Developing a horse-dropper
The Colt Walker, occasionally referred to as the 44 Walker or the Walker Colt, was a heavy-duty single-action revolver, produced by American firearms inventor Samuel Colt. The Walker was a collaboration in design between Colt and Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker, of the Texas Rangers, in 1846. Samuel Walker conceived the design improvements after using the popular Colt Patterson, a 5-shot .36 caliber revolver, during an engagement with Comanche Indians at Walker’s Creek, San Antonio, Texas, in 1844.
Samuel Hamilton Walker was a Texas Ranger and Mexican War veteran. He was born in Toaping Castle, Maryland, on February 17, 1817, to Nathan and Elizabeth Walker. He was the fifth of seven children. His father Nathan has served in Washington’s militia during the Revolutionary War (1765-1783). As a child, he displayed a strong interest in becoming a soldier due to his father’s influences. Growing up Samuel attended a small local school, and upon leaving, took a position as a carpenter’s apprentice. Disillusioned with his chosen career, in May 1836, at the age of 19, he left Maryland for Washington, D.C., and enlisted in the Washington City Volunteers. Walker joined on the understanding he would be involved in the Creek Indian campaign in Alabama; despite these aspirations, he was stationed in Florida and saw no action (Creek War of 1836. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Wikipedia modified, 3 December 2015).
Walker remained in Florida until January 1842, when he traveled to Galveston, Texas. He enlisted in Captain Jesse Billingsley’s Company of Texas Militia. On August 30, 1842, General Adrián Woll and a force of 1,200 Mexicans invaded Texas; by September 11, Woll had captured San Antonio. Woll’s advance was checked by a troop of Texans at the battle of Salado Creek on September 18; forcing him to withdraw from San Antonio back across the border two days later. In retaliation to the Texas raid and capture of San Antonio, Walker joined the Somervell expedition into Mexico, a revenge raid, which departed in November 1842. He was captured and survived the Black Bean Episode (Peter F. Stevens HistoryNet.com 1997).
Upon returning to Texas in 1844, Walker joined Captain John Coffee Hay’s company of Texas Rangers and took part in the battle of Walker’s Creek (Robenalt Battle of Walker’s Creek and the Colt Paterson Revolver. 2011). It was during this engagement that Walker realized the importance of suppressing fire, and the advantages of a heavier bullet that could immediately incapacitate a human rider, or drop a horse. At Walker’s Creek, a handful of Texas Rangers successfully defeated roughly 80 Comanche’s on horseback using the new, revolutionary, Colt Patterson, a 5-shot revolving cylinder against a single stationary barrel. Walker realized that had it not been for the Colt Paterson, his small band (15 men) of Texans could not have repulsed such a large Indian force.
The Colt Paterson was designed in 1836, by Samuel Colt, and produced at the Patent Arms Company, in Paterson, New Jersey; named after the city in which it was conceived. The pistol was designed to fire a .28 caliber round ball or conical projectile. Further developments on the original design produced the No. 5 model, which fired the larger .36 caliber bullet. The No. 5 model was used at Walker’s Creek. After the Comanche incident, Walker noted some design improvements that would help a soldier in combat. These developments would eventually take the Colt Paterson from a commercially available handgun to a redesigned military firearm.
The Colt Paterson was unique in design for a pistol of that era. Aside from being a revolver, which in itself was revolutionary for the period, one of the major design features, unlike anything previous, was that the trigger was contained within the body of the pistol until the hammer was cocked and ready to shoot. As the hammer was drawn back during the cocking procedure, the mechanism would rotate the cylinder and drop the trigger into the firing position. Walker’s changes would incorporate an exposed trigger, protected with a trigger guard. In addition, adding a sixth chamber to the Paterson’s five-chamber design, and increasing the caliber to a .44, or .45-caliber projectile.
During the Mexican War, April 1846 – February 1848 (Virtual Programs & Services, Library of Congress), Samuel Walker served with the United States, 1st Regiment, Texas Mounted Rifles. It was during this period of service that he further developed the strategies of dropping a horse or rider while in the charge. His theories revolved around riding low in the saddle and firing two large caliber handguns at a closing horse and rider. The principle was to maintain a heavy rate of fire. With the ability to fire multiple shots while closing on the enemy, the chance of hitting the horse or rider improved exponentially. A large caliber bullet would ensure disabling the horse or rider taking them out of the fray.
In October 1846, Walker was mustered out of federal service. Holding the rank of Captain he went to Washington, D.C. in order to recruit a volunteer company of mounted infantry. It was at that time in Washington that he met with Samuel Colt and proposed his improvements to the Colt Paterson, which incorporated the much heavier .44 caliber bullet. The outcome of this collaboration of design was the largest and most powerful black-powder repeating handgun ever made, the 1847 Colt Walker.
Samuel Colt initially perceived two major problems with the proposal of a handgun of such magnitude. Firstly, the length of barrel required to stabilize a .44 caliber bullet in flight would increase from 7.5-inches to 9-inchs. And secondly, with primitive metallurgy, by adding a sixth chamber to a five-chamber design, you must increase the size of the cylinder in order to compensate for the expansion of 60 grains of black powder during discharge. 60-grains was more than twice that of any other conventional black powder revolver of the period.
As the design evolved into a prototype, a handgun weighing 4.5 lbs. with an overall length of 15.5-inches of solid steel emerged. To compensate for the heavier cylinder and longer barrel the pistol increased in size. Walker deemed the substantial weight tolerable, as the original design application was to carry the firearm in a saddle-mounted holster. It would be another 13-years in steel development and strengthening before the introduction of the Colt Army (1860) .44-caliber, could reduce the weight to 2 lbs. 11 oz.
Texas ordered 1000 of the new 1847 Walker Colts for their frontier war with Mexico. Although Samuel Walker took the Cold Walker .44 back to Texas and used it in the Mexican War, there was no further recorded documentation by him relating to its performance. There are no recorded cavalry charges in which his mounted strategies were applied against an enemy in the saddle.
The original Colt Walker had two major issues that were later corrected with the Dragoon model. The first was the loading lever. The recoil from 60-grains of black powder would cause the lever to drop, preventing the cylinder from rotating to the next firing position. Users improvised a fix with a small leather strap securing the lever to the barrel. The second problem was cylinder rupture. This could well be attributed to the quality of steel available in 1847. But also, at that time, many soldiers were unfamiliar with the concept of a revolver. When loading the pistols under fire soldiers would take shortcuts in the loading procedure. Allowing the powder to spill across the mouth of a chamber, by not greasing the ends of the chambers to prevent a spark from leaping into an adjacent chamber, causing a chain reaction. It has also been suggested by some historians that under the pressures of combat conical bullets were loaded upside down, which would also cause a cylinder failure.
One of the few reported accounts from the Mexican War referencing the 1847 Colt Walker was by John Salmon Ford, who had also enlisted into John Coffee Hays’ regiment of Texas Mounted Rifles. He was noted for carrying two Walker Colts and reported a Mexican soldier hit at a distance of well over one hundred yards. This statement is the only recorded source of information about their performance during the war. His comment: “The revolver would carry as far and strike with the same or greater force as the .54-caliber Mississippi Rifle” (John “Rip” Ford Wikipedia modified May14, 2016 Paragraph 2).
The closest reconstruction of Samuel Walker’s concept of firing a revolver from the saddle was in the 1976 western, ‘The Outlaw Josey Wales’ (Eastwood, Carter The Outlaw Josey Wales 1976), directed by and starring, Clint Eastwood. In this screen adaptation of ‘Gone to Texas,’ a book by Forrest Carter, Wales (Eastwood) was filmed firing two 1847 Colt Walker’s on horseback. As the character fired each black powder revolver alternatively, he would bring each pistol into the vertical as the gun in the opposite hand was being discharged. It has often been considered that this method of firing was a Hollywood spectacle to show substantial recoil. But that is not true!
This method of firing cap-and-ball revolvers was a viable tactic to reduce stoppages. Once a firearm had been discharged in the horizontal aim, by using the slight recoil as the motion to bring the pistol immediately into the vertical, the hammer could then be cocked. By cocking the pistol in this manner the hammer was pulled back releasing the small brass percussion cap, allowing it to fall backward, free of the nipple, and clear of the rotating cylinder mechanism; this allowed the cylinder to rotate freely exposing a new chamber to the barrel. The pistol could then be dropped into the aim while conducting the same procedure with the discharged firearm.
My wife recently gave me a reproduction 1847 Colt Walker .44-caliber, by Uberti, for my birthday. I fired the pistol using a .457-inch (44-caliber) round ball using a black powder charge of 30-grains of FFFG (American Pioneer Powder). Taking into account the difference in black powder manufacturing since the 1840’s, this was half the original charge of 60-grains. Shooting the Walker is an experience one does not forget. The smoke from 30 grains of black powder is impressive; the recoil is surprisingly mild and does not offer the sharp jump of the .357 or .44 Magnum. Like any black powder experience, it’s more of a slow push. This is due to the slow burning of black powder and the almost 5.0 lbs. weight fully loaded. Even with its massive weight the Uberti Walker feels good in the hand, and balances surprisingly well.
To this day, the Colt Walker is regarded in many circles, ballistic experts, and vintage firearm historians, as the most powerful manufactured handgun of its time. From its introduction in 1847 until the invention of the .357 Magnum in 1935, the Colt .44 Walker was the most powerful revolver in the world.
~ Steve McConnell
Title: The 1847 Colt Walker.
Description: A reproduction of the 1847 Colt Walker .44-caliber revolver by Uberti.
Date: June 23, 2016
Source: © 2016 Stephen McConnell – www.stephenmcconnellphotography.com
Creek War of 1836. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creek_War_of_1836
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Stevens, P. F. (1997). The Black Bean Lottery: October ’97 American History Feature | HistoryNet. Retrieved June 23, 2016, from http://www.historynet.com/the-black-bean-lottery-october-97-american-history-feature.htm
Robenalt, J. (2011, March 11).
The Battle of Walker’s Creek and the Colt Paterson Revolver.
Retrieved June 23, 2016, from http://www.texasescapes.com/JefferyRobenalt/Battle-of-Walkers-Creek-and-Colt-Paterson-Revolver.htm
A Guide to the Mexican War. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2016, from https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/mexicanwar/
Compiled by Kenneth Drexler, Digital Reference Specialist, The Library of Congress.
Colt Walker. (n.d.).
Retrieved June 23, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colt_Walker
Eastwood, C. (Director), & Carter, F. (Writer). (1976).
The Outlaw Josey Wales [Video file]. United States: Warner Brothers. Retrieved from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075029/
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