Sunday, June 18, 2017


Samuel Walker

It seemed like an unlikely pairing: a well-heeled Connecticut gunmaker and a rough hewn Texas Ranger.  Despite their backgrounds, both had an abiding passion for firearms, and how to improve them.  They met at a New York gunsmith shop to exchange their ideas.  The result was a revolving pistol that would change the course of Texas and the American West.
Fighting Mexicans and Comanches provided Texas Rangers with more than a firsthand knowledge of firearms.  Being on horseback, it was crucial they have repeating firepower to take out mounted, hard charging adversaries.  This needed feature became apparent in confrontations with the Comanches.  The “Lords of the Plains” could use a bow and arrow faster than Rangers could fire and reload a musket.  To make matters worse, the Rangers often had to get off their horses to fire at them; the Comanches could stay on horseback.  The solution came from an unlikely source: the Texas Navy.  In 1839, the Texas Navy purchased 130 of Samuel Colt’s revolving pistols.  Named for their origin of manufacture, Patterson, New Jersey, the Patterson Colt featured a five shot cylinder with .36 caliber paper charges.  Though fragile with its delicate frame, pocket watch mechanisms and cumbersome reload process, the Colts provided game changing firepower.  Better yet, they could be fired on horseback.  When Republic of Texas President Sam Houston disbanded the navy, a surplus of Texas Navy Colt revolvers became available.  The Rangers helped themselves.

On June 8, 1844, the Patterson Colts got a thorough shakedown.  At the battle of Walker’s Creek, fifty miles north of San Antonio, a Ranger detachment of 14 battled 70 Comanches under Yellow Wolf.   When numbers were starting to tip the balance in the Comanches favor, Captain Jack “Coffee” Hayes shouted, “Any man who has a load, kill that chief!”  Yellow Wolf was dropped from his saddle while his warriors fled the battlefield.  Under the superior leadership of Captain Hayes and their Colts’ firepower, the Rangers won a signal victory that put the enemies of Texas on notice.

One of the Rangers, Samuel Walker (no connection to the creek), suffered a gapping lance wound in the back during the battle.  He recovered in time for the War with Mexico where he served as a Ranger lieutenant.  The Rangers continued to prove their mettle, but more manpower was needed.  During a recruiting trip to New York, Walker was approached by the Patterson Colt’s manufacturer: Samuel Colt.  The famed gun maker, however, was flat broke.  He desperately needed a sale.  Both Samuels warmed to each other and started an earnest discussion on revolvers.  The Patterson’s shortcomings were the main topic.  How do you make a proven revolver better?  Walker had answers.   

As in any confrontation with overwhelming numbers, firepower was vital.  Instead of five chambers, a sixth chamber would be added.   The reloading process was simplified; the cylinder could be reloaded without taking the revolver apart.  A loading lever was attached to secure the cartridges in their chambers.  Stopping power from one shot depended on the caliber.  The .34 caliber bullet was replaced with a .44 caliber.  The result of the discussion was a new revolver that was heavier, sturdier, and packed a wallop.  The reloading was still cumbersome, but was compensated for by having more loaded revolvers on hand.  Instead of one revolver, a Ranger would carry from two to five revolvers.  Also, the reloading lever was often knocked loose when the revolver was discharged.  A piece of rawhide cord was often used to secure the lever to the barrel.  The most serious problem was a ruptured cylinder after firing; a problem caused by loose powder igniting the cartridges in the other cylinders.  Nevertheless, the Walker Colt was the most powerful handgun prior to the modern day .357 Magnum.

The first six- shooter was manufactured during the War with Mexico.  In 1847, Samuel Walker would receive two of his namesake revolvers.  Tragically, he was killed at the Battle of Huamantla.  Only 1,100 Walker Colts were produced, making them extremely rare and coveted by gun collectors.  At auction, a Walker Colt could go for as high as $950,000.00.

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