Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Where Black Powder Shooters Come From

Photo Source: Click here.
Percussion revolvers have always fascinated me. Sure, I carried a pair of six-guns for protection from the  Armies of Unnamed Evil, just like every boy of seven. The names Hubley and Mattel were as important to me as Colt and Springfield are to me today. But in the times in-between, my interests fell upon models I assembled from kits offered by Revel and Pyro. The latter company provided my first toy Kentucky flintlock long rifle, along with an intuitive understanding of how flintlocks worked. These kits were too fragile to take outside, so I contented myself with stalking bears from behind the living room sofa. Those were wonderful times, precious and irreplaceable. Incidentally, I did not own a coonskin cap.
Photo Source: Click here.
I received an assembled Revell Blunderbus as a Christmas present from my next door neighbor. 
Photo Source: Click here.
Somewhere along the line my sister, in her cowgirl persona,  had a model of an  "engraved" 1873 Colt Single Action Army. I believe my father assembled these models, as I was too young to remember. My sister was, and is, the Real Deal, and in her teens was a councilor at a summer camp called Hidden Villa, where she proved herself to be an excellent horsewoman.

I was amazed to find that somebody had the kit's empty box sale on eBay, and judging from the box's cover photo, my memory of the revolver was spot on. The seller dates the box at 1953.
Photo Source: Click here.
For the most part, these models were dimensionally accurate. It is interesting that this plastic Colt 1860 actually replicated the "creeping" loading lever pivot that allowed the rammer to seat the round ball in perfect alignment.

More than sixty years would pass between the assembly of that 1860 and my sharing its memory with you. I can't help but handle my Pieta 1860 and not ponder the impact those toys would have on my shooting future.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The 1847 Colt Walker

 Colt Model 1847 Walker. Photo Source: Click here.
Disclaimer: I am not an avid black powder revolver shooter, and other than the aforementioned Colt 1836 Patterson, revolvers would not qualify as period correct firearms for our use at Rendezvous. I am more of an accumulator, and have acquired specimens of most of the revolvers I consider interesting. These articles are part of the research I've been doing on pieces in my possessions.  Perhaps the SVML may have a revolver match in the future, but that remains to be seen.

Summary: The 1847 Colt Walker was the second revolver manufactured by Colt, although not at the Paterson, New Jersey plant. The gun was influenced by suggestions made by Captain Samuel Walker of the United States Mounted Rifles, which is how the revolver got its name. By the time the Government got around to ordering 1.000 of these massive revolvers, Colt had already been bankrupt for five years, so he was forced to find somebody else who could help him fulfil the contract. He arranged to have them manufactured by the son of Eli  "Cotton Gin" Whitney in his factory at Whitneyville in the southeastern portion of the town of Hamden, Connecticut. Captain Walker was killed in1847 shortly after receiving a pair of the revolvers he helped create. A more complete Samuel Walker biography can be found here.

Loading Lever Latch. Photo Source: Click here.
The Walker is easily recognized by its sheer size. It weighed 4.5 pounds and had a 9 inch barrel. It was chambered for a .44 projectile, significantly larger than the earlier Patterson's .36 chambers,  and was powerful enough to drop a horse at close range. Each of its six cavernous chambers could hold about 60 grains of black powder. Unlike the original Patterson, it was designed to be loaded without disassembly, so a loading lever that actuated a sliding rammer was provided, along with a cutout in the barrel to allow a conical ball to be placed in line with the rammer. There was also a cutout to facilitate the fitting of percussion caps.  Here we also see (photo right) one of the major faults of the newly designed revolver. The lever was held in place using a small spring arm that engaged a recess at the base of the lever. This spring was fragile and unable to reliably retain the lever when the revolver rocked backwards under the considerable forces of recoil. A spring catch in the loading lever's end and a corresponding barrel lug would be introduced in Colt revolvers after 1848*, and many Walkers were returned to the factory to have this catch retrofitted. It is said that many shooters used leather thongs to bind the lever to the barrel, which definitely would work.

Serial Numbers: The first contract called for 1,000 revolvers, two for each horseman in the five mounted companies. In addition, 100 revolvers were made for the commercial market. The military models had a serial number on all major components (barrel, cylinder, frame, and trigger guard). They would also carry the Company Letter (A-E) on the last three serial numbers. Walkers with serial numbers below 1,1000 and without a Company Letter are probably from the 100 revolvers made for commercial sale. The guns were dispersed as follows:  A through E. The first four companies each received 220 pistols, with with E company taking possession of 120
Pommel Holster. Photo Source: Click here.
True Horse Pistols: The Walker was a true "horse pistol" and Clint Eastwood notwithstanding, intended to be carried by the horse and not the rider, No doubt one could be carried in a belt holster, but two? It certainly isn't something any mounted rifleman would willfully do. Instead, two pistols would be carried in a pommel holster, with one revolver on each side of the saddle horn.

History: Ian McCollum, sometimes called the "Gun Jesus," is my first choice for historical information on firearms, both famous and obscure. His video on the Walker documents how Colt Patent Firearms, like the legendary Phoenix, rose from the ashes of its own 1842 bankruptcy to become an armorer to the nation, and eventually the world.
The Walker's Problematic Loading Lever: For the record, I never considered shooting my Walker, an Armi San Marco (ASM) replica, at anything that included scoring rings. It's an interesting piece of history, and it has been shot, so I can verify the tendency for the loading lever to unlatch itself and jam the cylinder. Perhaps I'll get around to installing a modified Loading Lever Latch. The alteration is described in several Bubba-style videos like this one.

Will It Group? Shooting an "open top" revolver like the Walker and nearly every Colt percussion revolver (the Colt Root Model 1855 Side Hammer being the only exception I know of) is not the stuff matches are won with. Critical shooting is best left to the solid frame revolvers like the 1858 Remington and the Rogers and Spencer of 1864. There are others, but when David Pedersoli chose to manufacture replicas of these two revolvers for use in international competition, you get an idea of their opinion of the accuracy potential of the solid frame design. However, formal competition has been expanded to include open top revolvers like the Walker. 

This video from the Cap And Ball Channel on YouTube features an interview with, and demonstration by, Gyula Mészáros, a shooter who used a Uberti Colt Walker replica to win the gold medal in the open top percussion revolver match at the 27th MLAIC World Championships held in Hungary in 2016.

The Legacy of the Colt Walker is enduring. It is fitting to end this posting with a link to an article which appeared in Outdoor Life listing guns that sold at the Rock Island Auction that sold for over $1,000,000.00. It is interesting to note that one of the guns is a Walker.
Photo Source: Click here.
"Why by God girl, that's a Colt's Dragoon!!" John Wayne, in his 1969 Oscar Winning "True Grit", rests a revolver on the shoulder of Kim Darby. Although Wayne identifies the revolver as a Dragoon, it is clearly a Walker. Apparently, the director wanted to use the largest revolver possible, and the Walker looks much longer due to the nine-inch barrel. In the 2010 remake of the film an actual Dragoon copy was used. 

The Walker's origin story has a sequel, taking the form of the improved Dragoon series of revolvers, which addressed the complaints that were voiced when the Walker revolvers were actually used in the field. You can get a preview by clicking here.

Post Script: The most expensive auctioned gun to date has been a Walker, known in collector's circles as the Danish Sea Captain Walker, which sold for $1,840,000.00 on April 13, 2018.

*The exceptions were the original 1848 Baby Dragoon, and a variant of the 1849 Pocket Model, often called the Wells Fargo variation.