Tom Threepersons was among the most famous of all western lawmen of the previous century. He was by all accounts not only a formidable lawman but also a great cowboy, competing in rodeos prior to World War I, and a scout who served in the Pancho Villa Expedition under Gen. John J. Pershing.
Threepersons joined the Army soon after. His military service in World War I was confined to handling horses at Fort Bliss, Texas, and he stayed on until 1920. During this time Threepersons received a blow to the head from a horse. This serious injury dogged him the rest of his life, and he underwent several surgeries in later years.
He joined the El Paso police department after mustering out of the Army, working in some of the roughest sections of the city. According to service records Threepersons was shot five times during this period. Later, as a federal Prohibition agent he hunted bootleggers and smugglers. At one time he was run over by a bootlegger’s vehicle and injured, although he recovered. He eventually moved from Prohibition to Customs work.
Still later, Threepersons worked as a sheriff’s deputy and eventually left law enforcement for good at the age of 43. He continued work on ranches, which seems to have been his chosen vocation. He continued in this trade and became the foreman of a number of ranches. He passed away on April 3, 1969.
In Threeperson’s day, purpose-designed police holsters were few, and most in law enforcement simply adapted holsters from the previous century to modern belts. The Mexican loop holster, for instance, was a fine holster for mounted use and was popular with drovers. However, it was less than ideal for use in a vehicle, when seated, or when conducting foot patrol. The draw wasn’t fast and it had some slop in its fit to the belt.
Threepersons knew there had to be a better design. He cut all of the unnecessary leather from a Mexican loop holster, making it tighter and more useful for attachment to a trouser belt. He came up with a high-ride, open-top holster with a forward cant designed to be worn just behind the hip. While the originals used the hammer thong popular in the day (if it had a strap at all), variations of the holster soon were offered with a safety strap that added to the utility of the holster.
There is speculation as to whether the holster was designed by Threepersons on his own or whether it was a development of a maker at S.D. Myres, which first offered it as a style. Just the same, he appears to be the developer, much as Col. Charles Askins developed the Avenger holster that John Bianchi manufactured.
The Threepersons type was more versatile than other designs of the period, although the G-Man and Berns Martin designs had merit. It rides high on the belt, an advantage in every situation, and features minimal retention in comparison to modern tightly molded holsters. The forward cant is modest but allows a sharp, rapid draw. The exposed trigger guard wasn’t considered a problem with the single-action revolvers Threepersons and most lawmen of the day in that area carried.
The Threepersons holster became popular and led to the widespread adoption of similar holsters—leading to a move away from the Mexican loop and other cowboy holsters of its day. The influence of the design is seen in a number of holsters that followed, including those intended to be worn under a suit coat, where a rapid draw became more important than retention on horseback.
There are a number of makers who offer a Threepersons-style holster today, and I own several of them. For a leather holster worn close to the body, I do not like the thumb break as it sometimes binds and may be difficult to release. So sometimes I opt for the old hammer thong style, a feature many modern-day shooters might be unfamiliar with. The thong must be a bit longer at the tip of the hammer and is twisted a few times until it just fits over the hammer. The tension from twisting keeps the leather thong in place and allows it to be slipped off quickly. If loose, the thong isn’t valuable in retention.
Regardless of style, the Threepersons design is far from outdated and makes for a good general-purpose holster, especially for field use and general carry of heavy handguns. I find it to be comfortable while offering a fast draw—providing utility, style and a sense of history as well.