THE FIRST COLT’S REVOLVERS.
From the New York Herald.
“There is a romantic side in weapons of war,” said an old army officer the other day. “The origin of our purely American arm, the Colt revolver, furnishes an instance that will illustrate this. It seems perfectly adapted to American frontier conditions. It has given its skillful wielders the victory on many a hard-fought field. And this is why its rise and development should be a part of our country’s military history.
“In the ’30s we were enlarging our national boundaries in the Southwest. We could not consistently develop in any other direction, for the country to the northwest was not very desirable. We were looking for a region that was especially adapted to southern products to be cultivated by slave labor. The South was in the saddle, and meant to remain there if southern blood and valor could accomplish it. The young and thriving republic of Texas was the point toward which the attention of the region south of Mason and Dixon’s line was turned. A handful of daring young Americans had wrested from Mexico a region five times the size of any state in the Union. It was then called the republic of Texas.
“The state of Tennessee was primarily responsible for this daring step. Gen. Sam Houston had gathered together a handful of daring young men full of hot-blooded courage. The blood of the plo??ers that took Tennessee from the most warlike Indian tribe on this continent was in them. For a long time it was an uphill fight. Not only the Mexicans, but the Comanches and Lipans — unequated warriors and daring horsemen — harassed and raided the scattered frontier settlements and towns along the Texas border, until it really appeared as if the entire scheme of the settlement of Texas must go down in blood.
“But the men who started in to do this work were not of the quitting kind. They were of the tory hating, Indian fighting stock that obstacles did not daunt nor danger quell. And they set their teeth hard and swore they would stay. To guard their frontier thoroughly and effectively they organized bands or companies of rangers, under officers who could not only fight Indians and Mexicans, but control and discipline their own men.
“Among these commanders Colonel Hays, better known as ‘Jack’ Hays, was incontestably the ablest. He was a born leader of men, just such men as were peopling that great southwestern frontier. In stature he was about 5 feet 8 inches, and never weighed over 160 pounds. His hair was darkish brown, inclined to be red, and his eyes were of several colors, according to his moods. In his hours of relaxation and among his friends they were of a dark gray with a hue of hazel. In excitement, and especially in a fight, hey were of a color indescribable. They simply seemed to blaze.
“Some time in the late ’30s Colonel Hays was directed by the president of Texas to go to New York and purchase suitable arms to equip his troops. He had then about 150 men, but they were not uniformly armed and lacked equipment suitable for a command. They needed to be equipped alike and with the very best weapons available at that time.
“So, in obedience to his orders, and with a letter of credit on the Texan treasurer, Hays took passage in a schooner bound for New York. He was a month in making the trip, for he started in September, when the gulf is usually stormy and the prevailing winds from the southwest and everywhere else. They were blown into nearly every port from Galveston northward before they got in sight of the island of Manhattan. Colonel Hays went the rounds of the firearms dealers of New York. It was not a difficult undertaking, for there were but four or five of them, but he did not find anything he had not seen before in the way of firearms.
“One day, however, a dealer said: ‘There is a man living over in New Jersey at present who has just invented a pistol which I would like to have you see.’
“‘What is there about it that makes it different from other pistols?’ asked Hays.
“‘Well, for one thing, it shoots six times without reloading.’
“Colonel Hays’ interest was immediately aroused. ‘Indeed, I’d like very much to see it,’ he said.
“‘Very well; then I’ll have him in here with it to-morrow about this time,’ responded the dealer. So the next day about 1 or 2 o’clock the man came in. He was about 30 years old, and chiefly a gun smith by trade, though he did all sorts of work in fine steel. He said he had just concluded an order of sabers for members of the regiment of dragoons just then being raised.
“‘This is my pistol, colonel,’ said he, opening a case and handing the weapon to the Texas colonel. ‘The instant I looked at it I said it was just what I wanted,’ said Hays to his brother, Gen. Harry Hays of New Orleans. There was a 60 foot gallery in the rear of the store for the testing of arms. They took the model pistol, which was about like the Colt’s pocket arm of to-day in size, caliber and weight, and the expert fired all six barrels off in less than a minute. The penetration was good, as was the accuracy.’
“‘Now, I want a pistol of this pattern, but with a long cylinder and eight-inch long barrel, taking a bullet of about 50 grains weight, made as soon as you can make it. I will advance you $?0 on it now to enable you to purchase the material and have the barrels ri??ed. If the pistol shoots as well as I think it will I will talk to you about a contract for 100 of them, and also about a rifle on the same principal.’
“In two weeks the pistol was ready to be tested. It shot very well with sufficient force to kill if it hit a man at from 100 to 150 yards distance. At the same time a rifle was constructed on the same principle. It was about a .44 caliber, with a cylinder that would contain about 80 grains of powder, and carried a round and an oblong bullet. The arm came up to Hays’ expectations in all respects. He took the model to Texas with him and submitted it to his rangers. When it had been thoroughly tested they ordered 100 of the pistols and ?0 of the rifles. The latter was so constructed that when the cylinder was fired it could be slipped out, and another cylinder, all ready loaded, put into the arm in one time and two motions — that is, in 30 seconds.
“Shortly after the troop had been armed with these new weapons they were tried in a sharp fight that settled the question of the superiority over those of their Indian and Mexican antagonists once and for all. About 600 or 700 Mexicans and Comanche and Lipan Indians crossed over into Texas, under the leadership of Canates, a noted ‘raider’ from the other side of the Rio Grande, and with a herd of about 1,000 head of fat beef cattle and perhaps 500 mules, were making their way back to Chihuahua, where Canates had a fine ranch and lived in princely style. He was one of the richest men in Northern Mexico and the ablest soldier in that section.
“The 200 lancers with him charged Hays’ men fearlessly. Hays let them come on until they were within good easy range, and then opened up on them with his 50 rifles. After the first volley Canates thought he had the Americans foul. ‘Meurah los Americanos,’ he shouted, as he dashed at the little band of intrepid fighters commanded by ‘Ned’ Burleson, one of Hays’ most trusted lieutenants. Crash, crash, crash, went the rifles.
“‘Por Dios,’ what sort of a rifle have those devils of Americans?’ they shouted to one another, as leaving the stolen cattle and about one-sixth of their command dead or badly wounded on the ground in the hands of the dreaded Americans, they struck out for the Rio Grande and the other side. Hays had captured a priest, and sent him with others to tell Canates to send an escort and wagons enough to carry away all the wounded that were able to be moved. It was soon reported along the border that las Americans had a dreadful rifle that they used by magic of some sort as long as they wished without reloading.
“Canates offered a great reward for one of these new guns. He was a well-educated man, and realized at once that the Americans had some sort of arm that was not generally known and was vastly superior in rapidity of fire and reloading to any then in use. It was nearly two years, however, before he could get his hands on one of them. Col. Samuel Colt had pledged himself not to furnish his new arm to any but Americans and men who would not suffer if to get into the wrong hands.
“The United States army, particularly the three mounted regiments then in service, the first and second regiments of dragoons and the mounted rifles, were equipped with Colt’s revolving pistols as soon as the ordinance department could be persuaded to adopt them.
“It is a curious feature of our ordinance office that it is always the very last of the military establishments to see any merit in any invention that does not emanate from some member of its corps. That used to be the invariable rule. But it has been a good deal modified in late years, with the invention and adoption of other nations of warlike instruments that were of American invention and plan.
“The renown of the famous American pistol soon spread all over Europe. Russia was the first country to give Colt a big order, and this it did sufficiently to take three years in its completion. when the Crimeah was began the English and the French guard found, to their amazement, that the Russian guard cavalry and some of the picked mounted regiments of the line were armed with a pistol and carbine far excelling that in the hands of the allied armies of England, France and Turkey, and to-day, in spite of multiplicity of inventions, nothing superior has ever been devised.”
The Anaconda Standard (Anaconda, Montana) Nov 2, 1903