Heritage, 2010, Volume 1 Page: 28
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The Colt Single-Action
Army Revolver 1848 to 1873
By Tom Power
In mid-19th century America, if an arms manufacturer was to
be successful, it was absolutely necessary for the company to ob-
tain government contracts for their firearms. Put simply, without
a large government order, the company could not survive on civil-
ian sales alone. Samuel Colt was faced with this dilemma when
he started his firearm business in the mid-1830s. His first venture
failed because he was unable to obtain a government contract to
produce his Paterson model revolvers.
Years later, in January of 1847, with the help of Captain Samuel
Walker, Colt was granted a United States government contract for
1,000 of his new Patent revolvers to be manufactured by Eli Whit-
ney of New Haven, Connecticut. These revolvers are known today
as Colt Walker Revolvers and are treasured by collectors.
In November of 1848, Sam Colt established his own firearms
factory on Pearl Street in Hartford, where he began the manufac-
ture of his first production firearm, the Model 1848 Colt Dragoon
revolver. "Dragoon" was an early name for cavalry, and these re-
volvers were intended for issue to the U.S. mounted rifles; in fact
many were issued in Texas where the demand for them was the
greatest. More than 8,000 Model 1848 Colts were purchased by
the U.S. government between 1847 and 1860, and this affiliation
with the military spelled success for Colt's company.
Sam Colt then turned his attention to the civilian market to
promote his patent arms. He was always careful to describe his
revolvers as the "military model" and to capitalize on what that en-
dorsement implied. For many years into the future, Colt's Patent
Fire Arms Manufacturing Company would always offer an "Army
model" pistol in their product line.
The first three models of these Colt Army revolvers are the subject
of this article and represent the development of the single-action
design between 1848 and 1873. (Note: In a single-action revolver
the hammer must be manually pulled back or "cocked" with the
thumb for each shot; in a double-action revolver the hammer can
either be cocked by using the thumb or by pulling the trigger,
hence the term "double action.")
The first pistol for discussion is a civilian version of a Colt
Model 1848 Dragoon revolver that was made in 1848 and sold
to Edward E de Selding who carried it with him in the Califor-
nia Gold Rush of 1849. It is a six-shot percussion cap .44 cali-
ber firearm with a 7-1/2-inch barrel that weighed a hefty four
pounds and two ounces unloaded. This was an improvement
over the Walker Model, which weighed in at four pounds nine
ounces. These revolvers were loaded with a conical-shaped lead
bullet and a large charge of black powder and were the "mag-
nums" of their time. De Selding was well armed for his adventure
to the West, although he never did strike it rich in California.
HERITAGE Volume 1 2010
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2010, Volume 1, periodical, 2010; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254216/m1/28/: accessed December 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.