Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Ranger Jim's Ramblings for October.

For quite some time now, I've been promising Charlie Steel I'd do a post about the development of the repeating revolver, as it relates to the Texas Rangers' fights with the Comanches. It's ironic I'm doing the post this month, for reasons I won't get into.

First, I'm not going to start a discussion about white men versus red. That's a quicksand trap. I will say, despite the misconception so many people have, the Comanches were not the first Indian tribe to settle in Texas and the Southwest. They were driven there from the northern Plains by some of the other Plains tribes, and the Comanches displaced tribes such as the Tonkawas. So, when the white settlers drove the Comanches out of Texas, they only did what the Comanches had done previously to other Indians.

I'm no expert on guns, relying strictly on my friends Karl Rehn and Penny Riggs to provide me the information I need for my books. However, as everyone knows, and is clearly illustrated in the two Andy Thomas paintings illustrating the covers of my two latest books, one bullet in the right place can do a tremendous amount of damage to the human body.
And that brings us to a very superficial version of the development of the repeating revolver. When settlers first started pouring into Texas, the only guns available were single-shot pistols and muskets. When the Texas Rangers were organized, and charged with making the frontier safe for settlers, it didn't take them long to find out the Comanches had far superior firepower. Once a gun was fired, it was a slow, cumbersome process to reload it. The Comanches, being far from stupid, in fact they were some of the most brilliant military tacticians ever, would merely wait until their enemies (for this post I'll simply refer to the Rangers) fired their weapons, then send down a rain of arrows on them. In the time it took a man to reload one of those old-fashioned single shot weapons, a Comanche could get off seven or eight arrows, with predictable results. There would be few, if any, dead Comanches, but a whole lot of Rangers who died looking like human pincushions. Eventually, the Rangers smartened up, and would have only some men fire their guns, then, while they reloaded, the rest, but they were still outnumbered, outmanned, and out-gunned (arrowed). And the Comanches also had their lances, which they used quite expertly. 

Obviously, from the Rangers' point of view, this coudln't continue. Samuel Colt had already designed a prototype of a working revolver, then promptly gone bankrupt. However, Captain Samuel Walker of the Texas Rangers knew of the gun, tinkered with the design, and came up with a more workable weapon, one that didn't have to be completely dismantled to be reloaded. He and Colt, with the help of Colt's friend Oliver Winchester of Winchester rifle fame, arranged to have what would come to be called the Walker Colt, a five shot cap and ball revolver, manufactured, with the first ones going to the Texas Rangers.

The first time the Comanches faced the Rangers after the new revolvers had been delivered, they used their usual tactic, waiting for the Rangers to fire their guns, then, believing they would have to reload, swooped in for the kill. Instead, they were mowed down when the Rangers were able to fire five shots in a row without pausing. The fight turned into a complete rout, and was the beginning of the end of the Comanche Wars in Texas.

It would still be many years before the repeating rifle was developed, and even more before cartridge guns replaced the cap and ball weapons, but with their new firepower, the Rangers were able to drive the Comanches back from the frontier, a process which was slowed, but not stopped, by the Civil War. By the early 1870s, virtually all Indians had been removed from Texas.

Personal footnote. I grew up only a couple of miles from the Winchester factory in New Haven, and still drive by the old Colt factory in Hartford regularly, on my trips back and forth from New Hampshire to Connecticut. The Winchester factory has been carved up into space for many smaller, scientific research companies, while the Colt factory, which is still mostly empty despite many attempts to rehabilitate it for apartments or businesses, has just been nominated as a National Historic Park, to be run by the National Park Service. It may be the last chance to save the building, with its distinctive onion shaped dome, which is covered in deep blue, and gold leaf stars, and topped by a rearing gold-leaf covered colt.


  1. Jim,

    Thank you for posting this article.

    You didn't say that the Walker Colt was a tremendously powerful handgun, .44 caliber, and weighing 4 1/2 pounds. As powerful as some rifles and accurate up to 100 yards! It was so heavy that it was typically carried in saddle holsters.

    The amazing thing about this weapon is that it was first used in 1847 and 14 years before the Civil War!

    As I understand it, the Indians were fighting for their land and way of life and their tactics were harsh. However, Samuel Walker's methods seemed to be harsher, utilizing the Walker Colt.

    (We may be in distinct disagreement on how Texas Rangers behaved throughout their very colorful history and especially how they attacked Comanche Indian Villages and removed the Indian presence. However, I will concede that smallpox did more to wipe out the Comanche’s than the Walker Colt did.)

  2. Hi Charlie, We're not in as much disagreement at you think. The Rangers did indeed use harsh tactics. However, one reason they did so (besides the fact some of them were reformed outlaws) is they learned in fighting renegades of all races, if they wanted to tame the untamed land that was Texas they had to use methods as harsh as the men they were fighting. Times were different then.