The 1847 Colt Walker: The Most Powerful Handgun Ever Used by The U.S. Military

Uberti Percussion revolver including top to bottom, Colt Paterson, Colt Walker, Colt 3rd Variation Revolving Holster Pistol (Dragoon). By Michael E. Cumpston - CC BY-SA 3.0
Uberti Percussion revolver including top to bottom, Colt Paterson, Colt Walker, Colt 3rd Variation Revolving Holster Pistol (Dragoon). By Michael E. Cumpston - CC BY-SA 3.0

Although the people within a military’s ranks make up its power and potential, so too do the weapons the soldiers carry. With the right armaments, a nation can defeat its enemies, repel invaders, and keep the peace. Some weapons, of course, are more monumental than others.

With technological advances and military growth, weapons become even more impressive, even more fearsome and frightening. Despite all the incredible weapons that the world has today, one of the most powerful ever used by the military was in a century long past; the Colt Walker of 1847.

Although it is no longer seen within the ranks of the United States Military, the Colt Walker of the mid-19th century is the most powerful and most effective handgun ever used by soldiers. The Americans who wielded the Colt Walker were deadly, and here is what made this simple weapon such a powerhouse.

Two Weapon Greats Come Together

Great minds cannot always act alone; sometimes, combining expertise creates incredible results. That is what happened when Texas Ranger Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker and Samuel Colt first joined forces in the 1840s. Walker, an experienced military man, wanted to develop his very own handgun – but he wanted that gun to be incredibly powerful at close range.

Samuel Colt was the perfect man for the job as an American firearms inventor who had been in the business of building handguns for years. These two men came together to execute Walker’s dreams, basing their initial designs on the Colt Paterson, an earlier Colt model.

Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker.
Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker.

Together, Walker and Colt created the 1847 Colt Walker single-action revolver and forever altered history. Everything Walker hoped for was present in this incredible new handgun. At 4.5 pounds (unloaded) in weight, the Colt Walker featured a 9-inch barrel that fired a .44 caliber bullet. It could effectively shoot projectiles 100 yards with the same muzzle energy as a .357 magnum.

The revolving cylinder that held the handgun’s ammunition could pack six charges of black powder. One charge for each of the six bullets and more than double what a typical 1800s black powder revolver could contain. The Colt Walker, unlike today’s bullets, used .44 caliber lead balls.

Samuel Colt
Samuel Colt

Colt and Walker did not know that their new handgun would become a popular choice for soldiers and gun owners. Instead, they began with a simple goal: create a gun that could replace the inefficient single-shot pistols that dominated during the 1800s.

The Mexican-American War waged on in the southern U.S. Battles grew both increasingly important and dangerous. Walker and Colt found that their new weapon made for more wins on the battlefield.

Texas Takes on The Powerful Colt

In the months before the invention of the 1847 Colt Walker, the Republic of Texas was embroiled in the depths of the Mexican-American War, fighting for territories and ownership against a challenging opponent.

When the war began, Texas and its soldiers relied on the Paterson Holster Pistol, a five-shot revolver that fired .36 caliber projectiles. Walker, as a captain for the Republic of Texas forces, quickly recognized that the Paterson was not efficient.

Some soldiers relied on the single-shot Aston Johnson handgun instead, finding it easier to holster and fire in the heat of battle. These, however, took far too long to reload before firing additional shots. Walker knew that the Texas forces needed an easily accessible, lightweight, and powerful weapon – exactly what he and Colt created.

The Colt Walker made a big difference to the battlefields of the Mexican - American war
The Colt Walker made a big difference to the battlefields of the Mexican – American war

So, as soon as the Colt Walker was ready for action, the Texas military ordered 1,000 of them to be used in the ongoing war.

Of course, Walker and Colt needed a manufacturer who could turn their creation into a mass-produced product. The men joined forces with Eli Whitney, Jr. He filled the Republic of Texas order and even produced an additional 100 handguns as promotional gifts for Walker and Colt to hand out or sell at their discretion.

Once produced, they were sent off to Veracruz and into the hands of soldiers ready to wield the most powerful weapon in American history.

The Colt Walker Faces Growing Pains

As soon as the 1847 Colt Walker hit soldiers’ hands, it was as efficient and effective as Walker and Colt promised. However, the two men had not really field-tested their weapon – created in haste in the midst of war. Every last kink and potential problem had not entirely been ironed out.

Soldiers found the Colt Walker cumbersome and difficult to wield due to its large size. More importantly, the six cylinders that gave the handgun its impressive speed ruptured easily.

Years later, this was attributed to soldiers’ own errors. Not every Colt Walker owner was properly taught to keep powder from spilling out of the gun’s chambers, or how to load the bullets correctly. As many as 300 of the original 1,000 handguns were sent back to Eli Whitney, Jr.’s manufacturing center for ruptured cylinders.

There was another quite unexpected problem. If the gun’s user overfilled the chambers with powder, the Colt Walker would explode in his hands. As well as this deadly issue, the handgun also proved slower than Colt and Walker intended. The loading lever catch often dropped during the gun’s recoil, slowing down the user’s ability to quickly fire off follow-up shots in mere seconds.

The two men tried to correct these problems, but luckily the weapon proved so powerful and effective that these issues did not detract from the Colt Walker’s overall success.

As years passed and the Colt Walker saw increasing action, it grew into one of the most popular weapons ever used in America. It was certainly the most powerful weapon – and handgun – ever employed by the military, and it earned even greater popularity in the years after the Mexican-American War.

The original 1,100 guns produced are now extremely rare collector’s items, nearly impossible to find and incredibly expensive. In 2008, one original Colt Walker owned by a Mexican-American War veteran sold for $920,000 at auction. Sadly, the weapon’s creators did not live long and missed seeing its heightened popularity.

Samuel Walker was killed in the war, carrying his very own Colt Walker in the same year it was released. Samuel Colt died about a decade later in 1862 after suffering from gout.

The two live on through the power and history of their handgun, the one that truly made American history.

Heather Fishel

Heather Fishel is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE