Death of Samuel Colt

The designer of the Colt revolver, the most celebrated killing machine in the history of the Wild West, died on January 10th 1862, aged 47.

Colt Model 1855 Carbine .56 caliber. Photo / HmaagThe Colt revolver is the most celebrated killing machine in the history of the Wild West. The Texas Rangers were equipped with them in the 1840s, when the American army began using them. ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok owned two 1851 models with ivory handles. He used them almost exclusively in his numerous gunfights and he was eventually shot dead with a Colt in Deadwood, South Dakota in 1876. His own Colts sold for 25 cents each in an auction to raise money for his funeral. Another famous gunman, John Wesley Hardin, always carried two double-action 1877 model Colts with him. Besides killing people with them, he used them to shoot holes in playing cards to demonstrate his skill. In 1895 he too was shot dead with a Colt revolver.

The firearms historian Hal Herring has described the Colt Single Action Army Revolver, produced from 1873 on, as ‘arguably the most successful handgun ever made … simple, strong and reliable beyond measure’. The American military and police were armed with them for many years. General George Custer and his troops carried them against the Indians at the Little Bighorn in 1876. Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders fired them at the Spaniards at San Juan Hill in Cuba in 1898. General George Patton was armed with one when he led his soldiers against Pancho Villa’s men in Mexico in 1916.

The man behind all this was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1814. From his childhood he was fascinated by guns and explosives. He had his own pistol by the age of seven and at school in his teens a pyrotechnic display he designed for the Independence Day celebrations set fire to one of the school buildings. After a spell as a seaman he began designing revolvers and took out American, French and British patents for them in the 1830s. Colt opened a factory in Hartford, which by 1856 was the biggest private arms manufacturing plant in the world. He was just 47 when he died.