1873 Colt “Peacemaker” – The Gun That Won The WestMay 26, 2023
Just about everyone recognizes the Colt Single Action .45 as the iconic handgun of the Old West.
The Colt firearms firm certainly hit its stride in the 1800s, helped no doubt by the American Civil War and goings on along the Western Frontier. Perhaps their biggest contribution to the movements was the Colt Single Action Army revolver – otherwise known as “The Peacemaker”, the “M1873”, the “Model P”, the “Colt 45” or, simply, the “SAA”. Regardless of the name, the revolver became one of the most popular sidearms in the history of sidearms with it seeing action through the Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War and the Range Wars to name a few.
The revolver lasted in “official” US Army roles from 1873 to 1892 though its use survived much longer outside of the military thanks to its popularity with the public. While other weapons lent themselves to the title of “The Gun That One the West”, few can argue the reach that the Colt Single Action Army revolver – a gun that was brought back into production multiple times since its inception because of the public demand for the classic type – has had on developing both America itself and its prized gun culture.
The Colt Single Action Army, famously known as the Colt Peacemaker, was the best known handgun of the 19th century and became quite literally the stuff of legend. When it was adopted by the U.S. Army in 1875, it’s future in handgun history was sealed.
Priced initially at $15, the Colt Peacemaker earned as much allegiance from crooks as from lawmen. It was among the earliest revolvers to use metallic cartridges, and it chambered the potent .45 Long Colt, first loaded with 28 grains of black powder behind a 230-grain bullet. But the SAA earned its man-stopping credentials with a 40-grain charge and a 255-grain bullet that traveled at 850 fps.
The Colt Single Action Army, also known as the Single Action Army, SAA, Model P, Peacemaker and M1873, is a single-action revolver with a revolving cylinder holding six metallic cartridges. It was designed for the U.S. government service revolver trials of 1872 by Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company—today’s Colt’s Manufacturing Company—and was adopted as the standard military service revolver until 1892.
The Colt SAA has been offered in over 30 different calibers and various barrel lengths. Its overall appearance has remained consistent since 1873. Colt has cancelled its production twice, but brought it back due to popular demand. The revolver was popular with ranchers, lawmen, and outlaws alike, but as of the early 21st century, models are mostly bought by collectors and re-enactors. Its design has influenced the production of numerous other models from other companies.
The Colt SAA “Peacemaker” revolver is a famous piece of Americana.
One interesting historical footnote about the 1873 Army model relates to World War II’s famous General George S. Patton, who occasionally carried his personal ivory handled model. This gun is now in the Patton Collection of the West Point Museum along with his .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson revolver.
Although popularly remembered as the “two-gun” General, Patton actually seldom wore both of his “carrying guns” together. And, he owned several personal pistols aside from the two usually photographed on him in WWII. Further, his guns were usually ivory handled, NEVER pearl, as they were sometimes mistaken. The handguns most associated with him, and which are now in the Patton Collection of the West Point Museum, are a .45 Long Colt Single Action revolver, 1873 Army Model, and a .357 Magnum Smith & Wesson revolver.
Of the two of them, aides and relatives have said that the .45 Colt was the one Patton stressed for everyday carry, while the .357 was to be the “killing gun,” in his words, if the battlefield situation ever demanded it. The .45 was his oldest companion, having been purchased in 1916. There are two notches filed in the left-side ivory grip of the highly engraved .45. They came to be through a 1916 gunfight which took place in Mexico.
Another 1873 Colt that Patton acquired in 1928 sold at auction for $75,000 in 2015.
To fully appreciate the significance of the Colt Peacemaker, we have to step back in time…
To trace the story of the Colt 45, you’ve got to go back 45 years before the O.K. Corral to when Samuel Colt patented his first percussion revolver design in February 1836. Colt plugged away on wooden models and technical drawings until Baltimore gunsmith John Pearson forged a working prototype. Colt soon set up the Patent Arms Company in Paterson, New Jersey, the town gave its name to Colt’s first production revolver: “The Paterson.”
Before the Colt Single Action Army, pistols used percussion caps to ignite a powder charge that had to be hand-loaded into each chamber of the revolver’s cylinder. This is a slow and cumbersome process.
Shortly thereafter, Colt produced a pistol that fired a more powerful centerfire cartridge and had a stronger, more durable frame. William Mason, along with fellow Colt gunsmith Charles Brinckerhoff Richards, began to rework the 1870 design by incorporating a top-strap to increase the strength of the revolver’s frame and remove the need for a barrel wedge, one of the biggest weaknesses of previous Colts. The new pistol would become the .45-caliber centerfire Colt Single Action Army.
Keep reading the full article at Popular Mechanics for a terrific history of this iconic piece of Americana … the Colt 45 Peacemaker.
And for a little deeper dive into some technical history, check out “The .45 Colt: History And Surprising Facts About This Iconic Cartridge,” at The Daily Caller.
And if you have a REAL “History Bug,” don’t miss this History.com article on Samuel Colt, a truly fascinating individual.
Samuel Colt was born on July 19, 1814, in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of textile manufacturer Christopher Colt and wife Sarah. By visiting his father’s mill in Ware, Massachusetts, and helping out at a nearby farm, the young Colt gained an interest in all things mechanical and often dismantled objects–including his father’s firearms–to discover how they functioned. At age 16, he enrolled at Amherst Academy in Massachusetts to study navigation; however, his youthful hi-jinks later got him expelled from the school. His father then gave the teen the opportunity to study navigation firsthand, sending him out to sea on the Corvo, a ship that embarked on a nearly yearlong voyage in 1830.