Horse pistol. Smoke wagon. Hog leg. Shootin’ iron. The words carry potent symbolism, and conjure images of both the real and the Hollywood versions of the American West, with names like Sam Colt and Wild Bill Hickock, Jack Palance and Randolph Scott (or “Raaa-aaan-dolph Scott” for us Mel Brooks fans). If there’s such a thing as the grumpy, cantankerous Grandpa Gun of the Wild West, it’s got to be the 1847 Colt Walker.
The Walker was the first commercially-produced large caliber revolver, and it spawned a lineage of almost-as-huge pistols that bore the ominous, yet very cool title of Colt Dragoon. Its basic operating system eventually gave rise to the Colt 1873, also known as the Peacemaker, the quintessential old West pistol.
Samuel Hamilton Walker, of the United States Mounted Rifles, wanted a big honkin’ handgun for the war with Mexico, and sent the specs back to Sam Colt, the designer of the 1836 Colt Patterson revolver. The Patterson was a graceful little thing in .28 and later .36 caliber. It had a complicated, delicate trigger that dropped down into firing position only when the pistol was cocked.
But Sam Walker wanted something bigger and better. Allegedly, he requested a revolver that would kill a man or his horse at 100 yards. So Colt put his gun-design genius to work, and voila, the behemoth .44 caliber Model 1847 came into being, and Colt christened it after Captain Walker.
The original 1847 Walker saw only about 1100 copies produced, and like the first model of any other product, it did have its problems. First, it was just a little too big, even for a Texas Ranger and cavalry officer like Captain Walker. The modern reproduction Colt Walker by Uberti weighs the same 4 ½ pounds as the original.
That’s right, a revolver that weighs just short of a bag of sugar from the grocery store. The barrel is 9 inches long and the entire gun, from the tip of the stocks to the end of the muzzle is 15 and a half inches. That’s almost the length of a Biblical cubit, the span of a man’s forearm from the point of the elbow to the tip of the longest finger.
And yea, verily, doth the Walker speak with a mighty shout, like a great host of the mighty men of old. Not only that, but it makes my Smith and Wesson 629 .44 Magnum look downright diminutive in comparison.
The Walker’s size has made it a star on the silver screen. Even though the original novel has Mattie Ross toting her father’s Dragoon pistol, the 1969 film version of True Grit featured a Walker, probably just because of how impressive it looks on screen. In the TV mini-series Lonesome Dove, Robert Duvall, as aging Texas Ranger Augustus McCrae, carries a Walker. McCrae uses his Walker to correct the attitude of a saucy bartender by liberally applying its bulk to the bridge of his nose.
The metallurgy of 1847 caused the thin chamber walls of some Walkers to explode upon firing, which is a rather negative outcome when each chamber might be stoked with as much as 60 grains of black powder. How much is 60 grains of black powder? Here’s some perspective.
Ever hear of the .45-70 rifle cartridge? Yep, it’s called the .45-70 because it’s a .45 caliber bullet over 70 grains of black powder. It was a US military cartridge, and commonly used to hunt buffalo, and it held only 10 more grains of powder than the Walker handgun. A fully-stoked Walker will hold 360 grains of powder, or 60 grains in each of the six chambers. Imagine that exploding in your hand in the middle of a hot fight against rampaging Comanches, or while facing a charge of Mexican lancers.
Even if the gun didn’t explode, the recoil from a fully-charged chamber going off would usually cause the loading lever to drop, sending the ram back into a chamber’s mouth, effectively jamming the gun. You had to remember to always check the loading lever, and lift it back up after every shot before you could cock the pistol again. The original Walker shooters learned to slip a little loop of rawhide or leather over the barrel and to hold the loading lever in place.
Yes, the Walker had its problems. But lots of people saw the potential and utility of a six-shot handgun with that kind of power. Captain Sam Walker carried his namesake revolvers a lot, and died at the battle of Huamantla with a Walker in each hand, as the legendary story goes. John “RIP” Ford, a Texas Ranger who eventually became a Texas state senator, was known to carry a pair of Walkers on a belt holster. That was nine pounds of horse pistols hanging off Ford’s waist.
Sam Colt listened to the feedback from his end users, and redesigned the Walker, releasing the 2.0 version in 1848, renaming it the Dragoon. The 1st Model Dragoon was essentially a Walker with an inch and a half trimmed off the barrel, a better latch to hold the loading lever in place, and a cylinder shortened to hold only 50 grains of black powder to reduce the chance of explosions.
I have looked longingly at modern reproductions of the various Colt Dragoons. But when it came time to lay my hard-earned cash on the barrel head, I opted for the Walker instead. Yes, it’s huge. Yes, the loading lever still drops when I shoot it with a full charge of powder. Yes, it’s heavy. But it’s a Walker.
There is something primal and elemental about hefting that much blued steel and wood. There is something heady about the dull throaty boom and thick rich clouds of sulphury smoke that smell like a hundred 4th of July firecrackers just went off in my hand.
The frame is color-case hardened with blue and gray swirls and whorls, and the cylinder is engraved with “Model U.S.M.R” encircled with scrollwork and flourishes. Etched around the rest of the cylinder is a detailed scene of US cavalry fighting against Comanches armed with shields and buffalo lances–horses charge, pistols blaze, wounded litter the ground.
Shooting the Walker is an exercise in boomstick atavism. It takes several minutes to load each chamber with loose black powder, followed by a .457 inch diameter round lead ball. Like smoking a fine Cohiba, it’s a process that cannot be rushed. The slow load time is why historical shooters of cap and ball pistols carried three, four, or even as many as six guns, so they could grab another loaded pistol after shooting one dry.
After the gun is stoked with powder and ball, some shooters like to seal each chamber’s mouth with lube. I like Bore Butter, which is a commercial lube with a faint menthol odor. I know of shooters who use Crisco shortening, which makes a blackpowder shooting session smell like movie popcorn. Putting lube over each ball helps the powder fouling stay soft, and easier to clean out. Lots of folks say that it also helps prevent chainfires (all six chambers firing simultaneously, which would be sort of like crossing the energy streams in Ghostbusters) although there is credible research that suggests chainfires are actually caused by sparks getting under loose-fitting percussion caps.
When I cap my Walker, I use a bit of deer antler to really press the percussion caps onto the nipples to keep stray sparks out. There’s nothing quite as annoying as having your caps slip off your nipples right in the middle of a session. Wait, can I write stuff like that on TTAG?
Recoil on the Walker is like all other black powder guns. It’s not a snap or jolt like a modern smokeless powder arm gives. It’s a big, slow push. The sound a Walker makes is a big, deep boom that you feel right down in the pit of your stomach. Part of the beauty of blackpowder guns is that you can adjust the powder charge. With smaller charges, like 25 grains, the Walker hardly kicks at all.
So why bother with a modern copy of a quirky, troublesome design from 1847? Why do some people like to collect and drive Ford Model Ts? Why do some people still buy India ink, pen nibs and heavy cotton bond paper? Because it’s fun. Pick up a Walker and touch off six fully-charged chambers, and then take one good deep breath of that gray smoke. But do so with the knowledge that it may prove to be a lot more addictive than nicotine.
I owned one of the Uberti guns. I always had a good time at the range with it. I took it to a meeting once and hardly anyone wanted to shoot it. I was surprised to say the least. I have never been shy about recoil, I shoot a 480 Ruger one handed, but the recoil of the Walker was distinctively different. I ended up trading it for a pick-up truck a few years ago. Maybe I should replace it. I have a 17 year old grandson that would probably love the experience. And maybe a pair of 58 Remington 44's to go with it.
I also have an Uberti 1858 Remington copy, and it is an absolute hoot.
If anything, it's easier to work, as the top strap design of the 58 allows the cylinder to pop in and out very easily, ala Clint Eastwood in "Pale Rider."
I, too, have had folks turn up their noses at my black powder guns at the range, and I cannot figure out why.
I suppose it's got something to do with notions about "old fashioned," but for pure fun and enjoyment, I'd much rather spend a range session with a black powder revolver than any Glock.
Of course, after the session, I'd much rather clean about six Glocks instead of clean just one black powder revolver.
I've had a .36 cal 1851 colt for 30 years and a Remington Zouave .58 cal rifle. Buddy of mine from New Mexico
got me started. There is nothing like the enjoyment of black power shooting. Don't kid yourself. That rifle can
kill a man at 500 yards. I think the concept is the black powder weapons are harmless. Just don't mention it to
the thousands upon thousands that have been killed by those "ancient" weapons. You gotta try black powder.
Walker Colts have fairly impressive ballistics, and some states allow them for big-game hunting. An editor for Guns 'N Bullets took a small whitetail with one many years ago and reported a quick, humane kill. He wisely kept his shot inside 25 yards.
You need another one. Then go and shoot those cans and gallon jugs gunfighter style!!
I have a 3rd Model Dragoon 1851, markings on the barrel say “<>Gardone V.T.- Brescia” and “Cal 44 Black Powder Only Made In Italy” It does not have the slots for attaching a stock because at the time it was made the BATF rules for the stock were in doubt. The original 3rd Dragoons were made with removable stocks and current replicas are made with slots and can have stocks so long as they are front stuffers only.
This revolver takes a .451 ball and 40 grains of Black Powder. There is a latch on the end of the loading lever but to have it not fall and jam the cylinder I put an elastic band around the lever and barrel. Weight on my balance scale is about 4 lbs 2 oz; 7 1/2″ barrel; end of barrel to back of action 11″ (hammer positioned ‘down’); overall length 14″.
I bought it in the mid 1970’s and fired it back then at a private range. I always used a felt & beeswax disk under the ball and crisco on top. I never could find any bear grease to use to seal the chambers. The caps fit tight and there were no problems. Caps fired on empty chambers stayed in place and suffered minor damage. Caps on loaded chambers broke up.
When it went off there was a lot of smoke, a strong but manageable recoil, and a lot of noise. It was great fun to shoot but needed, I was told years later, the stronger musket caps and nipples instead of the #11’s to avoid the ongoing problems during shooting. Aiming is typical of a cavalry revolver: The sights are a tiny blade in front and a notch in the hammer and the cavalry approach, from horseback, was point and pull the trigger. That is the only practical way to shoot this gun.
I have not fired it in decades and shooting Black Powder at a public range does not work well because of the difference in time needed for cleaning and reloading as compared to modern smokeless arms. I think I would like to buy and shoot a Remington with both a cap & ball cylinder and a .45 LC cylinder using Pyrodex loads in the .45 LC cartridges. Pyrodex because Black Powder is both difficult to obtain in my state and there is a 2 pound possession limit for it in most jurisdictions .
Bought my Walker Colt, I was going to Kirst Convert It to 45 Colt . I think Il leave it alone. leaving California soon,going to Tennessee ,Thanks folks for the info .Tim
I’m getting ready to buy a Uberti Walker. I thoroughly enjoyed your site and comments. I have an old PFI 1851 Navy that I shot “loose”.
Will .451 balls work or is it better to shoot the .457?
Tim Sharff, I just happened to look back at this article tonight, and found your question.
I have shot .451 balls out of my Walker, they just don’t shave a very big ring of lead, which concerns me a little about how airtight the seal would be.
I’ve never had any specific problems with a .451, I just use them in my 1858 Remington copy, and save them for that purpose.
I’ve shot both .454 and .457 without any problems in the Walker, and haven’t seen any problems with the .451s. I just save the .451 balls for another pistol I’ve got.
I thin te walker is fo to soot. i like the bigun snnic boom it maks when i fir itup. BOOM BOOM!
Well done – it makes a nice change to read something that makes sense. Pleasing on the eye too. You have a real nice site!
Fired center fire handguns and rifles all my life—hunted all my life–killed deer with a Ruger Redhawk (NO scope)—hiked, camped and even did some sky diving in my younger days but I literally have no words to adequately describe the supreme thrill, adrenaline rush and old-time feeling of a kid on Christmas morning that washed all over and through me when I fired my Uberti Walker Colt for the first time!! Something almost primal happened and never have I had that happen with any other gun—-a real HOOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
what is this gun worth
Not a lot.
Depends on availability which is scarce and how badly or quickly you want one. your statement of course was made 12 years ago so there is that. New ones shipped are near $600.00. You will most likely have to get on a waiting list to order. I tried to get a couple for 2 years then finally got them both. Sometimes you can find used ones in the $4 to $500 range. I have a NIB I would sell for $1K, but I don’t really want to. The market is fluid, and available guns scarce along with the declining purchasing power of the U.S. Dollar.
Depends on availability which is scarce and how badly or quickly you want one. New ones shipped are near $600.00. I see this previous conversation took place 12 years past so things have changed quite a bit. You will most likely have to get on a waiting list to order. I tried to get a couple for 2 years then finally got them both. Sometimes you can find used ones in the $400 to $500 range. I have a NIB I would sell for $1K, but I don’t really want to. The market is fluid, and available guns scarce, along with the declining purchasing power of the U.S. Dollar.
I have owned several Walkers over the years. It seems that i can’t be without one for long. These guns all seem to shoot about a foot high at 25 yards and about a foot and a half high at 50 yards. Thats with .451 balls and cylinders full of 3f powder and crisco lube.
The best i have owned so far would put five shots into a group you could cover with the palm of your hand at 50 yards.
I have recently aquired another but haven’t been to the range with it yet.
I am over 80. Many years ago when I was just 15 and just getting interested in black powder guns we didn’t have replicas. An elderly collector friend in Austin had two original (first gen) Walkers and took me to the gun range to shoot one of them. I’ll never forget what that gun felt like when it went off. The going rate for a decent original back then was $1,000, with lesser ones going for about $750. You could also find Confererates for under $1,000. I owned several and wish I had kept them. Belt Pattersons were much more. My first replica walker was a Hawes. I traded it for something else. I can’t remember what. In later years I’ve never been without a replica Walker for very long. There’s just something about Walkers. My eldest son and daughter, now pushing 60, were shooting that Hawes Walker at ages 6 and 7. The best investment right now is a plain 2nd generation Colt Walker that someone else has already shot and taken it’s initial depreciation, allowing you to buy a genuine Colt Walker shooter at a reduced price. The 2nd gen Colts will not have metric threads like the replicas. Avoid the fancy 3rd generation or “signature series.” They were sold by Colt but aren’t technically Colts because they weren’t assembled and finished at the Colt factory and won’t have Colt inspector’s marks.
There were no generations of Walkers. You are thinking Dragoons.
i just bought the walker replica used by r. Duvall in lonesome dove which has been converted to cartridge loads but do not have the manual that goes with the pistol and am wondering where i can get it. it is indeed a beautiful pistol and do not plan on using it since it is authographed by him and also with “Gus” Does anyone know where i can get the instructions.
I bought a Uberti Walker couple of years ago and love shooting it. I have had one reoccurring problem with it however aside from the loading lever dropping which I keep secure with an O-ring after loading. The metal “chards” from fired percussion caps will jam between the frame and the cylinder to the point where the cylinder will not rotate and it takes considerable effort to free it up. I have tried both 10 and 11 size percussion caps with the same result. Any thoughts on how to stop this? It is a safety issue because I had the gun go off prematurely trying to unjam the pistol. Thanks for any help you can provide.
Had two.I much prefer the Dragoon
I was introduced to cap & ball revolvers around 1969 when my Dad brought home a Replica Arms (Uberti) 1861 Colt Navy. It was fun to shoot and my job to clean afterward. Dad still has it today, but it hasn’t been fired for several decades now. Earlier this year I decided to get an 1858 Remington , and now have one in .36 and 2 more in .45. All are even more fun to shoot, since the cylinders are easily removed to load with a more expeditious benchtop loader. Crisco over the ball gave way to the felt wad between powder & ball, and I get superb accuracy with a simple 2 ply paper wad seated over the powder, then a ball with the bottom end dipped in a small amount of tallow + beeswax ball lube. I can fire over 100 rounds with 3F real black powder without any appreciable fouling, since that old lube atop the ball just produced a gooey surface to which powder soot accumulates.
Remington accuracy is outstanding, and it’s quick to reload, but there’s something about the charm of the old Colt. Since I’m already casting .454″ roundballs, I decided the time has come & recently ordered an Uberti 2nd Model Dragoon – I’ve handled the Walker & it is just a little bigger than I want to fire all day at the range.
About that ball size: as long as the seated ball shaves off a uniform ring of lead when seated, you will get sufficient seal to prevent any flashover problems.
Keep in mind that when you seat a larger bullet into a smaller diameter chamber, a flat spot around the ball is produced. This is called the Engagement Band; the larger the bullet diameter, the wider the Engagement Band, and the more surface that will engage the barrel’s rifling. a .454″ ball is deemed ideal, since it produces a wide enough Engaging Band, which is further widened when passed thru the forcing cone. 456 – .457″ balls will work just fine, but they do require undue force to seat & just place stress on the shooter & a strain on the loading lever of the gun.
Caps? #10’s are ideal for Uberti & Pietta replicas made within the past 30+ years, and properly seated & tighter fitting caps are less likely to become lodged inside a revolver frame – over 100 rounds thru one of my Remingtons & nary a jam. I prefer Remington or CCI caps, whichever are cheaper at the time.
I’m the lucky owner of two Wakers, one Uberti and one Colt signature model, the Uberti i bought first some 20 years ago, and i can safely say that no other gun makes me smile like the Walker, I’ve shot it for fun at home on my ranch, in the Danish championship at BP meetings in Denmark and Germany, or just at our clubs shooting range and it is always a hoot, big loud and faithfull, damm I love my Walkers. In our BP club they are known as the lady-guns, I’m the omly female member and the only Walker-owner
I have long admired the Walker Colt and hope one day to have the privilege to shoot a replica. But I am responding here to compliment the author Roy Hill. This is excellent prose, with a mixture of excellent history, expository information, and just a touch of poetry. Well done.
I shoot a uberti walker. pure fun. new higher front sight. spot on at 50 yards. use carb cleaner to clean the gun.
please answer this question…just bought my first Walker and noted that the wedge was really sticking out the right side. So mush it keeps the gun from being placed in the holster. Should the cap of the wedge be right up against the screw head? Shouldn’t it also be easier to pull out since you need to to clean the weapon?
You may judiciously stone the wedge to get a better fit, but don’t overdo it. You will have to buy another wedge and start over. The wedge must hold the barrel tightly against the frame in any case.
Keep in mind that blackpowder, Pyrodex and the substitute propellants as well as their residue, are all water soluble. Disassembly and clean-up with warm soapy water has always been the best method. Carburetor or Brake Cleaners are all solvent ant petroleum distillate based materials. They will remove grease, oil and ball lubes, but they do not readily dissolve the water soluble corrosive salts that can corrode your fine revolver.
Soapy water, hot water rinse, and follow-up with WD-40 or any moisture-displacing media, followed up by Barricade, CLP or any rust preventative of your choice will serve you better, and will cost a lot less.
Thanks for an excellent review & write up, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, also the comments. Can anyone answer a puzzle for me? There is currently a Walker up for sale but this particular example has the barrel latch at the front (sight end) of the barrel like a Dragoon. This isn’t a replacement latch as there is no slot cut at the other end of the barrel which a ‘normal’ Walker would have. Oh, by the way, I am assured it is genuine Colt. Thanks, Mike.
Buying a pair of Walker .44’s from Cabelas (US) where it’s very affordable. These are rare to buy in Canada as they have to be imported and that’s usually a hassle. Was always intrigued by this pistol ever since I saw the Duke (in early 1970 at the drive In) hold one in True Grit (” Gad, girl! That’s a Colts’ Dragoon! This’ll do the job – long as you can find a fence post to rest in on!”) and even in John Wayne’s ham-sized hand it looked massive! Later I saw Eastwood’s Joesy Wales brandish a pair of them to good effect (“Dyin’ ain’t much of a livin’, boy!”). Have lots of modern, hi-tech stuff but old fashioned is fun.
You don’t have to import them into Canada, they are regularly stocked at Shooter’s Choice in Kitchener Ontario, and have been for years. Just purchased one there yesterday.
I have two Armi San Marcos 1847 Colt Walkers. One is a 1978 and the other a 1982, Both shoot great. Nothing more fun than cross drawing these babies and acting like Josy Wells. More fun than any gun I’ve ever shot.
I have two Ubertis bought two years apart. They are quite different from each other: the first is hard to disassemble and reassemble (I use a rubber mallet) and the action is stiff. I have shot it and taken it hunting quite a bit and thoroughly enjoy it, the action is smoothing up with use. The second can be taken down and reassembled by hand, the action is smooth and the trigger is not bad at all, I haven’t shot it yet. Also, the grip on the second is a very nice piece of walnut with good striping – almost like a fancy upgrade – while the first is very plain.
Regarding the comment in the article about the cylinders exploding: Some sources say a third of the Walker’s had this problem, but now some researchers believe that the number includes cylinders rejected due to manufacturing flaws that were never actually issued. Also, some researchers believe that the cylinders exploded because the troops loaded the conical Picket bullets upside down, in effect they created a shaped charge that blew out the cylinder walls. Many troops were unfamiliar with conical bullets and loaded them point down.
The Walkers chambers were so large that it was an easy matter to load an excessive amount of powder into them this was corrected with the introduction of the Colt Dragoon. Loaded correctly the Walker was not a problematical pistol other than the poorly fastened under barrell ram rod which had a habit of dropping down as the gun fired & recoiled thus preventing the cylinder indexing the next round, again a redesigned catch was fitted to the Dragoon.
You’re right. I forgot to mention that the troopers also thought that more is better and tried to cram as much powder into the cylinder as they could, causing some of the bursting issues.
I’ve seen a lot of reviews of the Uberti Walker where people complain about the loading lever dropping – to me that simply means that Uberti has attempted to make a true copy of the original, flaws and all. I tie my loading lever up with a piece of rawhide as many of the old timers did.
I looked at a Walker today for future purchase. I have owned and fired regularly a Pieta Colt army for a year now. I have been experimenting with a cleaning technique using kerosene. I remove the walnut handles, perform a basic but not complete disassembly, soak the components in a vat of aforementioned kerosene and watch the buildup float away. I use the usual kit brushes to remove the build up that remains. I allow the kerosene to dry off, reassemble the components, and apply light gun grease or even bore butter to moving parts and rub the whole assembly down with bore butter before storage. Upon inspection some days or even weeks later, I cannot find any deterioration. I tried kerosene for two reasons: Kerosene is an old mechanics remedy used for almost all rust, buildup and stuck parts repair. My mechanic forebears used it on everything. I also do my cleaning on a weathered wooden table under a maple tree while I imagine a ninteenth century shooter trying the same technique if kerosene were plentiful.
They call that kerosene… WD-40
Just ordered myself the Uberti 1847 and to say I’m a little excited about it would be a major understatement! I reckon she’s sure gonna be a hella handful but then again, what gal ain’t?!!
Does anyone have the exact length of the Walker cylinder handy, I wanted to compare the lengths of the Walker against the 1858 Remington
I’ve had a few black powder repro revolvers, mostly, maybe all, .36 calibers. I also have a couple of original Colts, also in .36. I’ve always wanted one of the Walker repros, and I ran across one at a very reasonable price at a pawn shop today. MD, where I live, allows one to hunt deer with a cap and ball revolver that holds at least 40 grains of powder. For a Walker, that’s called an underload.
How do i find out if my old colt is real and not an uberti
There were only 1100 Colt Walkers produced. So, if you have one without knowing it’s an original Colt Walker, more than likely it’s a replica. It’d be like winning the lotto if was a “real” Colt Walker.
With that said, if you lift the loading lever, and you see writing on the barrel, you know you have an Uberti.
I have an Uberti Walker, and I can say it’s a huge gun. I don’t think anyone can quite appreciate how big and heavy this gun is by simply seeing videos or pictures. It dwarfs any modern pistol put beside it. Also, the 4.5 lbs. of steel at the end of your hand feels more like double that weight when shooting it. It’s a heavy gun. I think the weight is amplified by the relative small slender grip of this old black powder revolver. I wonder if that has to do with the relative small size of men in the 19th century (?). In any case, this is a huge, heavy, gun that one has to experience.
I bought two uberti walkers and immediately converted both with Kirst cylinders. Cost a bit and a “blast” to do the drilling etc, but worth every cent. Going to the range is a lot of fun when shooting. Draws a big audience especially when they see how accurate these Walkers are. I use the cowboy loads 45LC 200 grain. Recoil is very moderate about the same as 44 special. Highly recommend this to all you western revolver buffs!