The guns were not held by the belt because they would have been uncomfortable on horseback: the so-called "Buscadero rig" is a Hollywood invention
March 2, 2017
The Far West of Hollywood films was quite fictional compared to what the so-called "Frontier" area was like during the nineteenth century, and not just for how Native Americans were represented in most westerns. Among the things that were invented in the films about cowboys and outlaws there is also the well-known belt with a holster or holsters for guns called "Buscadero rig": what you have seen in the films with John Wayne, but also in the recent Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight by Quentin Tarantino and in Westworld, the only context in which it can be considered appropriate given that the TV series is actually set in a future western theme park inspired more by Hollywood films than reality. In the real Far West, guns were not used as in the movies and for this there was no need for the holsters to be positioned in the fastest accessible point, that is, along the thighs. For cinematic scenes, on the other hand, tension and speed were fundamental and for this reason the Buscadero rig was invented in the 1920s.
In the true Far West, in most cities it was forbidden to carry firearms: only sheriffs and bandits had guns in sight, while cowboys were usually armed with rifles. Anyone else who was armed did not exhibit it with a belt tied at the waist complete with holsters secured to the thigh. More often the holsters were hidden in pockets made on purpose or tied to one shoulder and covered by jackets and coats; many gunmen did not even use holsters, but simply put their guns in their belts. The grips of the pistols were therefore commonly found at waist height or slightly below. In reality, the holsters placed along the legs would have been very uncomfortable when riding: to be able to shoot while riding it was more convenient to have the gun along the side opposite to that of the dominant arm.
Even the duels didn't happen like in the movies: the gunfights between two people were usually more improvised, and mainly due to alcohol abuse, and when they were done following a code, it was a variant of the one used for duels in Europe. In general, however, he did not expect his opponent to shoot: in the true West a person in danger of life and armed would have shot his enemy, probably with both hands, as soon as he was within range, even from behind if necessary. And when we talked about "fast on the draw" gunslingers, we were not referring only to the speed with which a weapon was removed from the holster and used to shoot, but also to the aggressiveness of those gunslingers, the speed with which they reacted to provocations by firing.
A particular type of Buscadero rig is the one seen in the so-called “Spaghetti Westerns”, those Italian-style westerns without Indians of the 1960s and 1970s, which were almost always shot in Europe. In the 1950s, in fact, the belts and holsters were modified to meet the needs of those who competed in competitions - born in the meantime - of "fast draw": the "Spaghetti Western" or "Walk and Draw" holster (ie "Walk and shoot") has a metal plate, usually covered with leather attached to the belt which is used to anchor it better. The angle at which the holster is placed is then designed to allow for faster and safer extraction. The “Walk and Draw” type holster is the one most used even today on TV and in the cinema.