There have been many surprise weapons in warfare down through the centuries, but none has been coloured with romance nor has caught the imagination like the 6-shooter.
Its inventor, Samuel Colt, was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1814. He was interested in guns from his youth, and an early treasure was an old horse pistol used in the Revolutionary War. His grandfather, Major John Caldwell, told him stories of the heroes of this war. The boy listened eagerly, especially to ones about Tim Murphy and his double-barreled rifle. Young Colt pondered the possibility of a gun that would fire many shots without reloading.
Samuel Colt’s ready revolver
At 12 years old he made a 4-barreled revolving gun with the unfortunate result that all four barrels fired at the same time. It is easy to understand that he became a neighbourhood nuisance as he experimented with electricity chemicals and gunpowder. As as a result, his father is reported to have apprenticed him to a sailing ship. While on this ship, the Corlo, at the age of 16, Samuel Colt carved out a wooden model for his six-shooters, getting his idea from the boat’s steering wheel. No matter which way the wheel turned, he noticed each spoke, in turn, came directly in line with a clutch which checked it.
Upon returning to the States, lacking funds for a skilled gunsmith’s services, he hired a mechanic to make two proposed gun models. Made without the required precision, one failed to fire, and the other exploded at the first shot.
Toured Country as Magician
Remembering the technique of the Hindu fakirs of Calcutta from his sailing experiences, Samuel Colt got up an act combining hypnotism, spiritualism and parlour magic. With a natural flair for showmanship, the youth a “Dr Coult” toured the country successfully until he could finance his invention.
Samuel Colt secured the American patent on February 25 1836. Patents in England and France were issued before the American. Now Colt could manufacture his guns, the first successfully repeating firearms to be put on the market. They passed many severe tests by the government, and it is a matter of record that some are still in working condition today.
With an armful of revolvers and revolving rifles, Samuel Colt cornered President Andrew Jackson and talked him into asking army officials to give his guns a test. The army board rejected his firearms. Colt began to haunt army and navy ordnance offices and congressional committees, reportedly with his pockets full of revolvers and carrying a rifle or two. The Paterson factory which the inventor had organised went bankrupt during the panic which started in 1837. However, some of Colt’s revolvers filtered to Texas – and the Texas Rangers.
In 1836 Texas had won its independence. But the youthful republic was having border troubles with the persistent Mexicans, and problems on the frontier with the Comanche. Both enemies were horseman. The Mexican fought with lariat and sword; the Comanche used lance and arrow. Comanche warriors fighting soldiers with single-shot weapons would ride close enough to draw their intended victims’ fire and then dash in before they had a chance to reload. The warriors were so agile, their ponies, so fleet and well-trained the Comanche were able to harass the frontier and to dance exultantly in their villages around the scalps taken.
Showed Defects of Weapon
Then the six-shooter reached the Texas Rangers’ hands when a delegation went to Washington to ask the United States to accept Texas in the Union. Captain Sam Walker of the Rangers took the opportunity to confer with Samuel Colt. The Ranger pointed out the revolver’s primary defects: its lightness; that when reloading the weapon parted into three pieces, one of which a horse rider could easily while forging ahead at full gallop. It also had no trigger guard. Walker also suggested that the weapon’s weight and strength be increased to make it useful as a club in an emergency.
The Walker Colt
A model incorporating these improvements was brought out about 1842 and was called the Walker Colt. At last, the Plains native American warriors had met their superior. While there were skirmishes with Comanches in which this new weapon was used at an earlier date, the first recorded bout between the Texans and the Comanche telling of its effects was Pedernales’ battle in 1844.
Captain. John C. Hays with fourteen of his Rangers had gone out from San Antonio on the prowl for Comanche. They were on their way back when they found they were being trailed by about 70 Comanches. In the desperate battle which followed, more than thirty Comanches were killed as well as some Rangers.
Chased Astonished Comanches
Shortly afterwards, Hays and his Rangers had another battle with the Comanches in the Nueces Canyon. Arrows were flying, the warriors swept around on both sides of the outnumbered men. The Rangers emptied their rifles then leapt into their saddles and pursued. The Comanches were astonished expecting the Rangers to remain on the defensive until finally expending all their ammunition; they would be easy prey for the scalping knives. The yelling Rangers, their pistols smoking, chased the warriors 5km with the Comanche abandoning their gear along the way.
Colt Paterson Percussion Revolver, No. 3, Belt Model, Serial no. 156, with Case and Accessories
Years later, their Comanche chief reported he never again wanted to fight Jack Hays and his Rangers. He complained of their numerous shots – one for every finger of the hand – and the loss of half his warriors.
In 1845 Texas was admitted to the Union, and war between the United States and Mexico followed. The Rangers were quick to offer help. Even though there was a shortage of the revolvers, the Rangers with the six-shooters became a terror to the Mexicans. Colonel Hays with 60 rangers is reported to have defeated 500 Mexicans, killing 80 without a Ranger’s loss. As a result, general Taylor put sto the government for 1000 of the weapons.
When the government placed the order, the bankrupt Colt did not even have a model or sample, as he had given them all away. He advertised in the newspapers for a specimen. Unable to obtain one, he got up a new model, making improvements on the old. The six-shooter had blazed its way to fame and success.
Samuel Colt died January 10, 1862, while his plant, the Colt Armoury, was producing arms for the government for use in the Civil War.