THE FIRST FORTY-FOURS

DEFINING A .44   

 BY JOHN TAFFIN

Just what is a .44?  Now that may be a strange question to begin a book on .44s, however it is quite valid as there are very few, if any, true firearms that actually use a bullet or ball measuring .440” in diameter. One of the few to do so, with a barrel groove diameter of .439” and actually using a .440” bullet is not even called a .44, but is rather known as the .43 Spanish. It gets even stranger. Looking at .44-40 chambered sixguns of the 1870-1880s from three different manufacturers, I have three pre-WWI Colts and a Merwin,Hulbert with chamber throats measuring .424” while a Smith & Wesson Double Action Frontier is found with cylinder chamber throats at .426”, and I once had a Colt Bisley Model, also pre-WWI, that measured .433”; that is a lot of difference for firearms firing the same cartridge.

For our purposes here we will consider any firearms to be a .44 if it is called such or it uses bullets of the size normally used in the firearms considered to be .44s. The earliest .44 sixguns were the percussion revolvers from Colt and Remington; these sixguns which were and are considered to be .44s used round balls measuring anywhere from .451” to .457” in diameter. Strangely enough the Ruger Old Army, which uses the same size round balls, is cataloged by Ruger as a .45. Colt's first cartridge firing revolvers, the Cartridge Conversions and the 1871-72 Open-Tops were chambered in .44 Colt which used a heeled bullet of .449”-.451” in diameter. Currently most revolvers chambered in .44 Special or .44 Magnum uses bullets measuring .429”-431”, so if we wanted to be mathematically correct they are actually the .43 Special and .43 Magnum. I do believe I like .44 much better than .43 as it almost has a sixgunning spiritual ring to it. Currently produced revolvers chambered in .44 Colt or .44 Russian generally use the same bullet diameter as the Special and Magnum; however all bets are off when it comes to the .44-40 or .44 WCF (Winchester Centerfire). Actually whether from the 19th-century or the 21st century or in between, a .44-40 may need a bullet as small as .424” or accept one as large as .433”, and that is why those who cast their own bullets keep sizing dies covering a large range; and mine do run from .424” to .433”. My rule of thumb when reloading any .44 cartridges is to use the largest diameter bullet which will fit the chamber mouths in the case of a revolver, and the largest bullet which will feed and chamber in a rifle. 

The current edition of Cartridges Of The World, a book every shooter should have, lists thirty-one cartridges as .44s and they don't even list such wildcats as the .444 Schafer Magnum, the .44 Ultramag, and the .44 Rhino, nor do we find the .43 Spanish or the .430 JDJ. The European equivalent of our .44 is 11mm and we find twenty-three of these listed. Of the thirty-one cartridges identified as .44s, twenty of them are classified as Obsolete Rifle with only two being currently used today, the .44-77 and .44-90 Sharps. With so many .44 caliber firearms produced both in United States and elsewhere over the past 150+ years we have to do some judicious trimming of such a long list. With but few exceptions we will be looking at those cartridges still in use today, a few wildcats, and such important first .44s as found chambered in the 1860 Henry and the Smith & Wesson American of 1869. Add in the .44 cap-and-ball revolvers and we have a long but workable list of .44s for this volume. So with all this in mind we begin at the beginning in 1847.  

 

CHAPTER 1. THE PERCUSSION REVOLVERS (1847-1860)

THE COLT WALKER OF 1847

"In 1814 we took a little trip along with Col. Jackson down the mighty Mississipp”; so sang Johnny Horton in his hit recording of The Battle of New Orleans. The same year as this battle another momentous occasion took place hundreds of miles north in Hartford Connecticut as Sarah presented her husband Christopher with a son they named Samuel. Three years later another Samuel was born and both Sams were destined to cross paths. Those two Sams were Samuel Colt and Samuel Walker respectively. Sam Colt developed an early interest in firearms and explosives and the legend says by the time he was six years old he had dismantled an old single-shot pistol and re-built it with acquired parts from other broken pistols. Years later while attending Amherst Academy, Sam Colt got in trouble with his professors for actually shooting this old gun.

By now Sam was interested in explosives as well and passed out a handbill proclaiming, "Sam’l Colt Will Blow a Raft Sky-High on Ware Pond, July 4th, 1829". The experiment was pretty much a failure, however Sam did manage to cover the spectators with mud and water. One year later Sam shipped out on the brig Corvo to begin training as a navigator and ship’s officer. Something else was definitely waiting to influence Sam and change his direction. While watching the ship’s wheel being rotated and then locked into place, Sam got an idea. Using his pocket knife he made a wooden model of a revolver. One year before Sam was born Elisha Collier patented a revolving flintlock pistol in England and some were actually used by British troops in India, however it is doubtful Sam ever saw Collier's invention plus he took his idea even further using the locking mechanism idea of the ship's wheel and equipping his revolver with a pawl and ratchet. In 1836 Sam's idea became the Colt Paterson.

The Paterson, so named for the factory at Paterson New Jersey, was a five-shot affair with a revolving cylinder usually in .28, .31, .34, or .40 caliber. As with all subsequent percussion revolvers it was loaded from the front with powder and ball and then primed at the back of the cylinder with a percussion cap. However, unlike subsequent Colt revolvers, the Paterson did not have a trigger guard and a folding trigger came down as the hammer was cocked. In spite of being very fragile it was still a tremendous improvement over single-shot pistols. Now a Texas Ranger carrying two pistols had 10 shots instead of two.

The most famous story surrounding the Paterson concerns a small band of Texas Rangers, probably 15 in number, led by Major John Coffee "Jack" Hays. While patrolling, Hays’ Rangers encountered a large band of Comanches west of San Antonio in the Nueces Canyon. The Indians were prepared to make short work of the invading Rangers. One of those Rangers was Sam Walker who would write of the revolvers to Sam Colt, "The Texans who have learned their value by practical experience, their confidence in them is unbounded, so much so that they are willing to engage four times their number.  In the summer of 1844 Col. J C Hays with 15 men fought about 80 Comanche Indians, only attacking them upon their own ground, killing and wounding about half their number. Up to this time these daring Indians had always supposed themselves superior to us, man-to-man, on horse… result of this engagement was such as to intimidate them…"

Sam Walker was definitely a master of understatement!  The repeating firearms of Sam Colt and later Oliver Winchester spelled the end of Indian dominance in Texas. Walker went on as he speaks again of Colt's Paterson, "With improvements I think they can be rendered the most perfect weapon in the world for light mounted troops which is the only efficient troops that can be placed upon our extensive Frontier to keep the various warlike tribes of Indians and maurauding Mexicans in subjection.  The people throughout Texas are anxious to procure your pistols & I doubt not you would find sale for large number at this time."    

By 1845, Congress had annexed the Republic of Texas making war with Mexico a foregone conclusion and the Texans who had been fighting Mexico alone finally received federal help as General Zachary Taylor arrived in Corpus Christi with about 3,500 mounted troops. Both Taylor and many of his officers had used the Colt Paterson in the war against the Seminoles in Florida. Taylor gathered all the Colt repeaters he could find, however by this time Colt was bankrupt and the Paterson factory was closed. The Texas Rangers were drafted into United States service with two of those Rangers being Jack Hays and Samuel Walker. In 1846 Taylor sent then Captain Walker back to recruit volunteers from Maryland as well as acquire more Colt revolvers.

Colt had no factory, no machinery, no working models, and no money, however he did possess what many have come to call Yankee Ingenuity. He made an improved working model from memory and in late 1846 Sam Walker ordered 1,000 "heavy" revolvers complete with several improvements. These were to be true sixguns, six-shot, nine-inch barrels, and in .44 caliber. Colt contacted Eli Whitney Jr. who did have a factory and the agreement was made for Whitney to produce the Colt revolver, which became known as the Model of 1847 Army Pistol, or more commonly, the Whitneyville Walker. The Walker literally dwarfed the sleek little Paterson. It weighed four and one-half pounds, with a much larger grip, square -backed brass trigger guard, and a loading lever mounted under the barrel. The first Walker sixguns would be delivered in July of 1847 however they would not reach Texas until much later in the year. Colt had presented Walker with a matched pair of Whitneyville Walkers and he was using these when commanding his force of 250 men against 1,600 Mexicans in the town of Huamantla. Walker was killed in this battle on October 9, 1847. The fighting had basically ceased by November and a peace treaty was signed in February 1848 with very few of the Colt Walkers actually seeing service in the war with Mexico. Sam Walker was dead however Sam Colt and his company were now solidly based.

Walker held his Colts in high esteem saying they were good on man or beast out to 200 yards. However, the Walker Colt would be short-lived and more improvements would soon arrive for as effective as it was it had two major drawbacks.  As stated earlier Walkers were huge sixguns with nine-inch barrels and weighing four and one-half pounds plus. Issued to the Rangers in pairs they were very heavy and cumbersome sixguns. I would not be afraid to bet the first two-handed use of a sixgun began with the Walker Colt. Walkers are not only so heavy they are very difficult to use especially one-handed, a second problem is the loading lever often drops upon recoil. Genuine Walkers are rare and very expensive, however I have had considerable shooting experience with four replicas and they are authentic down to the point of having loading levers drop when the Walker is fired with a full house load of 50 or more grains of black powder.

I have had “experience” with one real Walker Colt. Diamond Dot and I were in the process of buying an original Smith & Wesson New Model #3; actually she was doing the buying and bargaining as she is much better at it than I am. She had succeeded in having the price dropped by nearly 15 percent. The deal was finalized and as we took possession of our new treasure the owner said he had something he wanted to show me. He related “an old revolver” had been brought in for repair and thought I might be interested in seeing it. The repair requested was simply to loosen the screws, as the owner could not get them to budge. After I saw the revolver I could understand why. They may have never been turned since the gun was originally manufactured.

As I looked at it, my first thought was it was a replica like so many available; however, this one seemed somehow different. Earlier in the year I had seen detailed photos of a “replica” purchased in an Arizona gun shop for $200. It had lain among the other replicas for several months before being purchased. When the new owner started really examining it, he also sensed something different. On closer scrutiny and examination he discovered the replica he had purchased was actually an original Colt percussion revolver in excellent shape. It had resided in that gun shop for all that time and even the shop owner did not realize what it was. Could lightning strike twice?

The  .44 cap and ball revolver discovered in Arizona was an original Walker dating all the way back to the 1840s. Now I was actually holding what could be the second original Walker I encountered in the same year. This second version was simply handed to me with nothing said. As I look at it, fondled it, rotated it in my hands, I suddenly realized what I was probably holding. Looking at the shop owner, my “It can’t be, can it?” was answered with a smile and a “Yes, I believe it really is.” I could not come up with anything better than the well used cliché “If only it could talk” as I handled this Walker marked “Company B” and “No 71.” Although it showed typical old age marks, the sixgun before me was in excellent shape including the interior of both barrel and cylinder. Was I actually holding a revolver used by a Texas Ranger during the Mexican War? Had this revolver actually been fired in anger by someone driven by the battle cry of “Remember the Alamo”? Was this huge sixgun used to insure Texas would be part of the United States? Was it really an original Walker?

I am no expert when it comes to antique firearms, however everything seemed right with this sixgun. As the gunsmith said, “If it’s a fake they still had to start with a real Walker. It is definitely not a replica frame.” The owner had brought it in to simply have the screws loosened as they had been nearly welded in by time. The repair bill on this virtually invaluable piece of history was $40.

Where did it come from? The owner said his grandfather acquired it from an old black gentlemen who remembered well that his grandfather kept it on the top shelf of the closet. Was it used in the Civil War? Was it carried by someone on the North or South side? How did the first grandfather take possession of it? Was it carried by one of the Buffalo Soldiers who perhaps got it from one of his relatives who had been a slave? We will probably never know. I do know it was a wonderful rare privilege for me to actually be able to handle such a valued piece of our nation’s history.

How powerful were the Walker Colts? Using an ASM 1847 Walker with .454" Speer round balls, CCI #11 Caps over 55 grains of Goex FFFg with a lubed Thompson Wad in between powder and ball results in a muzzle velocity of 1,224 fps and places five shots into 1 1/4" at fifty feet; the Texas Rangers were definitely well armed.

THE COLT DRAGOONS

Recall when Sam Walker approached Sam Colt with the idea of improving and enlarging the Patterson, Colt had no money, no working model, no machinery, and no factory. That was soon to change. As the first contract for Walkers was filled Colt no longer needed Whitney and the machinery went to Colt as per agreement. In July 1847 Sam Colt informed the government, “The encouragement I feel from the recommendation and acquisitions of the officers in Mexico for my new model pistols that a large number of them may be required for our troops, has introduced me to establish an armory at Hartford sufficiently extensive to supply from four to five thousand a year, and I shall hereafter be in better condition to enter orders on short notice.”

It apparently took Colt awhile to get everything established in his new factory as one year later he had only delivered 260 revolvers, however the full order of 1,000 was filled by late summer and Colt was well-established. The first Walkers had been built in someone else's factory on someone else's machinery and with someone else in charge; now Colt had his own factory, the perfected machinery was his, and he was totally in charge. Parts were now built uniformly making it much easier to interchange parts and make repairs resulting in a marked improvement in quality and Colt the man and Colt the factory where both well on their way to the reputation of producing high-quality single action revolvers right up to the eve of World War II. 

It was also time to improve the Walker Colt. Several changes were made. The barrel length was shortened to 7 1/2”, the cylinder shortened to accept a charge of 40 grains of black powder, and the weight was slightly over four pounds. The frame size was maintained so with the shorter cylinder there was more room between the front of the cylinder and the barrel assembly. The grip was also changed and now had the familiar 90- degree cut at the top of the grip frame found on virtually all single action sixguns produced since 1848. The working mechanism was also changed drastically since the days of the Paterson from 17 parts to five parts; the same basic parts used in currently produced traditional single actions as built by Colt, United States Firearms, and Uberti.

The first of the improved design sixguns became known as the Dragoons. The greatest improvement in going from the Walker to the Dragoon was found in the loading lever. All Dragoons had a spring-loaded catch at the end of the loading lever which latches into a lug under the barrel. The problem of the loading lever releasing and falling down when the Colt was fired had now been solved.

Dragoons, as Walkers, were issued in pairs and by 1850 with one shoulder stock. Army regulations of 1858 proclaimed, “Two pistols and one stock for each man; one pistol in holster on belt, one pistol in holster on saddle, and stock on left rear side of saddle." That is a little different than the normally accepted idea of both Dragoons being carried in pommel holsters. The regulation way certainly makes sense for if a soldier was separated from his mount he was not left unarmed.  Some of the Dragoons issued with shoulder stocks also had a folding three-leaf rear sight on top of the back end of the barrel instead of relying on the V-notch mated up with the front sight when the hammer was cocked.

Legend tells us Rangers terrified the Comanches by charging them on horseback, screaming like a banshee all the while shooting a pair of .44 Colts. Now this is hard to believe. It took a man with two very strong arms and deadly aim, a great rider, an even greater horse, and an overabundance of guts. Yes, very hard to believe but then again Rangers were not ordinary men. They were always stretched to the limit and beyond on the frontier but they persevered mightily. My mind may rebel, but my spirit, heart, and soul believes the legend.

Dragoons would be produced from 1848 right up to the advent of the next improved .44 in 1860. There are basically three models of Dragoons with some overlapping due to availability of parts; Colt was never one to waste parts. The First Model had a square back trigger guard, round cylinder stop notches, no pins between the nipples on the back of the cylinder, and there was no roller on the hammer where it made contact with the mainspring. With the arrival of the Second Model Dragoon in 1849, the trigger guard had been changed to the now familiar round shape, cylinder stop notches also gained the familiar and traditional rectangular shape, a roller was placed on the hammer to contact the mainspring allowing it to slide easily as the hammer was cocked, and pins were placed on the back of the cylinder between the nipples. These pins matched up with a hole in the hammer to allow the carrying of the Dragoon with all six chambers loaded without having to let the hammer down on a percussion cap. I feel much better with the Remington and Ruger Old Army solution which is a notch between chambers to accept the hammer and lock it in place. ALL traditional single actions without a transfer bar safety and made to accept fixed ammunition SHOULD always be carried with the hammer down on an empty chamber. This is the only safe way to carry the traditional single action sixgun.

The Third Model Dragoons were made to accept a shoulder stock with notches on both sides of the recoil shield and at the back bottom of the butt along with protruding screwheads on both sides of the frame. The shoulder stock was locked into this affair and then tightened with a rather large circular nut on the top of the shoulder stock behind the grip frame. Dragoons would be produced slightly over ten years or until 1860 when the last improved .44 percussion Colt revolver arrived.

It is a rare individual who has an original Dragoon at his disposal, however quality replicas have been available for several decades now. Using the Uberti 1851 Third Model Dragoon with .454" Speer round balls and CCI Speer #11 caps my best results have been obtained by pushing the Dragoon a little using 50 grains instead of 40 grains of powder. With 50 grains of Goex  FFFg and Crisco placed over the seated ball to fill out the cylinder, muzzle velocity is 988 fps with five shots grouping into 1 1/4" at 50 feet.  Switching to Pyrodex P using the same charge and lubing with Crisco also, muzzle velocity is 955 fps with five shots grouping into 1 3/8" at 50 feet. So basically the results are the same with black powder or Pyrodex. Charges below 50 grains resulted in groups in the 2 1/2” to 3” neighborhood.

THE COLT 1860 ARMY

The Paterson, the Walker and the various Dragoons were all great improvements over the single-shot pistols in use before Sam Colt arrived on the scene, however life is full of trade-offs. The Paterson was light and easy to pack but somewhat lacking in power; while the Walker and Dragoons had plenty of power their four pound plus weight made most shooters hesitate to carry one, much less a pair, all day and they were more than a little heavy for fast work from a holster. The next sixgun in Colt’s line would begin a new age. The advent of the 1851 Navy .36 introduced a truly packable, 2 1/2 pound sixgun, which could be carried high on the belt securely in a Slim Jim holster and be nearly instantly accessible. With the entrance of this scaled-down Dragoon, a man was as dangerous with his sixgun in a properly designed holster, as he was with the sixgun in his hand. Perhaps even moreso as any practised sixgunner can draw and fire a single action sixgun fast­er than the average person can react.

For the first time real speed from leather was possible. The age of the gunfighter had arrived! That most notorious pistolero Wild Bill Hickok still carried a pair of cap-n-ball sixguns when he was shot from behind in 1876. He certainly could have laid his hands upon the Colt Single Action Army .45 or a Smith & Wesson .44, however he still preferred a pair of Colt 1851 Navies. As beautifully proportioned as the 1851 Navy was it was still a rather small bore pistol and Hickok was a deadly marksman with virtually no fear so much so that the .36 was all he needed; however, there was a real need for the same type of design shooting a .44 ball. It was time for Yankee Ingenuity to come up with the solution and Sam Colt and Elisha Root worked together with the result in 1860, on the eve of the War Between the States, being what I consider the apex of Colt's cap-n-ball sixguns.  The 1851 Navy was perfect for holster use but carried a small payload; now metallurgy had improved to the point Colt could use the same frame size as the 1851 Navy to make a .44 sixgun. This was accomplished by using a two-step cylinder, smaller at the back than at the front, with a cutout at the front of the frame to accept the larger cylinder and by doing so it was possible to come up with a .44 caliber revolver which was almost as trim as the 1851 Navy. Basically, the Colt 1860 Army .44 carries a Dragoon size grip frame on a Navy main frame and with the rebated cylinder larger at the front is able to hold a full 40 grains of black powder under a .44 caliber ball. The barrel length was eight inches, the loading lever was streamlined to flow naturally into the frame rather than having the blocky appearance of the 1851 Navy, and the grip frame was made slightly longer to handle recoil. Curiously enough, in 1873 when Colt went to the Peacemaker chambered in .45 Colt instead of using the more recoil comfortable 1860 Army grip frame they reverted back to the grip frame of the 1851 Navy.

The New Model Army Pistol, known to collectors and shooters as the 1860 Army, weighed 43 ounces, or just three ounces over 2 1/2 pounds. This was quite a savings in weight compared to the 4-4 1/2 pounds of the Walker and Dragoons. The 1860 Army was tested by a board of Army officers and in May of 1860 they announced, "The superiority of the Colt revolver, as an arm for cavalry service, which has been so well-established, is now finally confirmed by the production of the New Model with the 8 inch barrel.  There are a few minor points requiring modification, to which the manufacturer’s notice has been called, and to which he should be required to attend in any arms of the kind he may furnish for government use….  The Board are satisfied that the New Model Revolver with the 8 inch barrel will make the most superior cavalry arm we have ever had and they recommend the adoption of this New Model and its issue to all amounted troops."

From 1861 to 1866 the Ordnance Department would purchase nearly 130,000 New Model Revolvers and the civilian population also enthusiastically bought the new .44 all of which combined to place the Colt factory on very solid footing and make Sam Colt a rich man. In one of life’s strange twists and turns, the head of the Army Board which improved the adoption of the 1860 Army for mounted troops would very shortly find himself on the side of the Confederacy which now faced the new revolvers in the hands of the Northern troops. The only way the South could acquire 1860s was by taking them off  Northern soldiers. The 1860 would live on after the Civil War finding much use on the frontier and even after fixed ammunition revolvers were adopted, the famed Buffalo Soliders were armed with 1860 Army Colts.

Sam Colt had proven to be a genius when it comes to firearms. In addition to the Paterson, the Walker, Dragoons, the 1851 Navy, and the 1860 Army, there were various other smaller pistols such as the models 1848, 1849, and 1862 New Police along with the last six shot percussion revolver from Colt, the 1861 Navy. However, Colt made one major mistake. In 1857 Smith & Wesson had introduced the first cartridge-firing revolver, very small, seven-shot, tip-up pistol chambered in .22 Rimfire. Colt decided shooters would always want to load their own with powder, ball, and cap and foolishly wrote off the fixed ammunition revolvers as a passing fad. When he died in 1862 the Colt factory was committed to a future of percussion revolver production. This worked fine throughout the Civil War period, however by the end of the 1860s they would be caught living in the past as the future was determined by the introduction of the first big bore fixed ammunition revolver from Smith & Wesson.

When I first started shooting sixguns seriously in the mid-1950s Colt single action revolvers, both percussion and fixed ammunition style were readily available and usually priced under $100 for mechanically sound shooters. In 1956 I paid $90 for a beautiful 1860 Army and then made two horrible mistakes. First, I re-blued it and then I traded it for a brand new Ruger .357 Blackhawk. Since that time I have had considerable experience with replica 1860s and now just this past month another genuine 1860 Army is back in my hands thanks to Diamond Dot finding one at a recent gun show. It only cost 10 times more than the one purchased 50 years earlier.

Using an EMF replica 1860 Army with .451" Speer round balls, CCI #11 percussion caps and 35 grains of Pyrodex P black powder substitute, with Crisco as a ball over lube results in 902 fps and five-shot group at 50 feet of 1 7/8”.

 

THE 1858 REMINGTON

            "It never failed me.” So said William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody of his Remington New Model Army .44. Cody's experience with his .44 Remington began in 1863 when he joined the Union Army and lasted until 1906 when he wrote a note on the back of his business card and gave it and the Remington to his ranch foreman and his wife. Cody testified he had used it for many years both while fighting Indians and killing buffalo and it had never let him down. Cody’s Remington was a standard New Model Army serial number 73,293, blued finish and fitted with ivory grips. At a time when almost every other famous or infamous frontier character was using a Colt, Cody stands out as one of the few who is reported as carrying a Remington.

            If I had lived at that time I wonder if I would have chosen the Remington Army .44 or the Colt Army .44? Looking back from my vantage point now I see the Remington is definitely superior in design. Colt's 1860 Army consisted of a mainframe with a removable barrel assembly, trigger guard, and backstrap; add in the cylinder and it is made up of five main pieces. The Remington was a solid affair with only the cylinder easily removable, the barrel solidly screwed into the frame, and the entire grip frame simply an extension of the mainframe. However, at least in my hands, the 1860 Army has two major advantages, the grip frame is much more comfortable, and the balance also seems to be much better. My fingers are pinched between the back of the trigger guard and the front strap on the Remington design and, again for me, the 1860 Army point shoots much easier than the Remington.

            Two years after Sam Colt was born, Eli Remington made his first rifle barrel. The company he started became E. Remington & Son in 1839, and as another son joined the business, Remington became E. Remington & Sons in 1845. All of this makes Remington America's oldest gunmaker. Not only does Remington pre-date Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Winchester they also produced a much larger assortment of both handguns and long guns.

            The Colt 1860 Army is usually considered as THE Union Army revolver during the Civil War. However, Colt accounted for 39% of the firearms purchased by the government from 1861-1866 while Remington was right behind them with 35% of the total. Remington supplied the Union forces with slightly over 125,000 .44 caliber revolvers. And a time the Colt was selling to the government for just under $18, Remingtons where $13. It would be interesting in know how much each revolver actually cost to produce to really be able to compare these two figures. My guess is Colt made a whole lot more profit off the war than did Remington.

            The Remington design comes from a patent held by Fordyce Beals. The first Beals’ revolvers were pocket style with the Army .44 arriving in 1858. This was improved to the 1861 Army and then the New Model Army .44 arriving in 1863. With the Model of 1863 it was necessary to lower the loading lever to be able to draw the base forward and the base pin could only be drawn forward far enough to remove the cylinder. A new feature was the addition of notches cut between the nipples at the back of the cylinder to provide a resting place for the hammer nose instead of on a loaded chamber. Allowing the hammer of any single action revolver to rest on a cap on a loaded cylinder percussion revolver, or on the primer of a loaded round in a revolver made for fixed ammunition, or using the so-called “safety” notch on the hammer with all chambers loaded are all invitations to disaster. Never, n-e-v-e-r, ever trust the so-called safety notch or allow the hammer to rest on a loaded chamber.

            Replicas of Remingtons available today are designated as the Model of 1858 when they are actually closer to the Model of 1863. However one chooses to designate them they are well-made accurate sixguns and like so many other replicas available today provide us with a great link to the past. The Navy Arms Deluxe 1858 Remington has proven to be an exceptionally accurate revolver often outshooting currently produced “modern” revolvers. For this particular percussion sixgun I use .454" Speer round balls and Remington #10 percussion caps.  With 30 grains of Goex  FFFg over a Thompson Wad, muzzle velocity is 752 fps with a five-shot group at 50 feet of 1 1/4", while stepping up to 40 grains of the same powder with Crisco as a lube results in 1053 fps and a slightly tighter group of 1 1/8". Pyrodex P also performs exceptionally well with

30 grains and a Thompson Wad resulting in 648 fps and a 1" group while 35 grains with Crisco as a lube increases the muzzle velocity to 822 fps and tightens the group to 3/4". All charges are by volume not by weight.

            The peak time of both the gunfighter and the large cattle drives was during the era in which the cap-n-ball sixgun was king. This was the four year period directly after the Civil War prior to the first big bore cartridge sixguns from Smith & Wesson and which also began eight years before the Colt Single Action arrived upon the scene. From 1847 until 1869, the only big bore sixguns available were cap-n-ball sixguns. And although Smith & Wesson brought forth the first big bore single action sixgun in 1869, soon to be followed by the Colt and Remington, everyone did not rush down to their local gunstore to trade in a perfectly good and trustworthy sixgun for one of the newfangled cartridge guns. Many stayed with their cap-n-ball sixguns, while others simply had their Remington and Colt revolvers converted to brass cartridges.

            On the one hand there are those who say that black powder is messy and not worth bothering with while at the other extreme 100% black powder traditionalists maintain that smokeless powder is just a passing fad. I won't accept either position but land somewhere in the middle. Black powder is worth the time and effort, however I also enjoy smokeless powder sixguns immensely. Shooting black powder sixguns is almost a spiritual experience. From the time of the first adventurers to land on the shores of the Atlantic, through the settling of this country east of the Rockies, to the opening and subsequent taming of the West, a period of nearly three hundred years, all weapons used black powder. It is therefore easy to see that smokeless powder is a Johnny-come-lately leaving the shooting of the frontier sixguns as a soul stirring experience connecting with our roots as we enjoy black powder.

            All cap-n-ball sixguns operate the same way. The powder charge is placed in the cylinder chamber, a wad is placed over the powder if desired, and an over-sized round ball is seated using the built in rammer under the sixgun barrel. Then and only then are caps placed on the nipples on the back of the cylinder. That's the simple outline.

            Before any percussion pistol is loaded and especially after it has been stored in an oiled condition, percussion caps should be placed on each nipple and fired to clear the charge holes. Again this is before loading. If this is not done, there is a good chance that the loading will push oil into the nipple charge hole and the gun will not fire.

            Powder is poured from a powder measure into each chamber. I find the new see-through powder flask and adjustable powder measure from Thompson/Center to be invaluable for this operation when experimenting with severals sixguns and several loads. The clear plastic may not be traditional but is certainly is handy. Once a load is settled upon for extended use, I prefer a traditional brass powder flask with a spout that has been set for the proper charge.

            Once the charge has been placed in the chamber, a lubed wad is then pushed into the front of the chamber by hand. These are available from either Ox-Yoke or Thompson Lube. A round ball is then set over the wad, the cylinder rotated under the rammer and the ball seated solidly compressing powder and wad in the process. I then leave the ramm­er in the front of the chamber as it holds everything just right while I place the next powder charge, wad, and bullet. 

            When I first started experimenting with black powder as a teenager (with the original 1860 Army I wish I had back!), I would cast my own round balls of pure lead in a single cavity mould. The cutting of the sprue left a small teat on the ball, and I would try very hard to line this small projection up perfectly either facing up or down in the cylinder chamber. I rarely ever succeeded. Today life is much simpler. Speer offers perfectly swaged round lead balls without the teat in diameters .451", .454", and .457"; .44 cap-n-balls require experimenting to find the proper diameter round ball. For example, of replicas I have used the Colt 1860s use balls of .451", the Remingtons are at their best with the .454" size, and the Walkers are individuals with some going for the .457" ball while the others must have .454" diameter balls to avoid bending the loading lever under the pressure of seating too large of a ball.

            Once all chambers are loaded, then, and only then, are the percussion caps placed on all nipples with the sixgun pointing safely down range. It is easy to see why as the gun is facing towards the shooter as the powder, wad, and bullet are put in place and one who enjoys life does not want a loaded gun facing towards oneself with a cap on the nipple.

            The use of the lubed wads perform three functions: 1) they help to compress the powder in less than maximum loads; 2) they provide lubricant for the barrel and reduce fouling; and 3) most importantly, they seal each chamber against a flash traveling to the next chamber setting it off as well as the chamber under the hammer. Without sealing the chambers against this it is possible for two or even three chambers to ignite nearly at once with one ball going down the barrel and the others coming from the front of the cylinder alongside the frame.

            When maximum loads are used, there is no room left in the chamber for a wad. In this case, the front of each chamber is sealed with grease. I use that great wonder lube Crisco applied with a cake decorating type applicator from CVA. A squirt into each chamber, and then smoothing off with a knife blade and the chambers are sealed. Then, and only then, are percussion caps applied to the nipples, and the selection of these percussion caps are critical to ease of operation with each cap-n-ball sixgun and again experimentation is necessary. If the caps are not tight enough they will fall off as the cylinder is rotated. They must be press fit on the nipple. I use both Speer #11 and Remington #10 caps and keep both in my shooting box. A fired cap that is too loose also has the tendency to fall into the action exposed by a cocked hammer.

            Everything I have said about black powder also applies to black powder substitutes. Not only do I confiscate Crisco from my wife's kitchen for black powder shooting, it is also here that I find the cleaning solution that keeps the cap-n-balls shooting. This wonder is found in the clear plastic spray bottle marked Windex. Windex cuts black powder fouling right now. As a sixgun becomes sluggish in operation, I simply spray a little Windex at the front and back of the cylinder, and run a Windex soaked patch down the barrel. Black powder is highly corrosive and sixguns must be cleaned immediately after shooting not several days later. When I am finished shooting a particular sixgun, the cylinder is removed and sprayed front and back with Windex, and a couple of the Windex soaked patches are run through the bore. Upon returning home very little cleaning is necessary to come up with a squeaky clean barrel and cylinder using hot soapy water or any one of several black powder solvents now available. The biggest problem is reaching all the small areas such as around the hammer face. If there is a place, black powder fouling will find it. Here Q-Tips sprayed with Windex or soaked in black powder solvent work wonders reaching into all the nooks and crannies. The sixgun is then allowed to dry followed by being thoroughly oiled to prevent rust and corrosion. I prefer Outer's Metal Seal as it displaces any water that may have been left behind in the drying process. After every three or four sessions, or before long time storage, the sixgun should be completely disassembled and the lockwork thoroughly cleaned and oiled.

            Percussion sixguns are a vital part of the .44 story. It is well worth the extra effort it takes to shoot them as they provide a most enjoyable connection with the past whether we are shooting originals or replicas.

 

1-1)         The Mighty Walker Colt! “Good on man or beast out to 200 yards”

 

1-2)         The Paterson of 1836 was a great step forward in firearms development,

however it pales in comparison to the 1847 Walker.

 

1-3)    They look like originals with 150 years of use; in reality they are current replicas

 

 

1-4)    The 3rd Model Dragoon of 1850 lives on in replica form.

 

 

1-5)         This Navy Arms replica of the .44 Remington shoots as good,

or better, than many modern revolvers.

 

 

1-6)         The original Walkers, issued in pairs as these replica .44s, were the

most formidable powerful revolvers of the 19th-century.

 

 

1-7)    Did the originals shoot as well as these replicas?

 

 

1-8)         One of the problems of the original Walker was the unlatching of the

loading lever just as in this replica version.

 

 

1-9)         Single action sixguns have always been worthy of ornamentation

as this Dragoon .44 and 1851 Navy Model.

Photo courtesy of Glenn Barnes.

 

1-10)     The highest point of Colt’s percussion revolver development was the 1860 Army .44.

Photo courtesy of Jim Supica’s Old Town Station Ltd.

 

 

1-11)     The evolution of the .44 Remington from percussion to conversion to

cartridge is shown in these original sixguns.

Photo courtesy of Jim Supica’s Old Town Station Ltd.

 

 

1-12)     This pair of original .44 Dragoons represents many years of Frontier history.

 “If only they could talk.”

Photo courtesy of  Jim Supica’s Old Town Station Ltd.

Chapter 2