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When one wants to keep peace on the frontier, or exterminate a noble people, having the superior weapon is essential. And so while some might assume that the arms race began with the Cold War, one has only to examine the weapons of Western movies to be persuaded otherwise.
If there's anything Ronald Reagan's presidency (or his ill-fated Star Wars program) taught us, it's that military buildup and movies often go hand in hand. Where, for instance, would a cowboy be without his trusted Peacemaker? Patented in 1832, the ubiquitous Colt revolver gave the West its first handgun. From Gary Cooper in High Noon to Clint Eastwood in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, it ably served hero and anti-hero alike.
Meanwhile, the single-shot Springfield rifle offered a decisive advantage over the musket and helped conquer large swathes of Western frontier during the Indian Wars -- earning it a starring role in 1955's The Gun That Won the West.
With the beginning of the Civil War, the Army looked for a technological edge over the Confederacy. A breakthrough came with the Spencer rifle, capable of firing multiple shots without reloading; it was soon issued to Union soldiers.
But this advantage would quickly be squandered if the rifle fell into the enemy's hands! Or (gasp!) Indian hands! This antiquated Doomsday scenario plays out in Rio Conchos, in which a former Confederate officer runs purloined Spencer rifles to the Apaches. Can four brave men stop him before it's too late? Call it the Old West's version of The Sum of All Fears.