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The Men Who Built the Most Expensive and Most Powerful Gun

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 10, 2023 3:03 am

The Men Who Built the Most Expensive and Most Powerful Gun

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 10, 2023 3:03 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, for a time, a near-mint Colt Walker held the distinction of being the most expensive gun ever sold after it was auctioned for $1.8 million in 2018. Here to tell the story of the legendary Colt Walker revolver is Logan Metesh. Logan founded and runs High Caliber History LLC and has more than a decade of experience working for the Smithsonian Institution and the National Park Service.

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Let's take a listen. Two of the most iconic words in the world of gun collecting are Colt Walker. Only 1,000 of the revolvers were ever made for the U.S. military and only 100 more were made for civilians.

And of those, only about 10 percent survived. That scarcity has propelled this black powder percussion revolver to legendary status. Sporting a nine inch barrel and tipping the scales at four pounds nine ounces, this 44 caliber wheel gun was huge and designed not to ride in hip holsters, but in saddle mounted holsters and to be used by cavalry troops on horseback. It was the most powerful handgun in the world for an impressive 88 years, from its introduction in 1847 until the .357 Magnum cartridge hit the scene in 1935. It also saved Samuel Colt from bankruptcy after his first commercial revolver design tanked.

So what's the deal with the gun's name? Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker of the Texas Rangers began his military career at 19 with a brief stint with the Washington City Volunteers during the Creek Indian Campaign in the United States in 1836 in Alabama. He then traveled to Florida as a scout and finally ended up in Texas in 1841. He was in Galveston in 1842 serving under Captain Jesse Billingsley fighting for the Republic of Texas against the Mexican Army. He was captured by the enemy in December 1842 and marched to Mexico City as a prisoner of war. He escaped his imprisonment and fled to Louisiana before the Texas Rangers in 1844 under Captain John Coffee Hayes.

He was promoted to the rank of captain and led a company during the Mexican American War. Hayes was attempting to raise a new regiment at the time and Walker mentioned that Colt's first revolver model, the Patterson, would be a good fit for this new group. He was one of the very few to use the revolver in combat and viewed it favorably. When Walker sent a letter to the inspector of contract arms, Captain William Thornton, asking how he could go about procuring 1,000 Patterson revolvers, he learned that Colt's gun company had since gone out of business. Here's where Walker and Colt's paths cross, but not in the way that you might expect. Most accounts would have you believe that Walker initially approached Colt to discuss the shortcomings of the Patterson and how it could be improved.

This is only partly true. Walker actually didn't make the first move. Colt did and he was hoping that Walker could put him in touch with Hayes saying in a letter, if you think sufficiently well of my arms to urge the president and secretary of war to allow your company to thus be armed, you can get them. Of course, Colt made no mention of the dire condition of his business at the time and he was undoubtedly hoping that a military contract would save his hide. In response to Colt's letter, Walker mentioned that, with improvements, I think this gun can be rendered the most perfect weapon in the world. This is the first time we see a relationship between Colt and Walker begin to form, and it's also the first mention of changes to the original Patterson revolver's design. This was the start of a long, drawn out, and complex relationship among Sam Colt, Eli Whitney Jr., Sam Walker, and countless military and government officials that played out over the next few years. When all the wrangling was through and everything was in place, Sam Colt received a contract for 1,000 revolvers in the design that would eventually be known as the Colt Walker. Today, it is one of the most legendary, sought after, and expensive models in the gun collecting world.

However, the gun almost never came to be, and by the time it was all said and done, Captain Sam Walker himself probably wished that it hadn't. The improvements included what we think of as a standard trigger and trigger guard arrangement, as the Patterson had a trigger that was housed in the frame and only descended when the hammer was cocked. The single action revolver was quite powerful, enough to kill a man or a horse with a single shot, as requested, and more robustly built than the previous Patterson. Now Sam Colt was one hell of a marketing genius, which helped keep things going for him in the early years. But most important, and much to the chagrin of anyone who ever did business with Colt, he lived a fake it till you make it lifestyle. Colt didn't have the capital to make the 1,000 guns that the government had contracted for, so he turned to Eli Whitney Jr. of Cotton Gin Inventing fame for help with the financial side of things. He also leaned heavily on Whitney for the actual manufacturing machinery and capabilities, since he didn't have any of those either. To ease the manufacturing burden, the contract was split into two orders of 500 guns.

Once the first order was successfully delivered, the second would be approved. Almost from the beginning, Colt over promised and under delivered. There was always some excuse as to why certain parts weren't finished and why production was lagging behind. Walker desperately needed the batch of pistols, not only to save his own reputation, but because his regiment was heading back to Mexico imminently and they needed the revolvers. Even as production faltered, Colt was still writing to Walker, asking for help to increase the size of the contract. Walker acknowledged that he was doing all that he could, but that it was very hard to convince the military to increase an order when not a single gun had been completed and passed inspection. Try if possible to have me one pair complete and I will be more certain to secure the order for a larger number, Walker pleaded with Colt. Colt replied that he was doing his very best, that he had, quote, as many as 50 men engaged to work on them and that he was paying as high as three and four dollars a day to entice men to switch jobs and come work for him.

The actual records tell the truth and Colt was lying on both counts. When the guns did come in for military inspection, they were found lacking. The cylinders on some burst under fire and failed proofing.

Others were missing the screwdrivers and powder flasks that were supposed to come with them. The mechanism that held the loading lever against the barrel was weak. It would sometimes allow the lever to pop loose under recoil, which could block the cylinder from revolving.

Some people using these early models tied the lever to the barrel with a piece of rawhide or string to keep it in place. All the while, Sam Walker was left trying in vain to get a hold of the guns that would eventually bear his name so that his company of men could be outfitted with these incredibly modern firearms. In a letter written to his brother regarding the desire to capture Mexico's General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Walker stated, if I had my revolving pistols, I should feel strong hopes of capturing him or killing him. Alas, Walker had no revolvers, save for a single pair that eventually were sent directly to him. On October 9th, 1847, Captain Samuel Walker was killed in action in Mexico, presumably with his Colt revolvers by his side. And so of the 1000 military Colt Walkers made and the 100 guns produced for the civilian market, Captain Walker's personal pair of pistols are the only examples that he ever saw before he was killed in battle.

Soon after, the Walker was replaced by a parade of different Colt Dragoon models, often otherwise known as the Model 1848, that endeavored to fix the predecessor's shortcomings. It didn't take long for the 1100 Colt Walkers to enter the annals of gun history. In the first half of the 20th century, when gun collecting as a whole was beginning to take shape, Colt Walkers had already established themselves as key pieces to any Western military or Colt collection. By the mid 20th century, the outlaw Josie Wales starring Clint Eastwood helped keep the allure of the gun alive for another half century. And in 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott named the Colt Walker to be the official handgun of Texas. For a time, a near mint Colt Walker held the distinction of being the most expensive gun ever sold after it was auctioned for $1.8 million in 2018. It's since been eclipsed by another Colt, a later single action army model that lawman Pat Garrett reportedly used to kill the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid.

That gun sold for an astonishing $6.03 million in 2021. After 175 years, the legend and the legacy of the Colt Walker revolver is still larger than life, which I think is altogether fitting for a gun named after a Texas Ranger. And a terrific job on the production and the storytelling by Greg Hengler. And a special thanks to Logan Medish. Logan founded and runs High Caliber History LLC.

And what a story. The legendary Colt Walker revolver, which was the most powerful handgun in the world from 1847 till 1935. But when the outlaw Josie Wells was made, Clint Eastwood did the rest of the marketing for Colt, thus the spiraling prices. And that $1.8 million price tag.

The story of the Colt Walker revolver here on Our American Story. MGM Plus. Get down and funky with the classic soul playlist from iHeartRadio. Easily discover new free content each week across the best streaming app. Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-10 04:27:06 / 2023-02-10 04:32:25 / 5

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