James Dunham, Gunfighter

A younger Dunham performing the drop trick at a chuck…

A younger Dunham performing the drop trick at a chuck wagon dinner show.

In the mid-1950s, I became fascinated with the Colt SA revolver while watching many of the then new “adult” TV Western series such as Gunsmoke, The Life And Times Of Wyatt Earp, Have Gun Will Travel, The Rebel, Bat Masterson, Rawhide and The Virginian. It wasn’t long before I got involved in the sport of Fast Draw, joining the Shawnee Fast Draw Club and starting with a Colt .22LR Scout SA and a home made Fast Draw rig. I was envious of the professional Fast Draw exhibition shooters such as Dee Woolem and Joe Bodrie, who made a living touring the US, demonstrating the Fast Draw. Many of us dream of becoming a professional shooter, but few of us are successful. One of the few is Jim Dunham, who’s been making a living with a “Gunfighter and Fast Draw” act for close to 40 years. I first learned of Jim when I read an article written by him. Recently I purchased a nickel plated second generation Colt SAA .45 with a 4.75-inch barrel, which had been tuned for Fast Draw by “ Arizona Thumber” Bob James and used as one of a trio of Colts by Jim Dunham.

I was fortunate to witness one of Jim’s shows at a Fast Draw Reunion in Tombstone, Arizona, several years ago. For those who have never had the pleasure of seeing Jim perform, he’s one of the performers on the videotape Gunplay, which belongs in every CAS shooters’ video library.

I contacted Jim to obtain verification that this Colt had once been one of his, which he verified. He also supplied me with a spare Alfonso of Hollywood number 4 style Fast Draw holster that he had used with my Colt. I took the opportunity to interview Jim Dunham for Guns Of The Old West.

GOW: Jim, welcome to GOW. It is a pleasure to visit with you and I consider it a privilege to have one of your personal Colt SAs in my small collection. Please tell us how you became involved with Fast Draw.

JD: Mr. and Mrs. Bell ran Bell’s Gun Shop in Franklin Park, Illinois, and sponsored one of the first Fast Draw clubs in the mid-west. Their son, Junior Bell and author/Western historian George Virgines, founded the Fast Draw club, which met and practiced on the shooting range in back of the shop. I joined the club when I was 14 years old, and had to have approval, as I was a minor. Junior was very good at the thumb cocking style of Fast Draw and he taught me. I began with a Crosman “Single Action 6” CO2 powered revolver until I was old enough to have my own Colt. After graduating from high school in 1961, I went to college majoring in art in Colorado. While there, I shot with the Boulder Sidewinders FDC in Bouder from 1961 to 1965.

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The Colt is shown with a Crossman CO2 pelletgun, a popular Fast Draw training gun.

GOW: I also started in Fast Draw with a Crossman SA CO2 sixgun. Did you shoot in competition?

JD: Yes, I shot in several Fast Draw contest. I developed a slightly different thumbing draw, where for safety, the gun was not fully cocked until it was clear of the holster. My best self start time was 0.12 of a second. My reactions are only average, so my best reaction times, hitting a silhouette target with wax bullets, were in the .40s (.40 – .49 of a second).

GOW: Have you always used Colt SAs?

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