May 25, 2014

Weapons of Choice: Colt Peacemaker - "The Gun That Won The West"

175th Anniversary Colt .45 Caliber Peacemaker
The Colt Peacemaker, Model 1873, is a single-action revolver that is designed to fire metallic centerfire cartridges and was adopted as the standard military service revolver from 1873 to 1892.

Three Barrel Sizes
The Colt Single Action Army revolver, with the Smith and Wesson Model 3 “Schofield” revolver; replaced the Colt 1860 Army percussion revolver (and those converted). However, the Colt became more popular than the S&W despite the “Schofield” style of break-open for easy reloading while on horseback for cavalry soldiers. In 1892 it was replaced with the .38 Long Colt (Model 1892) as a double-action revolver with swing-out cylinder – which won over the break-open models of Schofield and S&W – mostly because of the “new” double action.
The Peacemaker was mostly produced and purchased in the Colt .45 long caliber, although the shorter barreled models were available in .38 Long Colt chambering.
Colt Flattop Target Model in .450 Eley Caliber
The “Flattop Target Model” was produced from 1890 to 1898 that had a frame which was flat on top and fitted with an adjustable leaf rear sight and the front sight had an interchangeable blade. Colt manufactured 914 of these revolvers. Of course, today you can purchase replicas.
After .45 Colt, the next prevalent caliber was .44-40 Winchester Center Fire (WCF) ammunition as well as calibers like 38-40 (38 WCF), 32-20 (32 WCF) and 41 Colt.
The US Cavalry and Artillery Single Action Peacemakers are the most valuable, often selling for over $10,000 when in good condition. The most valuable is the OWA, which is the earliest issued Single Action Army (Peacemaker) that were inspected by Orville W. Ainsworth; who inspected the Colts used by infamous Colonel G.A. Custer of the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
The Peacemaker was also to continue its fame because of the Roosevelt Rough Riders.
The Single-Action Army pistol was also made as a “Model P” manufactured in .44-40 Winchester and they became to be known as the Colt Frontier or The Frontier Six-Shooter, popular with the cowboys of the day (and some today).
In 1894, Colt introduced the Bisley model, the name taken from the famous firing range in Bisley, England. The difference is the Bisley mainspring is longer than the SAA mainspring used in the Peacemaker (they are not interchangeable). The Bisley serial numbers range from 156300 to 331916. Cattlemen, cowboys, also liked this model because of the fashion of the grip and its unique hammer design.
Wyatt Earp had a custom long-barrel (buntline) presented to him by Ned Buntline that was a .45 caliber Peacemaker. A commemoration engraving was attached to the grip. Earp also had a break-open Schofield style pistol made by Smith & Wesson. The buntline had so much myth added to it that there is controversy about the famous pistol to this day. Stuart Lake helped fictionalize the story of the buntline. It is generally accepted that Earp carried the long-barrel Peacemaker to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Peacemaker and Frontier revolvers are reproduced by firearm companies today like Cimarron Arms and Uberti.
It was popular to have firearms engraved, especially when presented as gifts; replicas today are also engraved in the fashion of that period in history.
To properly and safely load a single-action:
  • Place the revolver hammer on half-cock and open the loading gate.
  • Load each chamber in sequence, setting the hammer in the safety notch when finished; or, as often cowboys would and still do: load one chamber, skip the next, load the remaining four chambers, close the loading gate, draw the hammer to full cock and lower fully, which ensures that the firing pin (hammer) is over an empty chamber.
  • Firing the revolver is accomplished by drawing the hammer to full cock and pulling trigger. The hammer must be manually cocked for each shot, thus the reason why they are called “single action” revolvers. To fire a SAA rapidly, hold down the trigger and “fan” the hammer with the other hand. Sometimes gunsmiths in the Old West would modify (wider and less sharp) the hammer so it is easier on the hand to fan. You will also see this custom modification on pistols used today in cowboy action fast draw competition.
It is important to note, that if you do not have a reproduction model like that made by Uberti and have an original – use only the recommended .45 Colt cartridge (or whatever caliber it is chambered for) and ONLY use black powder or light smokeless loads. This is an important safety warning, for some shooters have ignored this and ended up with their cylinders exploding because the originals were not designed to take the pressure of modern smokeless powder.
Additionally, I would like to add … if you decide to purchase a .38 caliber firearm replica – DO NOT use .357 caliber ammunition. However, if you have a model chambered for .357 Magnum, you can use .38 caliber as a less expensive alternative for ammunition.
George S. Patton
General Patton, a famous general of World War II, was originally a horse cavalry soldier before entering the modern world of armored cavalry operations. His favorite sidearm was not the M1911, but a pair of pearl-handled Peacemaker – single action. Carrying a pair of Colt Single Action Army .45 revolvers became his trademark. He gave one of those Peacemakers to a Hollywood star he admired to show appreciation for his courage in entertaining the troops near the front lines. Patton replaced the Peacemaker he gave away with a Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum with a 3.5-inch barrel that fit nicely in one of two of his holsters. He carried two sidearms because of his experience in 1914 confronting Pancho Villa outlaw-rebels.
Other great firearms were produced by Colt, Remington and Smith & Wesson – but the Peacemaker is probably the most famous.

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