“And this is the McCulloch, Cimarron’s reproduction of the 1860 Colt that Ben McCuloch had smuggled into Texas just after secession.”
“Dean, you had me at McCulloch.” And that, my ballistic besties, is how Jon Wayne Taylor blows cash on guns. Although I’m a flintlock fanatic, I’ve never been much of a cap and ball shooter. But this one sparked my imagination, as the name is intertwined with my youth and my home.
I grew up in the northern part of Hays County, named after Captain Jack Coffee Hays, the most famous (real life) Texas Ranger of all time, and the man who reinvented gun fighting. Onion Creek was the waterway that defined my childhood. Its limestone bottoms and clear, cool waters made up the swimming holes and fishing streams of my youth. One of those swimming holes is know as “The Rope Swing” at Camp Ben McCulloch.
Some of the best times in my life were spent there, swinging off that rope swing, dancing with girls at the annual Confederate Reunion, and having a few beers with friends during high school. Nowadays, at least two of the three of those would likely get me killed.
While history wasn’t among my primary interests in those days, I would have been fascinated by the man whose name adorned the sign out front and was associated with my new revolver. Ben McCuloch, Ranger and general, would have been worth knowing about. Fortunately my interests broadened over time and Texas history, specifically Texas Ranger history, became one of them. I now sit on the board of directors of the Texas Ranger Foundation Association.
Long before he died for the Confederacy in Arkansas, Ben McColluch set off from Tennessee with his brother Henry and his friend, David Crocket (yes, that David Crocket), in the hopes of joining the Texas revolution. Fortunately for the Lone Star State, McCulloch came down with the measles while in east Texas, delaying him by weeks. That illness surely saved him from dying at what was later called the Thermopylae of the west. Within a couple of years he would end up serving as a lieutenant in the Texas Rangers directly under Captain Hays himself.
Hays would change western warfare forever, to the immediate benefit of frontier Texans. Prior to Hays, the common tactic for infantry and cavalry troops alike was to dismount and fire their almost exclusively single-shot rifles at the circling natives. The Comanches and Kiowas would remain on horseback, firing five highly effective arrows in the amount of time their opponents could take a single shot and reload.
Once Hays found the Colt Patterson Revolver, he used it to put the Rangers on an even footing with his enemy. Riding directly into groups of (primarily) Comanches, the Hays Rangers would get as close as possible before emptying their revolvers, then pulling another one (or two) from their pommel holsters to fire again.
Very soon after, Ranger Captain Sam Walker would meet directly with Sam Colt, creating what would be known as the Walker Colt. The timing could not have been better for Colt. His company was rapidly failing, and the Rangers’ order, and famous use of his revolvers, would be the savior of his company.
Under Hays, McCulloch saw first-hand the effectiveness of the close quarters, rapid fire style of fighting from horseback with a handgun. In fact, the Texas Rangers’ reliance on the Colt was one of the very few examples in history where a military unit used a handgun as their primary arm during an assault. The technique of the mounted revolver would remain with those early Rangers for the rest of their lives. For the next two decades, Ben McCulloch would enter combat not armed with a rifle, but with a shotgun and a brace of single-action revolvers.
Captain McCulloch’s life would change after Texas’s ill-fated secession. The Union would quickly form a blockade to keep the southern states from obtaining the necessary arms and materiel. But beyond Texas’s participation in the Civil War, the longer lasting, and likely more pressing concern to her citizens was the ongoing war with the Comanches.
Badly needing weapons, and while the blockade was in full force, McCulloch reached out to Sam Colt again and ordered 2,000 of his 1860 fluted cylinder revolvers. Mr. Colt remembered what the Rangers had done for him years before, saving his business and catapulting him to fame. One thousand of the revolvers were smuggled through Cuba, and New Orleans to be received directly by Ben’s brother Henry.
These .44 caliber cap and ball revolvers would send a 140gr round ball at 1,000fps and were the newest, and most advanced weapons Colt produced at the time. They represented the evolution of the weapon, much of that taken directly from the experience of the Texas Rangers themselves.
The Walker Colt threw the same ball another 200fps faster or more, but the Rangers must have decided that a pistol that would not be equaled in power for another 80 years (by the .357 magnum) was too much of a good thing when most of their shots were within 20 paces, and at a gallop. The McCulloch was almost half the weight of the four and a half pound Dragoon, and would still reliably kill a man at 75 yards. I’m sure they were very welcome to the Rangers, but some, if not most, certainly ended up in the Confederacy. Some, like Ben McCulloch, who would become officers under the Stars and Bars.
After years of great service in Texas, but less than a single year after joining the Confederacy, Major Ben McCulloch died while on a scouting mission in Arkansas. Sadly I can find no record of what his armaments were at that time in order to determine if one of the revolvers he would become associated with filled his hand at that time. In fact, any existing examples of those original revolvers proved very difficult to find.
After the war was over, of the 1,000 McCulloch revolvers originally ordered, only 280 were returned by the Rangers and lawmen they were assigned to, and of those, only 80 were in working order. It seems the Texans had, once again, little desire to return the arms given to them by their government. You would have thought their quartermaster would have learned a lesson from the town of Gonzales. That has made the McCulloch Colt exceedingly rare.
Fortunately, the Texas Ranger Museum and Hall of Fame in Waco, Texas would prove to be a valuable resource. Perusing the museum, which is an absolute must for anyone living in Texas or simply traveling Interstate 35, I found one sole surviving 1860 Army full fluted cylinder Colt. The museum was very helpful, and agreed to uncase the revolver for inspection and photographs so that I could compare it to my reproduction.
This original had one significant alteration, the addition of a carved ivory handle, bearing the common theme of an eagle holding a snake, perched on a cactus. The museum had little to no details on the revolver. They had received it from a local family, but no longer had any other information on the gun.
Other than the altered handle, and wear at the muzzle, the original was extremely similar to my reproduction. All of the lines, materials, screws, and operation of both the guns were the same. The “antiqued” finish on my reproduction almost perfectly mirrored this original. It appears that little antiquing was actually done, as every photo and drawing of the originals, as well as the one I was looking at, bore the same faded satin finish as the one I had purchased.
My new pistol was a reproduction made by Uberti of Italy, and imported by Cimarron Firearms and sold to me by Texas Jack’s out of Fredricksburg, Texas. Now that I knew it matched the originals in feel and appearance, I wanted to know how well it really shot, and if it could match the charge and fabled accuracy of the original.
Following the instructions of the Cimarron manual, I cleaned the revolver fully, as well as shot a cap without a charge through each cylinder prior to loading any powder or ball. After that, I got right to it, filling each chamber with 25 grains of FFFg. I shot 20 rounds that first outing, thoroughly enjoying the pistol. The weight and balance of the gun is outstanding and with that charge the recoil is nothing at all. For an 8” barrel, it’s just nothing to point and shoot.
Single handed firing into a sillohete at 25 yards was an absolute breeze. I didn’t have a shot-trained horse available, but walking and firing at a brisk pace, as long as you know where to aim, isn’t much of a challenge either. At 15 yards the point of impact was 8” to 10” above the point of aim. I don’t believe this was an accident at all. The originals were made to have a close range “belly hold”. Aiming at the belly of a man, you would strike him in the chest at close range.
The actual zero range was usually 50, and sometimes as far as 75 yards. This gun was set up as the originals were. I also had to get used to the “disappearing” rear sight, as it is cut into the hammer. It was very easy for me to simply use the front sight in fast fire, but I was shooting high like that until I got used to it. The huge advantage of the V-cut notch into the hammer as a rear sight is that it gives you the absolute maximum sight radius, longer than any revolver with a frame mounted sight could be.
The trigger is very light, likely under a pound. During my second outing firing with the revolver, that was a challenge, as I was wearing a heavy welder’s gauntlet. It pretty much meant that that placing my gloved finger near the trigger guard was rewarded with an immediate report, as long as the weapon was primed, powdered, and cocked.
The reason for these heavy gloves is that I read in several books that the “combat” load was 30 grains, but some loaded as high as 40 grains. It was usually noted that sometimes the fluted cylinders exploded. The manual says 25 grains is the maximum load, and I was already at that. Do as I say, not as I do. Stay with the manual. I added 5 more grains of black powder and shot a for groups using 30 grains, and then 35 grains. Although I saw no signs of undue pressure and recoil was still very manageable, I stopped there.
Setting the revolver down on bags, I was rewarded with 2 ¼” five round groups at 25 yards, with that high charge. I did that for 4 total groups, with the average remaining at 2 ¼”. I was pretty surprised by this level of accuracy, but I shouldn’t have been. After all, I’m measuring the powder myself for a consistent charge, and the soft lead ball is slightly oversized for the cylinders, ensuring a cylinder seal and a perfect fit for 8” of bore. Dropping back down to 25 grains of FFFg, I saw identical results in accuracy, with little change in the point of impact at that distance.
A cap and ball revolver can’t be expected to have the same level or reliability of a metallic cartridge gun. Everyone once in a while a cap would come dislodged and it would take a particularly hard cock of the hammer to turn the cylinder. Then, at about 50 rounds, I started to have inconsistent failures to fire. By that time the nipples had become clogged and needed to be cleaned out. A quick press with a pipe cleaner in and around all the nipples and the problem was solved.
This McColluch is inexpensive, but I imagine the expense will climb quickly with time. I seriously doubt the gun will require any major maintenance, but having only one of them is just stupid. It’s only six shots, and you really need to carry it on an unloaded chamber as you would any cap and ball revolver. That’s leaves just five shots, and there is no fast reload.
So, like the men who carried them for duty, I need at least two. I made my own powder horn, and powder measures, but really I should have a brass powder flask to be fully authentic. Then comes the leather, and good leather is expensive, and worth it. But all that is nothing compared to the care and feeding of a trained horse to shoot those pistols from. It adds up. I may have to stick with just the one and a good holster for a bit.
This is by no means my first black powder gun, but my first cap and ball revolver has been a great experience. I was surprised at how accurate it was, and how fast and easy it handled. It’s reliability is completely in keeping with the originals, and is absolutely combat worthy. It was one my hip for my last hunt, and will be heading out with me on my spring turkey and hog hunts. The added bonus — and it’s a big one — is the walk through the shoes, or sights as it were, of some of the heros of my land and my youth.
Specifications: Cimarron McColluch Colt Revolver
Barrel Length: 8 in.
Style: 1860 Army Fluted
Frame: Forged Steel
Grip: 1 Piece Walnut
Weight: 2.66 Lbs.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Appearance and style * * * * *
This I had to judge based on how well it matched the real thing. Without handling the museum example that still had the original wood, it would be hard to expect more. This gun was made to Cimarron Firearms’ specifications and they absolutely nailed it.
Reliability * * * *
Unacceptable for a modern pistol. Great, for what it is.
Accuracy * * * *
As accurate as any of my Blackhawks and the single action trigger is better than any of my revolvers, including my Smith Model 29 that’s had a quality trigger job. The super long sight radius makes it a champ. No one-inch groups, so no five stars, but it’s as good as or better than most of the modern pistols I’ve reviewed.
Overall * * * *
Plenty of power, fun to shoot, and a whole lot of local history. I had originally knocked this down to three stars because it wouldn’t go more than 50 rounds without a failure. My flintlock rifle, made in the early 19th century, won’t either. If it was 1861 I’d give this pistol four stars, so in 2017 it still gets four for being so good at it is. But if I were judging it on its similarity to the original, I’d dial it up to 11.