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The Colt 1851 Navy Revolver and Colt Single Action Army, or Colt Peacemaker are single-action revolvers used extensively in the United States during the latter half of the 19th Century. Together, they were the Mid-Range weapons of the Jesse James gang, while the 1873 Colt Peacemaker was the Mid-Range weapon of Crazy Horse. The Colt Bisley revolver was also the Mid-Range weapon of Pancho Villa.

Colt 1851 Navy Revolver

Colt 1851 Navy Revolver
  • Range: 100 yards
  • Ammo: .36, .38 and .45
  • Magazine: 6 rounds
  • Weight: 1191 g (42 oz)
  • Length: 355.6 mm (14 in)
  • Action: Single Action revolver
  • Users: Jesse James gang

Colt Single-Action Army Revolver

Colt Model 1873 Single Action Army
  • Range: 50 yards
  • Weight: 2 lbs, 5 oz
  • Length: 13 inches
  • Cartridge: .45 Colt
  • Action: Single Action revolver
  • Feed System: 6-shot Cylinder
  • Users: Jesse James Gang, Crazy Horse and Lokota Warriors (model 1873).


Before pistols had magazines and multiple rounds; the only way to have a high rate of fire was to use multiple pre-loaded guns. Sailors and Pirates of the Age of Sail would carry multiple pistols on belts and bandoliers so that they could fire multiple rounds without using a gun-magazine. Since Sailors fought on cramp ships; it was easy to engage in close-range shootouts. Most Musketeers carried only one or two pistols at a time, as pistols were so short ranged that they would have to somehow get close enough to the enemy Musketeer without getting shot by their musket; so being weighed down by multiple pistols didn't make sense on an open field.

Volley Pistols were the first pistols capable of firing multiple rounds. It did this by having multiple barrels; and so could load ball and powder in each individual barrel. However most volley guns were heavy, bulky and had uneven weight distribution. It was also difficult to aim since only one barrel could precisely target an opponent while the rest would normally be aiming somewhere else. Most Volley Pistols had only one trigger mechanism, so all barrels would fire at once. Since shotguns were effectively identical, but more accurate, the volley pistols were unpopular with most soldiers. The Nock gun was able to fire its barrels individually, using a revolver mechanism to make the barrels rotate, akin to a Gatling Gun. However the gun was so massive that it was unpopular due to its weight and price. [1]

Revolver mechanisms have existed since the late 1500s (believed to have originated in modern day Germany); but most designs were prototypes that were too expensive, unreliable, complicated or dangerous to be used effectively.

Elisha Collier patented a flintlock revolver mechanism in 1814. This is seen as one of the first modern prototypes of a revolver pistol, although Collier designed revolver rifles as well. The flintlock mechanism was seen as unreliable and frail, and so were not seen as useful before the introduction of the percussion cap.

Jonathan Browning (father of John Moses Browning) is credited for inventing the Harmonica Gun in 1834. It had a metal horizontal magazine that could be moved left or right to load new rounds. However the weight of the magazine made the pistol unbalanced. The 'harmonica' also had to be moved by hand. Both flaws made the Harmonica magazine quickly replaced by the revolver magazines.

The first commercially available revolver was the 1836 Colt Paterson, designed by Samuel Colt and produced by Patent Arms Company. The cylinder had only 5 rounds and needed to disassemble the barrel to reload; however, after some modifications, the Paterson was a commercial success. The 1847 Colt Walker replaced the Paterson. The Walker became very popular, due to its larger .44 ball caliber: it would be the largest revolver until the introduction of the .44 Magnum in 1950s. The Walker needed to have the gunpowder, ball and percussion cap each individually reloaded to load just one chamber; however since this pistol had 6 chambers, it could fire 6 rounds before reloading: still giving a significant advantage against one-shot muskets. The revolver was so popular that the average revolver was used until it became significantly worn or beyond repair.

The Colt 1851 Navy Revolver replaced the Black Powder ammo of previous models with Percussion Cap-And-Ball; making it faster to reload and water resistant. Cartridges contained the firing pin, powder and lead round simultaneously; allowing for faster and easier reloading compared to muzzle-loading guns. It was also popular with cowboys thanks to its light-weight and holster design; allowing a smooth and fast quick-draw. Colt's successful designs led to the creation of the Colt's Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company in 1855. The effectiveness of revolvers on horseback were famously used within the American Civil War. Horsemen, like Jessie James, would launch guerrilla or flanking maneuvers to ambush enemy musketeers and use the revolver's superior rate-of-fire to deal heavy casualties. By the time the guns ran out of ammo, the damage was done and the horsemen would fall-back to reload. Colt Revolvers were commonly used by Cavalry units and officers as the newly introduced cartridges were too expensive for private soldiers.

The rapidfire capabilities of the Colt revolvers, coupled with their decent accuracy in the hands of an expert, made these firearms a must-have for any lawman or outlaw. Thanks to Colt's aggressive marketing, their revolvers saw widespread use around the world, and remained popular even as more modern cartridge revolvers were introduced. The Colt did have some problems though; the cartridges were often of medicore quality at best, and often caused the gun to jam. The gun is also clumsy, and time consuming to reaload. In addition to Jesse James, they boasted many other famous users, including Wild West lawmen "Wild Bill" Hickok and Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, John Wesley Hardin, Tom Horn, Australian bushranger and outlaw Ned Kelly, and lawmen Bass Reeves.

One of the most effective and unique revolvers of the Civil War was the muzzle-loading Confederate LeMat. It had 9 chambers: with one in the center designed to fire shotgun shot. The majority of Confederate gun factories were seized by the union and either disabled indefinitely or upgraded to produce cartridge guns. Cartridge LeMats were produced after the war, but never could compete commercially to the famous Colts.

The 1873 Colt Single Action Army (aka the Peace Maker) was one of the most popular revolvers in American history. The .44-40 Winchester rounds could be used for both the revolver and a Winchester Rifle; meaning that an owner of both guns can save on costs by buying only one type of ammunition instead of two. These bullets, when fired from the 1873 Colt, would tumble inside the flesh of the target: causing more damage than a smooth penetration.

Since the 1870s was at the peak of the American-Indian Wars; Native Americans like Crazy Horse would be buying or stealing revolvers like the 1873 Colt very frequently.

The 1880s and 1890s saw several prototypes for a semi-automatic pistol; most noticably the Salvator Dormus 1891 and the Schönberger-Laumann 1892. The Borchardt C-93 (made in 1893) was the first semi-auto mass produced and led to the Mauser C96 and Luger 98 Pistols designed in 1896 & 1898. Semi-auto pistols were easier to reload and could hold more rounds than revolvers. Revolvers are still used today, but are less popular than semi-autos.


In Jesse James vs Al Capone

Jesse James' Colt 1851 variant pistols were tested in a recreation of a 19th-century bank, where they expended 12 rounds and made three multiple-hit kills in under seven seconds, with a drawing time of one quarter second. Among the recorded kills was a bullet wound through the cheekbone and brain stem, and a bullet wound which severed the left ventricle. The Colt 1851 pistols were also tested on horseback simulating the vehicles of his time. The Colt pistols shot three of the five targets, two kill shots and a disarming arm wound. The edge was given to the Thompson due to its ability to put more rounds into its targets.

In Crazy Horse vs Pancho Villa

The Colt Bisley was tested against the 1873 Colt in ballistics performance and eliminating five targets with six rounds without hitting a horse. The Colt Bisley had a muzzle velocity of 1168 fps while the Colt 1873 had a muzzle velocity of 997 fps but caused more internal damage. In the second test, both guns had a 5/6 hit ratio with the 1873 Colt scoring a 3/5 kill ratio in 21s to the Colt Bisley's 2/5 kill ratio in 17s. The edge was given to the 1873 Colt for its longer barrel and higher damage.