1873 introduced two weapons that where destined to ‘tame the old west.’ The 1873 Winchester, a descendant of the Henry and 1866 Winchester lever actions, and the 1873 Colt Army or the civilian version the Peacemaker. The .44-40 and .38-40 cartridges introduced by Winchester along with the introduction of the .45 Colt, sometimes referred to as the .45 Long Cold distinguishing it from the shorter S&W .45 Schofield cartridge. At the time the .45 Colt never successfully migrated to the 1973 Winchester. But Winchesters dash 40’s migrated well to the Colt revolver.
Same Caliber Rifle Pistol Combo
The longer sight radius and two-handed hold on a rifle extended the range of what was essentially a handgun round. The ability to have your rifle fire the same round as your sidearm was considered an advantage. The high rate of fire from the lever action was considered beneficial to the tribes facing Custer. The high volume closer range fire was far superior to the longer range single shot cavalry .45-70 trapdoors of the Army forces. Of course, it was a target rich environment and a fast light repeater may have contributed to a higher survival rate for the military, then again perhaps not.
Patton’s Twin Revolvers; Ivory Handled Pistols
During Pershing’s Expedition in Mexico the then Lt. George S. Patton was patrolling with C Troop of the 13th Cavalry, and was carrying an ivory handled Colt Army revolver. In a shootout with Julio Cardenas, who was supposedly armed with a cap & ball revolver, Cardenas was second to Poncho Villa. Patton’s Colt Army was loaded with five rounds. Early revolvers could discharge if dropped, so the hammer rested over an empty chamber. Patton earned two notches for his revolver, and concluded two loaded revolvers would grace his belt for more firepower. Hence Patton’s iconic twin revolvers.
Smith and Wesson No. 3 Top Break Revolver
Many of our outlaws preferred another weapon of the times. The Smith & Wesson No. 3, top-break single action revolver. Due in part to Russia’s cancelation of orders, the .44 Russian became a common caliber as did the Schofield .45 caliber. Jessie James, Bob Ford, John Wesley Hardin and Billy the Kid to name a few preferred the No. 3, with Pat Garrett wielding a Smith on the side of the law. Popularity was to the guns ability to eject all six empties, and presented an open cylinder for faster reloads.
Black Powder Rifles
In the black powder era large heavy caliber weapons were the magnums of their day. Black powder as a propellant is only about 40% effective, limiting velocity. Only way to increase power was to move up in bullet weight, in the days of ball that mean you had to increase the caliber. The .44’s and .45’s were a good balance between the outlandish and the practicable and reliable. Most .38’s where heeled projectiles like a .22, so the bullets where the same diameter as the case, or nearly so.
Good Guys with Guns
Today the .38 Special sports a bullet .357” in diameter, early .38’s where .361” inches in diameter. Note also that the 9mm is a .355” inch bullet. Generally, the most popular calibers where the .38’, .44’s and the .45’s. These were so esteemed as ‘man-stoppers’ that US Army shipped stocks of single action Army and double action Colt New Service revolvers in .45 Colt to the Philippines during the Moro Insurrection. The .38’s did little to discourage the blade wielding Moros, and even rifle fire failed to topple these guys. We thank this era for a plethora of well-engineered tools, many still popular today!