American Handgunner May/June 2013 Digital Edition - Page 58

A decade after the model 1851, Colt brought out a streamlined version. Both were mostly just called Colt’s Navy revolvers. Below: the most famous gunfighter who favored the Colt Navy (actually a brace of matched ones) was James Butler hickok. he era of The American gunfighter of fact and legend didn’t begin until 1850. That was when Samuel Colt introduced his first “Belt Pistol” meaning one practical for a man to actually wear on his person in a holster. Prior to that, Colt revolvers came in two types; the big military .44s weighing over four pounds and meant for packing in saddle holsters, or small .31-caliber “pocket pistols” intended for civilian self-defense and concealed carry. Consider this: before about 1850 T 1851 Navy Colt model 1851 was commonly sold as cased sets with accessories such as powder flask and bullet moulds. Colt’s “ ” one of the most famous Old West figures was Jim Bowie, the famous knife fighter. After that time most famous Old West personages were gunfighters. Today, commonly called Model 1851 Navy, Sam Colt’s belt pistol actually appeared the year before. Its frame was a new medium-sized one. Its .36 caliber was between the .31 and .44 sizes, previously offered by Colt. Worthy of note is in the era of percussion revolvers caliber was denoted by the barrel’s bore size and not its groove diameter. Hence the new Colt was termed .36 caliber when the proper ball size for it was actually .375". The “Navy” term didn’t come because the US Navy adopted the model; it came because the rollengraved scene on its cylinder depicted a naval battle. The scene showed a battle that took place in the Gulf of Mexico on May 16, 1843, between ships of the navies of the Republic of Texas and Mexico. The “Navy” term became so synonymous with the belt pistol it became commonly called “Colt’s Navy” and .36 was often simply referred to as “Navy caliber.” Sam Colt gladly accepted custom orders so original belt pistols can be found in a wide variety of finishes and barrel lengths. Yet the quintessential Navy Colt had a 7½" octagonal barrel, 58 WWW.AMERICANHANDGUNNER.COM • MAY/JUNE2013

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