1 Sept 19
Last week, at a commercial gun store in Cody, WY, called “The Cody Firearms Experience,” I had the opportunity to shoot a Colt/Walker Revolver (reproduction) for the first time in my life!
The Cody Firearms Experience has a number of like historical guns, many black-powder, that customers can handle and shoot.
I had never shot a black-powder revolver, so a friend insisted that I take advantage of the opportunity!
It consumed every bit of twenty minutes getting the Walker completely loaded. We used a black-powder substitute, popular with re-enactors and others who like to shoot historic weapons.
“Real” black powder is still available, but very dangerous, particularly when kept in large quantities. In fact, during the 18th and 19th Centuries, factories that produced black powder blew-up on a regular basis!
The Walker’s sights were, by modern standards, a joke! Tiny front sight. Rear sight is a merely a small furrow cut into the top of the hammer.
Sam Colt got his start in the 1830s and was ultimately a spectacularly successful arms manufacturer. In fact, he gets credit for being one of the first arms-makers to employ the idea of interchangeable parts, a notion that would have great impact on the rapidly-accelerating Industrial Revolution.
But, Sam got off to a slow start!
In the 1830s, his first commercial revolvers, Colt/Paterson, didn’t sell. It was a revolutionary idea but was greeted with much push-back, as new ideas often are.
Sam was probably influenced by Elisha Collier’s manually-indexing flintlock revolver, which had been around since the early 1800s. Collier’s revolver too, never enjoyed much commercial success.
The Paterson was frail, temperamental, and underpowered. It also had no loading-lever to assist with charging the cylinders (added on later models).
After repeatedly exasperating his weary investors, Colt went bankrupt in 1843.
Then, Colt’s fortunes suddenly turned around!
Samuel Walker, a heavily-experienced US Army officer and Texas Ranger, veteran of many battles with both Indians and Mexicans, decided in January of 1847 to travel from TX to NYC in order to consult with Sam Colt with regard to an improved design for a serious, practical, fighting revolver.
Walker was familiar with the Paterson, as it had seen some exposure in TX. Walker wanted a six-shot revolver in 44 caliber (the Paterson was five-shot, 28 and 36 caliber), powerful enough to take-down a horse with a single shot (along with other improvements).
Among frontier fighters, this capability was critical! Most enemies Walker had confronted in his exciting career had been on horseback. Shooting the horse made much more sense than shooting the man on the horse!
The horse is a big target, much bigger than the rider, and when the horse stumbles (as a result of being shot), the rider will probably be significantly injured as a result of the subsequent wreck.
Even when he isn’t, he is far less of a threat on foot than when mounted!
Walker, with the backing of the Republic of Texas, came to Colt with enough money to finance the production of the first 1k copies of what would be forever known as “The Colt/Walker Revolver”
Walker himself died in October of 1847 (less than a year after his first meeting with Sam Colt), while fighting in the Mexican War.
Sam Colt was in business once more, and never looked back! The Colt/Walker Revolver marked the turning-point in Colt’s life and ushered-in a period of spectacular success.
Yet, the Colt/Walker Revolver was significantly flawed! Only 1k were ever made. Today, what few are still around are amazingly valuable, as you might imagine!
Many fractured their cylinders, due to overcharging, but also due to faulty metallurgy.
Sights were poor, as noted above
In addition, the reloading lever was unsecured (corrected on later models). During firing, it thus tended to “droop” downward, causing the plunger move to the rear, locking the cylinder (preventing it from turning). As a “field expedient,” many troopers armed with the Walker used a strap wrapped around the barrel in order to keep the reloading lever in place.
Sam Colt, John Browning, and Oliver Winchester all became multi-millionaires of the era.
Colt built a huge plant in Hartford, CT. Employees included Chris Spencer (Spencer Rifle), Henry Leland (founded Cadillac Motors), both Francis Pratt and Amos Whitney, Elijah Root (followed Colt as company president), and Rolland White (patented the bored-through cylinder, which Colt rejected, later regretted).
Sam Colt died in 1862, but his successors were all competent into the 20th Century.
Colt had only one child, a son named Caldwell. Caldwell was an unmotivated ne’er-do-well and never succeeded his father, nor in fact ever had any involvement with Colt’s company. Caldwell died ignominiously in his 20s, being shot by a jealous husband!
After the turn of the Century, Colt’s company linked-up with John Browning in the development of the 1911 Pistol.
Manufactured Maxim and Vickers HMGs during WWI.
The corporation that carries Colt’s name went bankrupt in 1992, being by that time little more than an unfocused shell.