Individual letter dies were purchased and all
M58's were stamped "SAPD" just ahead of the trigger guard on the
left side, below the cylinder well. The work was so sloppy I refused to
let them stamp my gun. I still have it and to the best of my knowledge
it is the only one of the 387 guns not so marked.
days, before the advent of bullets which really expand, the .41 with it's wide
heavy slug was a good choice and would be even now. It served the SAPD
well in some 26 gunfights and an odd statistic developed. Although it was
usually a one-shot fight stopper, it wasn't particularly lethal. Those
not killed outright usually recovered from their wounds. This suited
most of us OK and bears out Elmer's theories exactly.
years that followed I often saw Elmer at various gun conventions. Once
accompanied by his good friend Jerry Nelson of Wyoming and Ralph Graham of
Idaho. I never forgot Elmer's help in getting the .41 for my Department
and only wish McLennan and I had been successful in getting them marked
".41 Keith". It would have been an appropriate tribute to a
man who has helped so many Police Officers, and who knows the hazards of this
it was not our final meeting, one incident with Elmer stands out in memory.
In October of 1977 he flew in to San Antonio for a deer hunt on the Y.O. Ranch
hosted by Hal Swiggett. McLennan and I met him at the airport and
knowing he was uncomfortable without his .44 I brought my 4" M29 for him
to wear while in Texas. He gracefully declined saying he'd borrow one
meeting was a peculiar instance for me. I have been a Police Officer for much
of my life and am very attuned to body language and eye contact. At
times it has meant survival to me. When I shook Elmer's hand I looked
him right in the eye and had the strangest thought: If I had not known
better I'd have sworn I was looking into the eyes of a young man.
Keith's eyes took in every detail of me yet at the same time looked beyond,
like a man accustomed to looking far distances. Instantly I recognized
they were the eyes of the mountain man that Elmer Keith truly was.
by permission of John Linebaugh