Sam Colt — genius, huckster, snake oil salesman, and one of the inventors of the modern world. His revolving pistols changed firearms and warfare forever, and his percussion revolvers remain with us, ageless beauty, matched with relentless killing efficiency.
Sam Colt was not nearly as good a businessman as an arms designer, and by 1844 he was dead broke and out of business. It was his relationship with the Texas Rangers that proved to be his salvation. Former Texas Ranger, Samuel Walker, and flamboyant Ranger, Captain Jack "Bravo-Too-Much" Hayes, were huge proponents of the Colts, but had some ideas for changes to create the perfect revolver for Horse Soldiers. The result was the massive Walker Colt- five pounds of steel that was the most powerful handgun ever made, well into the 20th century.
The Walker Colt was a six-shooter, the first of its kind. It fired a .454 caliber ball, although it was marketed as .44 caliber, at more than 1000 feet per second, approaching modern .44 Magnum ballistics. With Colt's factory back up and running, he addressed the shortcomings of the Walker- mainly the size and weight. The Dragoon was half a pound lighter with a shorter barrel. The cylinder was also shorter, allowing for less powder to be loaded. The Walkers larger cylinders could, and did occasionally explode, if overloaded. The success of the Dragoons cemented Colt's reputation both on the frontier, and with the military, who issued Dragoons to the U.S. Army Mounted Rifles. The Dragoons were the weapon of choice in the California Gold Rush, and back east, in the skirmishes leading up to the Civil War.
Perhaps Sam Colt's greatest masterpiece was the Revolving Belt Pistol of Naval Caliber, which you and I know as the 1851 Navy. It was specifically designed to be worn on the belt, rather than carried in a saddle holster, like the Walker or the Dragoon. And with six .36 caliber balls, it was a step up in power from the pocket revolvers. The Colt Navies were the huge success that Colt had been looking for, purchased in the hundreds of thousands by civilians and militaries around the world.
The 1860 Army carried Colt to the civil war. While it's the same frame size as the .36 caliber Navy, Colt made changes to allow the gun to be chambered in the much heavier .44 caliber. It became the most widely used revolver in the civil war.
It's easy to talk about Colt's Percussion Revolvers as having changed the world. But, when I hold a Paterson, or especially an 1851 Navy Revolver, I see the elegance of an age long gone. Deadly? Yes, but still beautiful.