Wheelgun Wednesday: Colt Walker

If you hear “Colt Walker” and immediately think of the television show Walker, Texas Ranger, you’re not alone. Of course, you’d be wrong in your assumptions, because the guns carried by the actors in that show were largely semi-automatics. When they did carry revolvers they were mostly Smith & Wesson models although the Colt Army Model 1860 did make an appearance as well. Despite its lack of television credentials—although it was used in the original movie True Grit in 1969—the Colt Walker played a key role in firearms development. In the gun world, the Colt Walker is famous all on its own.

Samuel Hamilton Walker, Texas Ranger.
Samuel Hamilton Walker, Texas Ranger. (Photo credit: Alchetron, Free Social Encyclopedia)

Samuel Colt’s Role in the Colt Walker

Yes, Samuel Colt did design the Colt Walker, but not on his own. By the time that particular revolver was invented, the Colt Paterson had gained significant popularity and was being used by soldiers. That’s how it came to the attention of Texas Ranger Captain Samuel H. Walker. You see, Walker was familiar with the downfalls of the Paterson—such as the lack of a fixed trigger or trigger guard—and he’d spent enough time in close-quarters battle to know what needed to be done to create a more capable firearm for members of the military.

Interested in creating a more combat-friendly handgun, Captain Walker reached out to Samuel Colt. It was the 1840s by then, and the Mexican-American War was kicking off. The two men collaborated on the design with the captain saying what he wanted to be done and Colt finding ways to implement those features, and the Colt Walker was born in 1847.

Sadly, Captain Walker was killed in combat in 1847, the same year his ground-breaking revolvers were produced. He had a set of Colt Walkers of his own when he died but according to historians, he didn’t have them long.

Colt Walker, the official state gun of Texas.
The Colt Walker is the official state gun of Texas. (Photo credit: Texas Standard)

History and Design Details

It is reasonably accurate to say the Colt Walker was based on the Colt Paterson revolver, but the two models are fairly different. Furthermore, the Harper’s Ferry Flintlock was commonly issued to soldiers at the time, and some historical references state that Captain Walker had extensive experience with that as well. As mentioned before, perhaps the biggest change you notice first is the inclusion of a fixed trigger and trigger guard on the Colt Walker (those things are glaringly lacking on the Paterson). Also, the gun was created to handle 60 grains of powder in each of its six chambers, which was nearly double what the average black powder gun of the time could manage. It was chambered for .44-caliber balls.

At first, the Colt Walker might have seemed as though it couldn’t quite handle the caliber and powder charge it was given. In the early days, there were problems with ruptured cylinders during firing, but it turned out the issues were due to improper metallurgy rather than design. In addition, soldiers would sometimes load the conical-shaped projectiles backward into the chambers or dump black powder all over the cylinder, resulting in loading-related failures. Eventually, Colt suggested using 50 grains of black powder instead of 60. The large-frame revolver was more than capable of handling the recoil when it was made with quality materials and loaded correctly.

Specifications included an approximate weight of 4-pound, 8-ounces, and a nine-inch barrel. Its overall length was 15.5 inches. Sights were classic fixed-blade in the front and hammer-notch in the rear. Approximately 1100 of these guns were made although there were some variants such as the Colt Dragoon. The Dragoon’s varied incarnations enjoyed a much higher production rate than the original Colt Walkers did. In fact, around 20,000 Colt Dragoons were made, but that’s a story for another day.

Original engravings on cylinder of Colt Walker revolver
An original Colt Walker with its engravings still visible. (Photo credit: War History Online)

Due in part to Captain Walker’s untimely death, a medical officer by the name of John “Rip” Ford ended up running the revolvers in battle and reporting on their performance. Ford was, notably, a member of the Republic of Texas Congress and a Texas Ranger, Confederate colonel, doctor, lawyer, and many other things. He had quite a life. As for his musings about the Colt Walker, Ford felt it was a capable weapon to 100 yards and stated that he’d seen a Mexican soldier wield it well beyond 100 yards.

The revolver was well-received and put Colt back on the map in a positive way. And so, despite the relatively small number of Colt Walkers made, it was enough to save Samuel Colt’s business from bankruptcy.

Cimarron limited-run revolver
Cimarron is doing a special, limited run of the Colt Walker to celebrate 200 years for the Texas Rangers. (Photo credit: Cimarron)

The Colt Walker Today

Quite a few television shows and movies have utilized the famed Colt Walker. One of the most famous is probably True Grit (the 1969 version). Although the book the movie was based on had the female lead, Maddie, carrying a Colt Dragoon—which was a variant—the movie chose to have the actress carry a Colt Walker. The gun makes other cinematic appearances in The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven, and Preacher.

Maddie with her gun in the movie True Grit
The Colt Walker was carried by the character “Maddie” in the 1969 movie True Grit. (Photo credit: Paramount Pictures)

More recently, the gun became the official state gun for Texas. On May 23, 2021, the Lone Star State’s governor, Greg Abbott, signed a formal declaration making it so. The legislation Abbott signed was part of the 87th Legislature of the Texas Senate titled “Recognizing the 1847 Colt Walker Pistol as the Official State Gun of Texas.” The language of the bill stated the revolver is “historically crucial to the early survival of the great State of Texas.” Maybe more states should have official guns, or maybe it’s just a Texas thing.

There are quite a few replicas available. Gunmakers designing and producing them for the Colt Walker include Uberti, which also makes a conversion cylinder so the gun can be run with 45 Long Colt rather than with .44 caliber black powder, and Cimarron. In the case of Cimarron, they even put their address stamp on the top of the barrel flat using a font and look that mimics that of the old Colt stamp. They’re fun replicas to own and with a conversion cylinder you can run them with modern cartridges, so it’s even better. Of course, if you’ve never shot a black powder gun, you should do it at least a few times for the experience alone.

Do you have any trigger time with black powder revolvers? Tell us about it in the comments section.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

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