Gun Review: The Walker Colt

Several States are attempting to follow the examples of Utah (Colt/Browning 1911) and Arizona (Colt Single Action Army) to name official State guns. A move is afoot to designate the Walker Colt as the official firearm of Texas. While surviving examples of the Walker Colt are rare, we can explore the firearm’s history and importance via the Uberti reproduction. First, the handgun’s genesis . . .

In 1836, Texas declared itself a republic. Its territory was enormous, even by Texas standards. The Republic claimed the Rio Grande as its southern border. Mexico begged to differ; they considered the Nueces River the demarcation. In 1845, the U.S. annexed the Republic of Texas. The change of sovereignty did nothing to end the conflict with Mexico. In 1846, the ongoing series of skirmishes between re-christened Americans and Mexicans turned into war.

By 1847, the so-called Mexican-American War was going full tilt. Samuel Walker was a former Texas Ranger turned Captain of the United States Mounted Rifles. Combat experience with Paterson 36 caliber handguns had convinced Captain Walker of the utility of the revolving pistol as a cavalry arm.

Walker turned to Colt to provide pistols suitable for his horse soldiers: a revolver capable of dispatching enemy soldiers and their horses. He envisioned a “… revolver half the length of your arm of 44 or 45 caliber….” with more robust features than those of the lightweight five-shooters of his day.

Colt owned patents that gave him exclusive rights to revolver development for the U.S. Army, as well as financial motivation to return to the arms trade. Eli Whitney Junior—a man with a nose for business and a well-appointed armory—was engaged in producing the 1841 Rifle used in the Mexican conflict. He fancied the new handgun contract.

In January 1847, the Army issued Whitney a contract for 1000 pistols and accoutrements. The resulting revolvers were .44 caliber, almost sixteen inches in length and weighed four pounds, nine ounces. They were larger than the 1837 and 1842 smooth-bore single shot pistols they replaced, but exactly in accord with Colonel Walker’s order.

In late October, Colonel John Coffee Hays of the First Texas Mounted Volunteers picked up 394 revolvers from Army headquarters in Vera Cruz. An additional 180 went to (now) Colonel Walker’s C Company, United States Mounted Rifles.

Colt had given priority to one hundred additional pistols for presentation and private sales. Thus, well in advance of this general issue, Jack Hays, Samuel Walker, Zachary Taylor and other officers had taken possession of the new revolvers. They were familiar with the gun’s capabilities.

Initial planning called for the Army to issue two pistols to each mounted soldier, along with a single powder flask, bullet mould, and a combination tool (screwdriver, cone wrench and spring compressor). The standard Dragoon equipages: two pistols mounted on either side of the saddle pommel.

It didn’t work out that way. The Army figured that a single Colt revolver provided triple the firepower of the two existing single-shot pistols (Aston-Johnsons). So the army changed the order. They afforded one new pistol per trooper—creating a shortage of accoutrements. Five hundred revolvers awaited arrival of powder flasks, combination tools and bullet moulds.

How The Legend Grew

Mexican citizens stumbling over the translation of  “revolver” believed that the bullets could change directions and chase them around corners and up stairways. Adjutant John S. “RIP” Ford recorded the unlikely observation that the Colts had the power of the 1841 Mississippi Rifle with greater range.

Army orders were that none of the revolvers would be issued to staff officers. This order went by the wayside when the revolvers arrived. Medical Officer and Adjutant Ford grabbed two of them for himself. He was on hand when the Walker demonstrated its capabilities at dealing with enemy equines. Walking through camp, Walker advised a green trooper to uncap his revolver. Moments later, there was a loud report and the trooper’s horse fell dead on the spot-neatly drilled between the running lights by a picket bullet.

The conical bullet cast by soldiers in the field was part and parcel of the Walker Colt mystique (though seldom mentioned in detail). The needle-nosed, flat-based picket bullet receives major “credit” for initial difficulties with the revolvers. RIP Ford wrote that soldiers unfamiliar with conical bullets assumed that the projectiles should enter the chamber sharp-end first and this almost invariably caused the cylinders to explode.

Correctly loaded, the bullets afforded a deep, wedge-shaped repository for powder accumulation from sloppy loading. This combined with canted or undersized bullets could easily result in multiple chamber ignitions. The incidence of exploded cylinders has been greatly exaggerated, with some sources saying that nearly three hundred blew up in service. It appears that a substantial number of revolvers that had not passed inspection were included in this number-even though they had been repaired and put into service at the first general issue.

The Volunteers returned 109 damaged revolvers at war’s end, including guns with ruptured cylinders. The major negatives of this early design: an inadequate loading lever catch and the revolver’s size, which made it impractical for belt carry.

The Walker Colt in Action

In November 1847, less than a month after receipt of the revolvers, the Texas Mounted Volunteers engaged a superior force of 1500 Mexican regulars at Izcar de Matamoros. The Americans charged the Mexican lines with their Colt revolvers blazing. The Americans routed the enemy from the field. The Walker Colts played a pivotal part in several other engagements, including a reprisal massacre in Mexico City. More than eighty presumably hostile inhabitants of the city died in that one—chiefly by agency of the Walker Colt.

“Some (Texas Rangers) wore buckskin shirts, black with grease and blood, some wore red shirts, their trousers thrust into their boots; all were armed with revolvers and huge Bowie knives. Take them altogether, with their uncouth costumes, bearded faces, lean and brawny forms, fierce wild eyes and swaggering manners, they were fit representatives of the outlaws who made up the population of the Lone Star State.”

-Observations of an officer of the United States Mounted Rifles.

The End of Active Duty

In spring 1848, a few months after the Mexican-American War ended, the Army released the 500 Walker Colt revolvers that had been languishing in the Baton Rouge arsenal The guns were dispatched to the western army and still-federalized Texas Rangers. now fighting desperados and Indians on the Texas Frontier.

Accompanying the second issue of 500 Walker guns into Texas: an unknown number of revolvers that had not been returned to the Army at the end of the Mexican Conflict. There was a strong tendency among the enlisted to retain any working revolver and report it missing or destroyed. Historians record that it was virtually impossible to get a Texas Ranger to turn in his Walker revolver; it was a losing battle to insist upon it.

Shooting the Walker

Recent literature makes much of the ability of the Walker Colt to accept maximum charges of 60 grains of black powder under a round ball. There has been little exploration of the performance of the more period-correct conical bullet load.

The original proof load for the Walker consisted of the designated bullet loaded over the maximum charge of 3Fg compressible below the chamber mouths of the cylinder. It is certain that the bullet was the major projectile of the Walkers used in Mexico and likely that the round ball came into play later on the Texas frontier.

With this in mind, I ordered the correct Pedersoli Mould from Dixie Gun Works and cast a number of the 170-grain bullets from pure lead. The bullet is of the size and shape of the frame opening to the loading lever (on the original and the replica). The sample revolver was a Uberti Walker replica manufactured in 2005.

As we can’t know the actual performance of period components, duplicating the gun’s original performance is problematic. There was no industry standard for black powder formulation; the appropriate screen sizes for rendering FFFg flakes varied from one maker to the next. In the interest of optimism, I used the extra-fast Swiss 3Fg for the bullet loads and explored the performance of Swiss, Goex and Pyrodex P loaded to equal volume from the same measure.

Unlike the earlier Paterson, the Walker has a positive provision for safe carry. A notch in the hammer nose fits over a single peg placed between two of the chambers of the cylinder when the hammer is all the way forward. The Walker retains the loading lever clasp used on the Paterson as well as the old-pattern U-shaped mainspring. The loading lever clasp is inadequate to the recoil of the heavily loaded Walker and almost always drops out of engagement after each shot.

Using common Dremel bits, I deep-coned the loading ram for an exact fit over the nose of the traditional bullet. The maximum charge under compression turned out to be 45 grains, which rendered the super-sonic average of 1158 fps (feet-per-second) with 506 foot-pounds of energy and a narrow extreme spread of 35 fps.

An essential step in preparing these bullets for firing: placing a slight bevel on the base of the bullet to further align the bullets for seating. The picket bullets barely fit under the loading lever. They are slow to load and difficult to align correctly.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this bullet has none of the qualities expected of an effective or accurate handgun projectile. The portion of the bullet swaged into contact with the chamber walls is very narrow and there is no bevel on the bullet base to assist in straight alignment in the chamber.

Nevertheless, the precise coning of the bullet ram allowed repeatable straight seating and the ease in loading and resulting accuracy that exceeded initial [low] expectations. Flying in the face of a century and a half of common wisdom, I unleashed off-hand Picket bullet groups from 30 yards which were about as accurate as round ball ammunition. The best cluster came in at four inches or a fraction more. The target signatures showed no signs of pitch or yaw in flight.

For round ball testing, I selected Speer swaged balls of .457-inch diameter (though .454-inch would work just as well). The maximum charge of Goex 3FG drove the round balls 1115 feet per second while the same volume of Swiss 3F crossed the screens at 1278 fps-508 ft/lbs energy.

Firing the revolver from the “duelist” stance, it was no problem to keep all of these load combinations comfortably under the “combat accurate” standard of performance at ranges of twenty-five, thirty, and fifty yards. The heavy Walker hung steady on target in spite of prevailing high winds. Recoil with all load combinations was essentially nil.

I had slightly widened the hammer notch to provide a more visible sight picture and found that the revolver hit several inches high with the Lee 200-grain bullets and ball loads, and virtually point on at 30 yards with the Picket Bullet. Taping the loading lever to the barrel prevented it dropping down with every shot.

The Walker experience affirms the big revolver as a very effective combat tool that significantly increased the fire power of soldiers previously equipped with relatively slow-loading single-shot and, in many cases-unsighted-smooth-bore weapons. It supports the often-printed assertion that the Walker was the most powerful handgun prior to development of the .357 Magnum in 1935.

Should Texas designate a state gun, I believe there could be no better choice than the Walker Colt.

19 Responses to Gun Review: The Walker Colt

  1. avatarDon says:

    I love walker colts. The heft and ergonomics make them great fun to shoot. Even a loose loading lever has its charm!

    -D

  2. avatarTTACer says:

    That is some serious fps/energy.

  3. avatarGabriel says:

    Excellent article. I would love to see more reviews of historical/replica firearms on TTAG. Articles like this really stick out among the litter of spent 9mm brass, IWB concealed carry holsters, pop psychology, safety pamphlets, and empty cans of internet whupass.

  4. avatarRalph says:

    A great review of an all-time classic revolver!

  5. avatarMike Cumpston says:

    The bulk of the material about origins and Mexican War episodes comes from Lt. Col. Robert D Whitting III, The Colt Whitneyville-Walker Pistol. It is apparently the definitive work on the subject-likely long out of print and rare
    Of the surviving Walkers known to collectors:
    These are later modifications made to original Walkers.
    D Company number 13 has a homemade loading lever with a front latch like the later Colts.
    D Company number 81 has a rear sight installed at the rear of the barrel.
    B Company number 4 has a rear sight in the same position as D 81
    D Company number 1, confiscated from a Confederate veteran, was converted into a shotgun.
    C Company number 164 has a front loading lever latch.
    B Company number 25 has a Paterson two-piece (?) rifle barrel installed. This is considered a period modification.
    E Company number 22 is the only known originally engraved Walker.
    From undated Texas Gun Collectors Magazine.

  6. avatarMike Cumpston says:

    The above article is excerpted from the chapter on Walkers from this book:
    http://www.amazon.com/Percussion-Revolvers-Guide-History-Performance/dp/0595436242/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_c
    I withdrew it from publication due to very inept editing by the publisher but it seems that they printed some up and are selling them anyway.

  7. avatarMogg says:

    I’ve always wanted a nice, big, horse revolver like the Walker or Dragoon.
    Don’t know why, really, as I have no practical use for one, but they
    just feel so good in the hand. Love the way they balance.

    I’m leaning toward the Dragoon, due to the loading lever problem of the Walker,
    which would probbably irritate the heck outta me.

    So does anyone manufacture a Walker with an improved loading lever latch,
    or an improved replacement latch ?
    I know it wouldn’t be period, but it would be less irritating.

    Any one have any experience with the Dragoon ?

    • avatarVigilantis says:

      From what I understand, the period correct solution to the problem was a small piece of leather tied in a loop around the lever and the barrel. When it came time to reload, the pistolero would just slide the loop forward to free the lever.

  8. Dear Sirs,
    The Colt revolver was a very poor design. Beginning in the early 1860′s, The firm
    of Remington began to produce a solid frame revolver, It incorporated design features
    from the Remington Beals revolver. Today it is almost universally known as the 1858 Remington, but it would be more correct to call it the 1863 Remington. This very fine revolver is manufactured as a replica by both Pietta and Uberti, both of Italy. Their design far outclasses the Colt design. It has a top strap, and the hammer hits the cap through a slot in the recoil shield, which prevents the irritating habit that 99.9% of Colt style revolvers have, of dropping spent caps into the innards of the gun, Thus needing a “Time Out,” While a thin, sharp object is required to fish the remains of the cap from the insides of the pistol! I would advise anyone who is thinking or taking up the sport of Black Powder Revolver Shooting, not to waste their time on buying a Colt Type replica. The Remington design is far
    superior, and will give you much more trouble free shooting than the very poor Colt design. Sincerely, Johnnie Roper.

  9. コピー 通販 アルマーニ ブレスレット http://www.watchsrack.com/

    • Dear Sirs,
      Iam an active Black Powder Revolver Shooter. My weapon of preference is the Remington (Known a little erroniously as the Mod. 1858!) In fact of course, the replica’s produced by Pietta and Uberti more closely copy the more advanced revolver of 1862/63. I carry a 5.5″ barreled version for self-defense. I consider it’s termional ballistics to be nothing less than frightfull, and if that terrible moment ever should arrive, when I have to shoot at another human being, I want that person to be DEAD! (Only my side to tell in court!!!) I used (Notice the past tense!) to be interested in explosives, but an unfortunate instance of being discovered in the desert with what the BATF called, “Unregistered Explosive devices,” led to my being a guest of the Federal Govt. for a few years, and so I may not have possess or have access to Modern Cartridge weapons! I hasten to add I never robbed, stole, or did anything illegal that threatened another person. I just used to like to see things go BANG!(Again, Notice the PAST tense!!!) I am fortunate to live ion Arizona, where any law abiding person may be armed, Openly and concealed. I hasten.to add that my local Cops know that I have a record, and also know I carry, and they are quite happy about it. In fact, I recently managed an Apartment Complex. that had as it’s residents,as fine a collection of Thieves, drug dealers & users, and prostitutes, as one could find in along day’s ride! Evicting these Maggots, caused me to co-operate with the local police
      quite extensively, and I became very friendly with several officers! I am very pro-Law Enforcement!
      I feel that a great amount of the advice that you, and other schools of Persona lDefense, is slanted too heavily on how to shoot an antagonist! The best advice I feel one could give to a person who carries a weapon, would be to AVOID at all costs, having to use the weapon, except as a very last resort! There is anarmy of second rate attorney’s out there, who are apparently influenced by Left
      Wing Liberals, and who will go to extremes, to try and put anyone who uses a weapon, regardless of how legal that use was, in jail. Witness the unfortunate George Zimmerman, who I personally feel deserves an Ecology award or removing his antagonist from the Gene Pool! I began carrying a Black POwder Revolver, because some of the Maggots I caused to be either jailed, or evicted, made some very serious theats, that seemed to put my future Health & Welfare in jeopardy! I am a Naturalized U.S.
      Citizen, and am getting rather long in the tooth! (My 77th. Birthday was last June!) I feel that the word has gotten around, that the, “Old Fart,” now carries heat, and that they may have given up on the idea of tackling me with evil intent. However, when one gets in the habit of carrying a weapon, at some point, if you leave home without it one day by mistake, ( I have the occasional, “lSenior Moments,”) you feel as if you have left home without your trousers!
      I honestly DO NOT WANT TO EVER HAVE TO SHOOT SOMEONE! I am only really frightened of one thing, and that is Left-Wing Lawyers!!! Having said that, although I am seven years past my allotted Three-Score Years and Ten, I am still enjoying my life, and would like if possible to Pass Away in a peaceful manner in bed!
      I cut my teeth on Single Action Revolvers in my native England, back in the days when British
      Subjects (No such animal as a British Citizen!!!) could legally own Handguns! I am NOT seeking to be a Hero! If the restaurant I was eating in, was the subject of an armed robbery, I wouldtry and write down detailed descriptions of the Perpetrators on my napkin, and if possible, try and get the particulars of their getaway vehicle as well. I would not dream of shooting at the, “Retreating Vehicle,” as it would
      most probably be stolen, and the poor owner might be very sad to find his car full of bullet holes, when it was returned to him! If I was personally threatened, and Honestly.Thought my life was in danger, well, that might be a different matter. I do not fear being robbed, as I never carry any cash on me, but pay by debit card wherever I go!
      Should you know of any other persons, otherwise Good Citizens, in which category I feeI I belong, I’d be happy to advise such persons of the the proper way to load and prepare a Percussion Revolver, in such a manner as to make it every bit as reliable as the more modern handguns that most people carry. I am little guy! 5′-7″ and weigh 160 lbs. Yet I can very easily conceal the Remington
      Revolver with the 5.5″ barrel. I have left cylinders loaded for well over six months, and upon inserting
      them into the revolver, have always gotten six resounding BOOMS!
      Sincerely, Johnnie Roper.

  10. avatarSteve says:

    Thank you for an informative article, however the falling loading lever seems to be rather annoying. Could the barrel.tennon block(?)and barrel ( basically the front end) from a 1st model dragoon be fitted to solve the problem?

  11. avatarTed says:

    Hi I live in the UK and have recently bought a new Uberti Walker Colt. I had to perform some minor gun smithing to smooth up the action but was astonished when my first10 shots with 33g FFFG, a felt wad and .451 lead ball formed a 8 inch group in the black of a target at 25 yards! I have a question. My gun appears to have a bullet rammer which is already shaped for the pointed picket ball so, more for historical interest than anything else, I would like to try some picket balls. Can anyone confirm that the Pedersoli Walker mould casts a suitable picket ball. It seems so from the above article, but the mould’s not cheap and I like to know before spending. Ted

  12. avatarMike Cumpston says:

    “Could the barrel.tennon block(?)and barrel ( basically the front end) from a 1st model dragoon be fitted to solve the problem?”

    I’ve seen an article with pictures in a collectors magazine about the surviving Walkers and this is one of the methods applied to the pre-dragoon guns. Another involved a leather loop to keep it in place.
    The pedersoli mold. The best answer for this is “we would like to think it is accurate. There are no pictures around to affirm this but the window under the loading ram on the original is the same configuration as the uberti and fatter/longer bullets would not fit even though the bullets cast from this mould are considerably lighter than the frequently reporte 200 grains of the originals

    • avatarTed Edwards says:

      Hi

      Thanks for comments about the Pedersoli mould. Before getting your reply I decided to buy the mould anyway. It’s only money! It certainly casts good looking bullets but as you know they barely slide through the loading window. The coned rammer end as supplied was not quite the same shape and as a result didn’t always seat the bullets correctly as you found out. Infact I loaded some into the cylinder, no powder, and then pushed them back out through the nipple hole and could see that lead hadn’t always been shaved off all the way round the base. I also noticed that some were slightly bent at the point which would do nothing for accuracy. When shot some were OK but some never even hit the target. I decided to reshape the rammer end as you had but this required use of some epoxy putty with a bullet as a guide to get a good job. I was too enthusiastic with the Dremel grinding tool! However this resulted in a very good fit with the bullet and much better accuracy, although they are still slow to load. I will not be shooting the picket bullets very often, but it is interesting to see how these guns were originally designed to shoot and the problems encountered. Loading them on the target range is one thing but trying to load them in any sort of “real” situation must have been very stressful.

  13. Pingback: Dimensions and weight of original as cast Walker needle nose picket bullets?

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