Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Big Iron: The Colt Dragoons

Image Source: Click here.
Summary:  The initial government contract for 1,000 Colt Walker revolvers, plus an additional 100 guns that Samuel Colt sold himself, had been finished. Part of the contract Colt made with the Whitneyville Armory allowed him to keep all of the tooling used to manufacture the Walker. The tooling would be moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where production of the Walker pattern revolver would resume. Walkers  made during this period are called Transitional Walkers, which incorporated improvements that would be applied to the Dragoon models. During its production run, there would be three Dragoon variations: The First, Second, and Third Models. Production dates from 1848 through 1860, when the 1860 Army became the main battle revolver.
Colt Whitneyville/Hartford Transition Model. Source: Rock Island Auction Company.
Transitional Model Dragoon: Upon completion of the 1,1000 piece Walker revolver contract, the machinery, now the property of Samuel Colt, was moved from Whitneyville to Hartford, Connecticut. Some suggest that these guns were assembled from parts on  hand. First, you can see the rounded grip panels of the Walker on this revolver, which have been called "Slim Jim" grips. Also, the backstrap is made of iron. Like the Walker, only the hammer screw is drilled straight through the receiver, while the bolt and trigger screws are secured in threaded blind holes. It also lacks the clearance groove in the recoil shield's face to allow cap fragments to work their way out of the action when the hammer is cocked. While it can't be seen until the revolver is disassembled,  this feature would be machined into subsequent Dragoons.

Original 2-Cavity Mold. Image Source: Click here.
Cylinder Updates:
The barrel and cylinder were changed to address some of the Walker's shortcomings. The cylinder change was probably the more important. The recommended load for the Walker was 60 grains of black powder propelling a conical lead bullet. It is now believed that users found it easier to load the conical bullets point first, and in doing so, created additional space for powder. Eager troopers might decide to add some additional powder for more "oomph", and in doing so, stressed the cylinder walls beyond the limits of nineteenth century metallurgy. As many as 30% of Walkers were returned to Colt for major repairs, and burst cylinders were probably the most serious. By shortening the cylinder, the new maximum charge was reduced to 50 grains. To accommodate the shortened cylinder, the rear end of the barrel was simply extended to close the gap.

Cylinder Safety Pin/s: One tiny detail on Colt Walker revolvers is the installation of a tiny pin between the nipples at the rear of the cylinder. The pin/s align with a small corresponding hole in the striking surface of the hammer. In use, one could lower the hammer to engage the pin, preventing the cylinder from rotating and possibly engaging an adjacent capped nipple. The Walker and early Dragoons had only one such pin, while the later Dragoons had one between each chamber.

Barrel Modifications: Dragoon barrels were standardized at 7.5 inches, although later revolvers could be ordered with any reasonable length a customer would be willing to pay for. The greatest improvements was the inclusion of a secure loading lever retainer. All Dragoons have a spring loaded retainer, but later Third Model Dragoons were changed from a one-eared retainer to a two-eared version like the one found on the 1860 Army.

Grip Frames: The Walker and the Transitional Dragoons had iron backstraps and a one-piece grip with rounded contours where it met the receiver. This is called the "Slim Jim" grip. In the Dragoons, the iron backstrap would be replaced with one made from brass, and the forward contour of the grip would be squared off. 

Model To Model Changes: 
  • 3rd Model Dragoon Leaf Sight. Photo Source.
    Trigger Guard
    First and Second Model Dragoons have a square-backed trigger guard, while the Third Model has a rounded guard.
  • Cylinder Notches: First Model cylinder notches are round, like the Walker. Second and Third models have squared notches with a transition cut at the leading edge.
  • Hammer Roller: A roller was introduced in later production of the Second Model, In addition, a simplified hammer spring was introduced.
  • Accessory Shoulder Stock: Third Model Dragoons had cuts for a shoulder stock, and twin-leaf rear sights for making longer shots with the stock in place.
Production: Source Document here.
  • The First Model Colt Dragoon: Colt produced about 7,000 first models between 1848 and 1850.
  • The Second Model Dragoon: Colt made about 2,550 Second Models in 1850 and 1851. It is the rarest of the three models.
  • The Third Model Dragoon: 10,000 from 1851 through 1860. Government records showed an order for 8,390 Dragoons.
Ruger Super Blackhawk, New Model. Photo Source: Click here.
Bill Ruger's Homage: When Ruger introduced its .44 Magnum Single Action Revolver, he named it the Super Blackhawk. The late Elmer Keith, the Father of the 44 Magnum and author of Sixguns
chastised Ruger for not calling it the "Ruger Dragoon." With its square trigger guard and fluteless cylinder, Keith made an apt comparison to the Second Model Dragoon. And the barrel length? 7.5 inches, wouldn't you know.
Ian McCollum, sometimes called the "Gun Jesus," has an excellent video on the Dragoon revolvers. Check it out.