The Paterson Colt Revolver’s Frontier Legacy

In 1836, the American frontier was populated by Native American tribes that had been visited upon by an endless horde of adventurers and explorers seeking their fortunes, farmers, ranchers and businessmen heading west to take advantage of the vast open plains, and by emerging republics such as Texas, one among a handful of territories longing to become a part of the great experiment that was the United States. To achieve that goal, in March of 1836 Texas fought its most famous battle for independence from Mexico, and a newly patented firearm known as the Paterson Colt revolver might well have turned the tide in favor of Texan volunteers during their ill-fated stand at the Alamo—fought with cannon, rifled muskets and single-shot pistols by less than 200 men engaging a vastly superior force.

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Unfortunately, at the time of that heroic confrontation, Colt pistols and revolving rifles were not yet readily available. However, by December of 1845, when the Republic of Texas was granted statehood, Paterson revolvers had earned a reputation in the hands of Texas Rangers engaged in protecting the Republic’s disputed borders with Mexico, and defending ranchers, property and border towns from marauding Comanches and hostiles. It was a time of perpetual conflict that would culminate in the Mexican-American War shortly after the annexation of Texas by the United States. During the war, which lasted from 1846 to 1848, Paterson revolvers and Colt’s new .44 caliber Model 1847 holster pistols would prove themselves in establishing the balance of power on the American Frontier.

That history, and the story of Samuel Colt’s role, is part of a sweeping new exhibit at the Autry National Center of the American West in Los Angeles, California. With a generous donation from renowned Colt collector and arms historian Dennis A. LeVett, visitors to the Autry can explore the history of the revolutionary Colt Paterson. Paramount is the part Patersons played in a decisive 1844 clash between 16 Texas Rangers and approximately 70 Comanche warriors. Through this pivotal battle, the installation tells the story of a weapon that could keep pace with the bow and arrow
—a development that forever shifted arms superiority on the frontier. The exhibit features 16 guns and related artifacts from LeVett’s collection.

LeVett & Gene Autry

Dennis Levett, profile

Renowned Colt Paterson collector Dennis LeVett holds one of his rare Paterson carbine pistol conversions, regarded among the various designs that paved the way for the 1847 Walker.

Dennis LeVett, the largest private collector of Paterson Colts in the world and co-author with R. L. Wilson of The Paterson Colt Book, grew up in Iowa Falls, Iowa, and like thousands of other little boys across the country, his favorite cowboy was Gene Autry. When he was nine years old, his boyhood dreams came true when he met Gene and his horse Champion. LeVett still recalls Gene saying, “Howdy, little cowboy,” and wearing two Colt .45 single actions. That was the year LeVett started collecting guns.

Throughout his adult life, he has focused his collecting efforts on the Paterson Colt series of firearms, studying them and traveling the world to find rare pieces and meet other collectors. When asked about his fascination with the Paterson Colts, he explained that “It is a combination of their beauty, mechanical ingenuity and extraordinary history.”

Texas paterson colt model

This cased pair of 9-inch-barreled No. 5 Holster Models is one of only two cased sets known to exist; the other is in the Hartford Museum. This is a very early set with square-backed cylinders. No. 5 Models such as these were the guns used by Capt. Jack “Coffee” Hays, Samuel Walker and the Texas Rangers in the famous Comanche Indian battle of 1844.

LeVett’s generous gift to the Autry includes seven cased revolvers, six long arms, two pistols and rare Paterson Colt ephemera, including the only known period photograph of a soldier armed with a Paterson Colt. Jeffrey Richardson, the Autry’s Gamble Curator of Western History, Popular Culture and Firearms, noted that the centerpiece of the gift is the exceptional Cased No. 5 Holster Model pair with 9-inch barrels, one of only two such examples known to exist. With LeVett’s gift, the Autry now has examples of every Paterson Colt model, allowing the museum to explore in detail these revolutionary firearms. At the opening of the exhibit The Balance of Power on the American Frontier, LeVett said, “I am very proud that my guns are a part of such a significant keeper of our Western history and culture.”

The Autry National Center in Griffith Park, originally the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage, was co-founded by Gene and Jackie Autry and Monte and Joanne Hale. With the opening of the museum in 1988, Autry, America’s favorite singing cowboy, realized his dream “to build a museum which would exhibit and interpret the heritage of the West and show how it influenced America and the world.”

For more information, visit theautry.org or call 323-667-2000.

This article originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of GUNS OF THE OLD WEST®, print and digital subscriptions to GUNS OF THE OLD WEST are available here.

One Response to “The Paterson Colt Revolver’s Frontier Legacy”

  1. <cite class="fn">HoodooTexas</cite>

    I just got my replica of the Paterson No. 5 type from Dixie Gun Works. These guns are true to the mechanics of the original and as such will not take a lot of abuse nor are they expected to handle a lot of shooting but they are very elegant guns to hold and proved Colt was going in the right direction.
    Cased sets offered for individual purchase generally provided an extra cylinder for fast reloading, a cleaning rod, a five shot charger flask, a bullet mould, a brass spring loaded capper, and a separate loading lever, these were for the high-end purchaser. A purchaser on a budget however might buy just the pistol with minimal accessories. Interestingly, a proper fitting case with all the accessories can be purchased the reproduction Paterson from DGW.
    However, The actual guns used by Hays and the Rangers were taken from storage from stocks of the 180 Paterson No. 5 9″ revolvers that had been purchased by the 2nd Texas Navy in 1839. The 2nd Texas Navy only operated a few years and the guns, most of which had survived, were still in excellent condition. The Patterson No. 5 Texas Navy pistols used by Hays only had the separate loading lever and the brass capper and bullet mould. Each of the Rangers had two of these pistols giving each Ranger the ability to fire ten shots without reloading. Eventually the Texas Navy (government) Patersons and individually purchased patterns (many with more extras) imported at the port of Galveston would find their way throughout the then sparsely populated Texas Republic in the 1840’s. The market for revolvers at that time was Texas, no other area was more dangerous or contested in the 1840’s. Many of these Patersons would see use not only in border skirmishing with Mexican troops but also of course fights with the Comanches .
    Although out of production by 1842, both Colt and then Ehler’s who sold the remaining pistols putting together many from unassembled parts, mostly smaller caliber versions after Colts bankruptcy, remained in limited demand but not sufficiently so to allow for the survival of the Company. Colts resurgence with the Colt Walker with the Rangers and then the Dragoon Pistols with the US Cavalry put more revolvers in Texas while the Patersons still saw use, mostly in the hands of more prosperous and successful Texans who were starting to thrive in a few cities and or were acquiring and using vast amounts of purchased land.
    It was not until the advent of the 1849 Pocket model and Colt 1851 Navy that the demand for pistols in significantly larger quantities for more ordinary civilians was sufficient to make Colt into a millionaire.

    Reply

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