By: Friedrich Seiltgen

Elmer Keith is an icon in the firearms world.

It’s because of him that Gunpowder readers enjoy their magnum cartridge handguns. That’s right! Elmer Keith is the reason we have the .44, .41 and .357 magnum cartridges. They almost didn’t happen, though.

Elmer’s life started out in a very bad way. In 1911, when he was 12 years old, he was severely injured in a hotel fire in Missoula, Montana. The injuries were so bad that Elmer’s chin became “welded” to his shoulder and his left hand was turned upside down. His father searched for a doctor to fix Elmer’s injuries. Not one would touch him, claiming the boy didn’t have long to live anyway. His father was determined to fix Elmer’s hand the old-fashioned way. He would break his wrist and reset it himself. He proceeded to the liquor store and bought some whiskey. When he returned home, he gave Elmer a few shots to help with the pain. He took Elmer to the dining table, set his deformed hand wrist down, pushed it hard in the proper direction, and broke it! Elmer passed out from the pain. He was fitted with a special glove and started a painful two-year journey of rehabilitation.

Everything about Elmer was big. He wore big Stetson hats, smoked big cigars, and used big bore pistols to hunt big game. Elmer became quite the marksman and inventor. He started experimenting with the .44 special as the case was thicker and could handle the higher pressure. It would be the beginning of the .44 magnum. He collaborated with Remington on the ammo, and Smith & Wesson on the pistol, creating the .44 magnum in 1954.

Smith & Wesson produced a .44 magnum pistol in 1955, which would later become the basis for model 29! That’s right folks: without Elmer Keith, Dirty Harry would have been packing something else beside the Smith & Wesson 29. The Dirty Harry series of films were a driving force in the sale of the model 29. After each movie release, sales of the pistol surged and resulted in buyers paying three times the MSRP for the pistol!

In addition to his work with the Magnum cartridge, Keith also invented the “Keith Style” bullet. Based on the semi-wad cutter, the bullet used a wider front surface and convex sides. The design allowed for more room inside the case, which could be used for more powder!

Elmer went on to be a rancher, prolific firearms writer, and big game hunter. His books range from big game handgunning, six-guns, to his biography. Elmer’s contribution to the firearms world was historic, and things would be a lot different were it not for Elmer Keith.

That’s all for now folks! Please keep sending in your questions, tips, and article ideas. And as always – “Let’s be careful out there.”

Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, Active Shooter Response, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. His writing has appeared in RECOIL, The Counter Terrorist Magazine, American Thinker, Homeland Security Today, and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at