The Guns of Copperhead Road

Copperhead Road

One of the things about being a gun . . . enthusiast, shall we say . . . is that your mind easily drifts into thoughts about guns when you have a little idle time on your hands.  And when you’re really a nut . . . um . . . enthusiast, well you pretty much think about guns all the time.

So, when I was drumming on the desk and jamming on my air guitar while listening to Steve Earle sing “Copperhead Road” the other day, I got to wondering . . . just what kind of guns would “John Lee Pettimore” have carried?

In Earle’s dirt road anthem, “Pettimore” was a bootlegger who distilled his own moonshine “up Copperhead Road” and ran it in a souped-up Dodge.  A “revenue man” who went to bust Pettimore “never came back from Copperhead Road,” and after Pettimore finally bit the dust, the family tradition got passed along to grandson John Lee Pettimore (whose dad was also a John Lee Pettimore) with a modern twist.

So, after pondering for a while, I posed the question to Justin, who’s an even bigger Earle fan than me. Without hesitation, he replied, “bone stock 1911,” because Earle tells us that Pettimore was a Vietnam vet.

Would Grandson Pettimore’s pistol be an unmodified 1911 like this one, or a 1911A1? Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

That was kinda funny, because I was asking about Grandpa Pettimore, and he was thinking about Grandson Pettimore, which is one of those honest mistakes that happen when you’re the backwoods version of the George Foreman clan and everyone under the roof answers to the same name. “Hey John, pass the mason jar.  No, not you, John, the other John. Yeah, the John next to John. Sheesh! What was I thinking?”

Actually, I think Justin nailed it. Grandson Pettimore would definitely be a 1911 guy, maybe probably even a stolen-government-property 1911 guy.  Since Pettimore would have come home from the war no later than the early 70s, and things in most of 1911-land were still pretty primitive in those years, his copy of Old Slabsides would definitely have been stock-GI: Parkerized finish with a few scratches; Oil-stained wood grips; Those crummy sights that only an 18 year-old can see, and; A good rattle to it.  Yep. Bone stock 1911.

But what about Grandpa Pettimore? Well, I’ve decided he would have been a Colt New Service kind of guy.  It would make sense that his was a Model 1917 in .45 ACP “liberated” from The Great War, because that would be the perfect bookend to Grandson Pettimore’s purloined, .45 ACP army 1911.  Yep, he definitely popped that revenue man with a Model 1917, then used him to fertilize the fields up Copperhead Road.  He probably had a non-descript side-by-side 12 Gauge in the Dodge too (maybe shortened with a hacksaw?), but that 1917 was probably shoved in the waistband of his britches (or the pocket of his overalls!) when the revenuer stumbled across Pettimore Sr. while he was making his mash. One or two shots, a quick change of a half-moon clip, and it’s time to grab the shovel and get to work.

Was Grandpa Pettimore’s 1917 a Colt, or a Smith like this one? You decide. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Now, I know you’re laughing with me, and not at me.  You’re a RevolverGuy after all, and I know your brain travels these same dusty roads from time to time.

For example, I know that some of you out there have already pondered what Hank Williams Jr.’s “country boy” was packing to survive?  Well, the shotgun, the rifle, and the four-wheel drive I’ll leave up to your imagination to choose, but I’m here to tell you . . . the “old .45” that he’d love to plug the NYC dude with, is definitely an 1873 Colt.  A spurt of Beech-Nut juice, four clicks as a hammer spur gets thumbed back, and it’s lights out for the switchblade punk. No doubt in my mind about that, after several years of careful study and consideration.

Trust me on this . . . I’m a RevolverGuy.

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Author: Mike

Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Mike Wood is a bonafide revolver nut, a handgun, shotgun, and patrol rifle-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, and the author of Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, the definitive study of the infamous, 1970 California Highway Patrol shootout in Newhall, California. He also wrote the "Tactical Analysis" column at for 8 years.

18 thoughts on “The Guns of Copperhead Road”

  1. I’ll buy the grandson’s 1911 but I don’t think the grandfather would have been packing the 1917. Having known a few old boys like that none carried anything that fancy. Moonclips!? Most of those guys carried non-descript old revolvers in .38 or .32. Some had Smith’s but for most part they were something cheap like an Iver Johnson or similar.
    Colt? “They wasn’t rich.”
    One old guy I knew carried a .22 of unknown make hidden in a pocket of his overalls…all the time. What’s that you say? A .22 couldn’t drop a revenuer man? When the old man, even in his seventies, can drop a squirrel running from branch to branch with a single, perfect shot from a .22 revolver (he always hit the neck, didn’t want to ruin any meat or the brains) he could have used it to stop just about anything.
    Y’all take care.

    1. Shannon, great to hear from you! I’m sure you’re right, but why let facts get in the way of a good yarn about fantasy guns? ; ^ )

      I suppose I could have gone more exotic, and made it a war souvenir Ruby in 7.65mm or something crazy like that, but there was a kind of symmetry and poetry behind two “liberated” GI .45s from different eras that my soul just couldn’t pass up.

      You’ve got a great point though. Tell ya what, I’ll grant you the top-break Iver Johnson, but I’m not budging on Hank’s Model P Colt! ; ^ )

  2. I too like the symmetry of both men carrying an old G.I. Service weapon… but might grandpa have the ol’ thutty-thutty packed away in the car somewheres? I guess I just like lever guns. ‘Course I believe they used to make lever action shotguns, too.

  3. You just be careful with that handgun, because Earle also wrote that a pistol is the Devil’s Right Hand.

    Good pick. I have seen him in concert three times.

    1. Ha! He did indeed. “It can get you into trouble but it can’t get you out.” He must not have seen Steve or Justin shoot!

      1. Interesting story he told at one of his shows. Like a few country boys I know, Earle really does not much care for handguns, having grown up with a 30-06 nearby for deer hunting, all his life.

        He wrote the song “Devil’s Right Hand” after having to confiscate a pistol that his son was hiding, intent on using it on someone. Earle wanted to keep him from doing something awful with it. It ended well, a good example of how parents need to keep guns secure, esp. around a disturbed kid.

        1. I’ve seen people attribute the song to Ian Stuart, and I know Johnny Cash did a cover of it too. I’m not sure who wrote it, but it’s good.

          I saw a video of an interview that Earle gave about his son finding the pistol and hiding it away. I was disappointed. Earle was highly irresponsible in how he stored it but was quick to make the pistol the “bad guy.” Disappointing.

          1. We lock ‘em up in Simplex safes, even though no kids are around. That is the best compromise, but then we don’t live on Copperhead Road. Listened to most of the album again today.

  4. Recently returning Vietnam vet?
    Same name as his daddy and his daddy before him?

    Grandson Pettimore definitely carried a bone-stock GI 1911.

    Now, as to the specifics of Bosephus’ “ol .45”? That’s where we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    1. Ha! Well, let’s hear it, friend! Don’t be shy!

      I’d accept a Ruger Blackhawk, given Bocephus’ reported affinity for the brand. ; ^ )

      1. Well darnit Mike! I was all ready to argue with you about Hanks choice of 45. I have always imagined a Colt 1911 as the instrument of his revenge on the mugger that took his friends life but you reminded me of his affection for Ruger or at least the Ruger falcon emblem. I am kinda embarrassed, being that I am a proudly southerner and a huge Bocephus fan that I never thought about the Ruger connection. You’re right, it was definitely a Blackhawk.
        Since we’re talking Hank Jr, do you think he would have ever achieved the level of success he has had if he had got his start in todays PC world? While I love songs like survive and if the south woulda won, I doubt radio stations today would play his songs. A good chance he would be labeled a racist and a gun nut right off the bat. What do you think?

        1. Tread lightly on this line of discussion. There’s enough to be mad about in the world today without being upset about theoretical what-might-have-beens.

          1. No offense intended just an observation about how the world has changed in a relatively short time.

          2. Yes, the world has changed! Fortunately, we still have Hank Jr.’s music to enjoy.

            There’s a few new artists that I’m enjoying these days. If you haven’t heard Tommy Conners’ “American Rifle” album, give it a spin–especially the title track, which gives me chills every time I hear it. I like Jon David Kahn’s “American Heart” track a lot, too, and Dustin Collins is putting out some good tunes. There’s still a bunch of good music being recorded to soothe the RevolverGuy’s soul.

            I’m not sure what Sunshine Shooter had in mind, but would be happy to entertain any challenges about Hank’s ol’ .45 . . . even though it couldn’t possibly be anything else. ; ^ )

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