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Becker County Sportsman - Colonel Sam Colt and his 'six shooter'

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Samuel F. Colt was the manufacturer of a handgun known as the Patterson Colt. It was moderately successful. The year was 1856 and Colt's handguns were woefully underpowered.

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Black powder was the propellant and this had serious limitations. Colt's handguns sold for a very low price, much lower than competitor Smith & Wesson's sidearms, which were much heavier.

Smith & Wesson's advantage, however, was the issue of a patent that featured a bored-through cylinder.

Colt's fortunes in the gun market floundered until the patent rights ran out on the issue. Colt improved on the alignment of the revolving cylinder after a young officer of the U.S. Army, Captain S. H. Walker, appeared at the Colt plant.

He was a marksman of no little ability and he wanted to see a better Colt revolver. Walker's new improvements found acceptance by America's frontiersmen, and along with the government's purchase of thousands of them, Colt was well on the way to becoming a major design.

The Colt dragoon was next and it was bought by gunmen on both sides of the law. Settlers were moving from New England and New York into western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana by this time.

Colt's position in the development of a good firearm came around 1860, when the Civil War was thrust upon the northeastern quarter of the organized territories.

After this conflict, a surge moved westwards. The Santa Fe and Oregon trails saw a family in a covered wagon make the hazardous journey. Improvements in the alignment of cylinder and barrel, and an ingenious single action design led to the development of the "six shooter."

The telegraph had reached as far west as St. Louis, Mo., and partnered with a Winchester rifle, the pioneer had what he needed to take the ubiquitous prairie chicken, waterfowl, deer and elk which roamed the plains.

By this time fixed ammunition and a dramatically new priming method came to the market. Sam Colt capitalized on these improvements and America had in its hands one of the most successful handguns in history.

Desperados were ready to ambush the wagons on the trail. Many disillusioned men from both the blue and the gray were members of gangs, all holsters confining a Colt six-gun. Many families were brutally killed for their usually modest poke.

Smith & Wesson were astride as well, with their 32 and 58 caliber handguns, but nevertheless, Colt's six-gun remained supreme. A Texas cow puncher paid something near to a month's wages for a Colt. Gangs acquired an increasing number of the six guns as they continue raids.

The Colt in commerce

Wells Fargo & Company carried mail and freight westwards to towns with names like Abilene, Dodge, Helena, Kansas City and Bozeman. Herds were driven northwards from Texas beginning in March and continuing until autumn. Indians too, learned and feared the six-shooter. Many were soon to have them, as they raided the wagons on the trail.

The Sioux had the Colt

a vain and grandiose colonel named George Armstrong Custer led a company of blue coats into the heart of the Sioux nation in l876. His troops carried the obsolete U.S. Army's trap door Springfield, a single-shot rifle.

The rifle fired the big 45-70 bullet, deadly at short range, but wasn't a match for the portable, fast-firing six-shooter, which many of the Sioux's braves possessed.

The Indians also had many of the Winchester Model l873 lever action carbines. The massacre of the troops was well documented in the periodicals of the time, and it saw the beginning of the government's efforts to establish reservations to control Indians.

The slaughter of the American bison was well underway at the time and the armament usually was the 45-70 rifle, backed up by the Colt six-gun for a finishing shot.

The Colt in street fighting

The art of "quick draw" was developed by lawmen and bad men alike. It involved a lot of practice and a lot of ammunition. The hammer was "fanned" by drawing the hand over the top of the revolver while the trigger was held down.

The result was six shots in just a second or two, and it was featured in many a stand in a dusty street, after a bar room hassle.

Many a man lost interest in all things mortal and earthly when there was a challenge at a bar involving the silliest argument. They were very common, a way of early pioneer life.

Continuing the Colt

The Rollin White patent of a bored-through cylinder surged Colt's gun trade, but Colonel Colt died in l862 and did not see the gun in its heyday. America moved west after the Civil War and Colt's factory developed new guns for use by the military.

Included with these was the Model 1911 Service pistol, a slab-sided Browning patent widely manufactured by Colt. It used the 45 caliber rimless cartridge and was used by the U.S. Army until the Italian firm of Beretta took over everything in 1972 with its 9mm Luger cartridge.

The 4¼-pound Colt 45 was cumbersome but serviceable for the in-between years. Colt had its good and bad years, but really took notice of things after World War II.

The Rise of Bill Ruger

In a horse barn at Southport, Conn., a young inventive genius named William B. Ruger partnered with a financier named Alex Sturn to produce a semi-automatic pistol and a six-shooter style revolver in 22 rimfire.

Colt's wide selections remained catalogued for years, but it was the new, ever-expanding line of Rugers that took the market, and this continues today.

The lightly capitalized Sturm-Ruger company now commands the attention of the handgun enthusiast everywhere. Samuel Colt's gun enterprise continues, but it is no longer the universally accepted standard that it was for a very long time.

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