Pop Culture Meets History – Part 1

Colt Patterson cased

Cased Colt “Patterson” Revolver with accessories – The Patterson was the first revolver commercially manufactured by Colt.


Samuel Colt patented the percussion, or “cap and ball”, revolver in 1835. Several forms of revolving firearms had been around prior to Colt’s first revolving pistol, Colt’s design had reached a tolerable state of perfection at a critical moment in time, and history would never be the same.

Colt Single Action Army Rifle

Colt Single Action Army, commonly referred to as “The Peacemaker” – The Single Action Army was introduced in 1873, and is still in limited production.

Hollywood and dime novels put Colt’s 1873 Model P Single Action Army, aka “The Peacemaker” in every holster of the “Old West”. The truth is very different.

By the time the Colt Peacemaker was introduced, most of the great westward migration had already occurred. Texas had won her independence from Mexico, and joined the United States. The Mexican-American War was won. The California gold rush was over. The War of Southern Independence had been fought. The Pony Express had come and gone. The Transcontinental Railroad was old news. The majority of the revolvers carried by the participants in all of these great endeavors were percussion revolvers made by Colt, Remington, Star, Spiller & Burr, Whitney, and others.

Many percussion revolvers have made historically accurate appearances in film and TV.

Clint Eastwood used multiple percussion revolvers in the “Outlaw Josey Wales”. The examples include the Colt 1851 Navy, Colt 1860 Army, and a pair of Colt Dragoons. The pistols Eastwood used in his “Spaghetti Westerns” were mostly percussion revolvers that had been converted to fire cartridges.

True Grit Lobby Cards

“By God girl, that’s a Colt’s Dragoon! You’re no bigger’n a corn nubbin. What’re you doin’ with all that pistol?” ~ John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in the film “True Grit”.

Colt’s Dragoons

The Colt Dragoon was the most powerful repeating handgun of the day. It was not eclipsed in power until Smith & Wesson introduced the .357 Magnum in 1934.

The first successful version of the Dragoon was the Colt “Walker” introduced in 1847, and used by the Texas Rangers. A massive pistol weighing almost 4 pounds, the guns were referred to as “horse pistols” being carried in scabbards slung over the saddle horn and extending down in front of the rider’s knees on either side of the saddle.

The Starr Double-Action Revolver

Starr Double Actions Percussion Revolver

Starr Double Action Percussion Revolver – “It’s not a Colt, and it’s wet.” ~ Clint Eastwood as William Munny in the film “Unforgiven”


Although it did not see much screen time, the revolver Eastwood carries in “Unforgiven” is a Starr revolver. The Starr has been overshadowed by the names Colt and Remington, but it was widely used during the War of Southern Independence. This is not a true double-action revolver because the lever that resembles a trigger in actuality only cocks the hammer and rotates the cylinder. The trigger is a small button located at the back of the trigger guard. The trigger is depressed by a bump on the back of the cocking lever when it reaches the end of its travel.



France’s LeMat Revolver

French Second Model LeMat Percussion Revolver

French Second Model LeMat Percussion Revolver – Nine .42 caliber chambers in the cylinder, and one .63 caliber shotgun barrel below the main barrel.

The LeMat revolver was one of the more unusual pistols used in the War of Southern Independence. A lever located in the hammer nose allowed the pistoleer to switch between the cylinder chambers and the shotgun barrel. Unlike the other revolvers featured here, the LeMat revolver leaped straight into the future. Bruce Willis carried a LeMat in the science-fiction film “12 Monkeys”.  Adam Baldwin carried a heavily accessorized LeMat in his role as Jayne in the TV series “Firefly.”


By Michael Morgan

(Today’s contributor, Michael Morgan, is one of Heritage’s IT Project Managers. As you can see by reading below, his expertise goes well beyond computers. He has a special affinity for black powder guns – and is the author of a forthcoming guide to these firearms – and is about as well read as anyone I know. In fact, I would have a hard time naming all the great books, especially sci-fi, that Michael has passed on to me. – Noah)

Posted by Michael Morgan

Senior Project Manage, Information Technologies

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