Western Trips

Western Trips

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Colt Handgun

Traveling around the western U.S. you'll come across many museums and other venues which display vintage Colt pistols and revolvers. The Colt handgun was the most widely use non-rifle weapon during the mid 1800's.Colt has a long history of firearm manufacturing and their products are identified with much of the history of the United States. Colt arguably manufactured some of the most popular revolvers used world wide. He likewise was considered the Henry Ford of the firearms industry in as much as he pioneered the gun assembly line made possible by the interchangeable parts. Below are some of the interesting Colt Revolvers with a brief description of each.

colt firearm factory
Colt Armory, 1857
Colt Firearms Collections Throughout the West

You might find it fun to add some of the frontier museums and venues to your western trip vacation planner. Many of these museums are in small towns and either are free to visit or have small admission fees. A good number of them are operated by local historical societies. You'll also find good Colt displays as several old western forts that now have become National Historic Sites. These venues showcase all types of frontier weapons and artifacts and are low cost ways to enjoy your western trip. At the end of this photo article I've listed some good stops that might fit into some of your future western travel plans.

Samuel Colt experienced a few business misfires prior to his development of the revolver patent in 1836. Nevertheless, the Colt handgun would achieve great fame. His selling to the military in the 1840's along with a several thousand gun order from the Texas Rangers during their Mexican and Comanche problems helped Colt establish himself as the top hand gun company of it's time. Samuel Colt himself would become one of the wealthiest people in the country.

1843 colt revolver
1843 Colt replica
The 1843 Colt Handgun 

This early 1843 Colt handgun, which began with Colt's 1836 patent for the revolving firearm, can be called among the guns that helped save Samuel Colt's company. One impediment to sales was the financial depression of the late 1830's going into the 1840's. In fact, it was these bad economic times in the U.S. that encouraged people to start heading west on the Overland Trail.

Colt ended up selling these 1843 models along with modified versions in great quantities to the federal government. Because of the amount of revolvers ordered, the government awarded Colt some subsidies. These style early pistols employed a mechanism that combined a single rifled barrel with a revolving chamber that held five or six shots. This design mechanism was the basis for the 1836 patent. Colt's US revolver patent gave him a monopoly on revolver manufacture all the way to 1857.

Prior to the 1840's the government didn't really see a need for the short barreled weapons. Rifles essentially ruled the day when it came to military warfare. They were considered more accurate and more powerful than a pistol and especially during battle.

This early Colt revolver was considered to be accurate to perhaps 40 yards if fired by an expert.

1851 navy colt revolver
Colt 1851 Navy .38 caliber revolver
The 1851 Colt Navy Revolver 

The 1851 Colt Navy Revolver was one of the highest selling Colt guns. The model was produced from 1851 to 1873. It was one of the most popular pistols used during the Civil War. Over 200,000 of these guns were produced at Colt's Hartford Connecticut plant.

These Colt firearms were percussion revolver chambered for both .38 or .44 caliber ball shot. These guns were often referred to as "Cap n Ball" guns. What was involved were percussion caps, black powder and an ammunition source. The 1851 Colt was favored by Union Army officers for several reasons. The gun was relatively light weight, had good accuracy and was easy to disassemble. In regards to reloading, the process with this revolver took about three minutes but in many cases the shooter would have several preloaded cylinders. When one cylinder emptied he would just insert another one and this of course saved a lot of time. Of more concern to the user of this gun in battle was if the percussion cap or powder became damp. This seemed to be more of a concern than the loading time of the 1851 Colt Navy. These models were among the most popular Colt firearms.

The 1851 Colt Navy had a seven and one-half inch barrel and weighed two and one-half pounds. Length of the weapon was one foot, one and one-eight inch. The gun required 21-28 grains of black powder.

It's interesting to note that the 1851 Colt Navy was so popular and liked in the west, that it was widely used even after metallic cartridge revolvers hit the market.

Also, be sure to see our three photo articles on Antique Firearms of the 1800's...Flintlock Firearms and Frontier Artillery.

1892 colt gun
1892 .38 caliber Colt revolver
The Colt .38 Caliber 1892 Spanish American War Model

The 1892 Colt Pistol was a gun modified several time through the 1890's. Some of the features of this particular revolver was it's rounded sight at the front of the barrel and  a counter clockwise chamber. Interestingly enough, the army received complaints about the effectiveness of the weapon. Specifically, during the Spanish American War in the Philippines, the weapon's .38 caliber ammunition was not powerful enough to stop the enemy at close range. Another problem with this gun was that the counter clockwise cylinder caused it to lose it's alignment with the frame after a lot of use. What happened was that when the cylinder rotated to the left and also swung outward to the left for loading caused the pawl to push upward toward the ratchet teeth. This  rotated not only the cylinder but pushed it to the left as well.

Major modifications done in 1894 included cylinder lockwork, a smaller bore to help with accuracy and different barrel markings. All military versions of the 1892 Colt pistol had a blue finish. In 1909 the cylinder was redesigned to function in a clockwise motion.

colt m1911
Colt M1911 Semi-Automatic
The Colt M1911

The Colt M1911 was the standard issue firearm for the U.S. military from 1911 all the way to 1985. This Colt firearm model was designed by John Browning . Just about all semi-automatic pistols have traces back to this model and it has been copied widely. The M1911 is a single action .45 caliber semi-automatic magazine fed weapon. As of this writing, the Colt handgun that has replaced the M1911 is the M9.

These Colt pistols and the ones built afterwards from this basic design saw action in every conflict from World War I through the Vietnam War and a decade after. The new Colt handguns have a lot of traits of the M1911 models.

Some Good Stops to Add to Your Western Vacation Planner

Fort Union New Mexico National Historic Site- Located just west of Interstate 25 north of Las Vegas New Mexico.

Fort Stockton National Historic Site- Located in Fort Stockton Texas off Interstate 10 between San Antonio and El Paso Texas.

The Bataan Memorial Museum- Located in Santa Fe New Mexico.

Fort Sumner New Mexico- Located south of Santa Rosa New Mexico. There are two museums in Fort Sumner. Both have excellent frontier displays.

The Historic George Bent House- Located in Taos New Mexico.

The California State Military Museum- Located in Old Town Sacramento California.

The Red River Valley Museum- Located in Vernon Texas, northwest of Wichita Falls.

The Buffalo Bill Cody Museum- Located in Cody Wyoming.

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum- Located in Oklahoma City, OK.

Arizona Military Museum- Located in Phoenix.

The Frontier Montana Museum- Located in Deer Lodge Montana.

(Forearm photos copyright Westerntrips.blogspot.com. Colt Armory drawing from the public domain)


  1. The history of Colt manufactures is really interesting.

  2. It is interesting to know about early period colt manufactures. All guns are beautiful and love by the gun lovers.

  3. Thanks for this amazing gun blog. Actually it is very sensitive topic as selling and buying or even having guns is associates with most of the legalities that anything can have. But one thing must be remembered that you must have proper licensing and training to have them in your home and you must be very mush cautious while handling them.
    MA Gun License


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