Big Iron: Colt 1847 Walker

I became fascinated with the Colt Walker after seeing the Outlaw Josey Wales for the first time. What were those massive irons he was slinging lead with? The holsters themselves ran down his entire left and ride side! It was the Desert Eagle of its time and still impresses gun collectors, students of firearm history and shooters to this day.

The Colt Whitneyville-Walker, also known as the Colt Walker Model 1847, was the first revolver purchased by the Army Ordnance Department for service use. So how did that come to be? It all starts with Samuel Hamilton Walker. The Texas Ranger was no stranger to Colt firearms, having been issued a Paterson he used in many skirmishes. In May of 1846, Congress declared war on Mexico and the United States Mounted Rifleman (USMR) were born. That June, Samuel H. Walker was appointed a Captain in the Mounted rifles, Company C.

One of Walker’s goals was to get better armament for his company. In November of 1846, he met with Samuel Colt to share his ideas for a new weapon based on the Paterson. Their collaboration would go on to create a single action revolver that would change firearms history. The tale gets much more complicated from here, so in an effort to keep this digestible we will gloss over much of the story.

Suffice to say, Colt’s Paterson was not a great success and he was near bankruptcy. Therefore, a military contract for a new firearm was very attractive to him. Without his own manufacturing capabilities, Colt contracted with Eli Whitney Jr. using his plant in Whitneyville, Connecticut to build the legendary Walker.

Colt manufactured 1000 for the Army Ordnance Department and 100 as gifts to officers and for public sale. The Colt Walker Model 1847 was an absolute tank. The .44 caliber weighed nearly 5-pounds unloaded with a 9-inch barrel and according to Samuel H. Walker, “was effective as a common rifle at 100 yards and superior to a musket even at 200.”

Samuel H. Walker explained to Colt he wanted a pistol that could take down an enemy horse. Yes, I said pistol, as the term “revolver” was not in general use during that time. The chambers of the Walker were then designed to hold up to 60-grains of powder. For reference, that is double of what a Model 1860 Army in .44 caliber uses.

Unfortunately, the metallurgy of the period could not really support loading mistakes. Because of this about a third of the original Walkers were destroyed from burst cylinders. Bigger does not always mean better, especially with inexperienced users. Another common complaint was the lever dropping any time the Walker was fired. Some soldiers even ended up tying leather straps around the barrel and lever to stop it from moving. Both of these issues would be addressed with the birth of the Colt Dragoon.

If you would like to continue this discussion, I have started a Facebook Group called Big Iron. This is an association created to bring together collectors, researchers and shooters interested in discussing the Colt 1847 Walker and subsequent Dragoon models. This includes modern reproductions. See you there!

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