COLT SINGLE ACTION ARMY MODEL 1873 – THE GUN THAT WON THE WEST


Arguably the most famous of revolvers is the Colt Single Action Army Model 1873 – the Peacemaker.

Once the Rollan White patent giving Smith & Wesson the exclusive right to manufacture a bored-through cylinder which allowed cartridges to be loaded from the rear ran out, Colt

set its designers loose creating a weapon with a revolving cylinder that held six enclosed metal cartridges that could be loaded from the rear of the cylinder for the United States government service revolver trials of 1872.

The Colt Single Action Army revolver replaced Colt’s percussion revolver. Colt’s weapon quickly gained favor over the equivalent Smith & Wesson weapon and remained the primary US military sidearm until 1892.

The very first production Single Action Army, serial number 1, was chambered in .45 caliber with 40 grains of fine grain black powder and a 16.5 gram round-nosed bullet. That was one powerful charge.

Originally called the “New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol” it quickly became the standard military service revolver.

The Single Action Army was manufactured in standard barrel lengths of 4¾”—the “Gunfighter” model, 5½”—the “Artillery” model [pictured above], as well as 7½”, standard for the Cavalry. There was also a model with a barrel less than 4” unofficially referred

to as the “sheriff”s model”, the “banker”s special”, or the “store keeper” model. Small enough to conceal in a pocket as a backup weapon or for personal protection.

With minor changes and major improvement, the Colt 1873 Single Action Army revolver was manufactureduntil the beginning of World War II, when Colt ceased production in order to fill more orders for the war.

General George S. Patton, who began his career in the horse-cavalry, carried a custom-made Single Action Army revolver with ivory grips engraved with his initials and an eagle, which became his trademark. He carried it until his death in 1945.

Colt didn’t plan to resume production, but customer demand generated by Old West movies starring John Wayne and others, had them issuing the second generation models beginning in 1956.

The power, accuracy and handling qualities of the Single Action Army (SAA) made it a popular sidearm from its creation. Thanks to Colt enthusiasts, Cowboy Action Shooting and the Single Action Shooting Society, and continued interest in the Old West, Colt still makes a version of this revolver today.

Written by Tracy Garrett

History, Texas, cowboys, horses—these are a few of Tracy’s favorite things. Check out her westerns at www.TracyGarrett.com.

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13 Comments on “COLT SINGLE ACTION ARMY MODEL 1873 – THE GUN THAT WON THE WEST”

  1. Renee Ryan says:

    Tracy,

    Thanks for this informative post! I can’t imagine an Old West lawman without a Peacemaker. I don’t think I knew Patton carried one, very cool!

  2. Karen Witemeyer says:

    How cool that they are still actually making these guns today. There’s just something so classic about them. I not a big fan of guns in the real world (fiction is another matter entirely), but this one just shouts “western” to me, so I gotta appreciate it. Thanks for the post!

  3. Mary Connealy says:

    Isn’t this the gun with the motto:
    God created man, Sam Colt made them equal.
    I think it’s something like that.

    The Winchester 73 is ‘the gun that won the west’ or maybe ‘The gun that settled the west.’
    These two guns (though there were others) were the really widely used ones.
    Great post, Tracy

  4. Mary Connealy says:

    I found this:
    The old saying, “God made man, but Samuel Colt made them equal,” originated as advertising slogan for Colt Manufactuting. There are a number of variations on the same theme that appear: “God may have made men, but Samuel Colt made them equal”; “God didn’t make all men equal, Sam Colt did”; “God made man equal. But, Colonel Colt made some more equal than others”; “God made every man different; Sam Colt made them equal.”

    I think Tom Selleck in Quigley Down Under, said some version of this.

  5. Tanya Hanson says:

    Hi Tracy, great post. I tend to mention a Peacemaker or two in every book so now…I see what I’m talking about LOL. Actually, I did fire one at a range when I was in Bandera TX. my first and only gun-time. Thanks for the info. xo

  6. Tracy Garrett says:

    They’re also very fun to shoot at paper and steel targets, Karen. There’s something magical about firing a weapon that a homesteader used.

  7. Tracy Garrett says:

    Thanks for the quote, Mary!

  8. Tracy Garrett says:

    You’re welcome, Tanya. Since many of the Texas Rangers used them–and theyre so famous–this gun appears in a lot of romance fiction.

  9. Mary Connealy says:

    I’ve never referred to a gun as a peacemaker…I am going to use that.
    I’m always looking for yet another word to say the same thing.

  10. Quilt Lady says:

    I want one. Please send one of these guns my way. I want the 1873 model but would like to have either. Then I could be an old west cowgirl for sure.

  11. Tracy Garrett says:

    Ha ha,, Quilt Lady! I’d love one, too–an original, that is. The one I shot is a modern reproduction. Still cool though. And it does make you feel like strapping on your holster and strolling through town.

  12. Mary Connealy says:

    Quilt Lady, I know someone who’s husband, for a hobby, takes part in Rifle Shoots set in different eras. He has to have a replica gun and wear a costume that is the right era, then they have shooting contests. I think he has several replica guns and I know he has a replica Winchester 73 because he let me fool around with it, to see how it felt in my hands, how heavy it was, how to load it, stuff like that. It was great, then later, I wished I’d asked more questions.

  13. Patricia B. says:

    Thanks for an interesting piece of history.