Colt Forum banner
1 - 4 of 4 Posts

83 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Excerpts from, "The Colt Dragoon on the Plains" by T. B. Tryon. Published in the June 1937 issue of American Rifleman.
This is presented as a matter of interest. Some good reading in here for those who enjoy cap and ball revolvers as much as I do. This is also interesting reading for Texans, especially those who live in or near San Antonio.
Much of what the author states about loading and caring for the cap and ball revolver still holds true, nearly 67 years after it went to print.

"Let us pause a moment in retrospection and consider what that practical, multi-shot weapon of Colt's meant to the plains and mountain men, as well as the Texas Rangers --- men who were daily in danger of engaged by overwhelming odds of mounted Indians or Mexicans.
"Armed with the plains rifle and a pair of single-shot pistols, the plainsman had but a single shot with which to stop a charge from a distance, and but two shots for close conflict. But the advent of the practical holster revolver altered the situation. With a pair of these weapons, and the rifle, 13 consecutive shots were available, which gave the plainsmen a decided advantage over the Mexicans and Indians¬Ö
"¬Ö It was commonly said in Texas that one Comanche would rout six Mexicans, while one Texan could hold off five Comanches.
"Of course, it all started down in Texas, when a merchant, whose name unfortunately does not appear, returned from New York with a pair of Patersons which Samuel Colt had presented to him, and which he in turn presented to Captain Jack Hayes of the Texas Rangers. (Gatofeo notes: The "Paterson" model was Colt's first revolver, patented in the U.S. in 1836 and made until 1843 in Paterson, N.J. It was most commonly .36 caliber).
"Hayes thought so much of the revolvers that saw to it that his men were armed likewise. These "fine shooters," as the Rangers called them, proved their worth when 15 of Hayes' men engaged 75 Comanches up above San Antonio. The skirmish ended in a charge in which 35 Indians went under while but two of the Rangers were wounded.
"But the Paterson was too fragile and complicated for such rough service, so Captain Walker, also of the Rangers, induced Colt to redesign the revolving pistol, which resulted in the appearance of the five-pound holster pistol which Colt called the Walker Model, out of deference to the Ranger Captain.
"¬Ö The Model 1848 Colt Dragoon revolver, manufactured in Hartford (Connecticut) from 1848 to 1860, was but a modification of the Walker.

"¬Ö The Dragoon was designed primarily as a holster pistol, to be carried in pairs in holsters on the saddle, and was used mostly by the plainsmen in mounted warfare and for buffalo running¬Ö"
"When the Texas Rangers and mountain men engaged Mexicans or Indians, they charged through the enemy, mounted on fleet horses, wheeled, and swept back, emptying their revolvers with fatal effect."

"Says Hans Busk: `With one of them I once fired from a rest ¬Ö 36 rounds at the enormous range of 410 yards! Six bullets struck the butt at distances varying from 30 to 36 inches from the center of the target. Eighteen bullets struck within the circumference of a circle seven feet in diameter and the other six shots at heights varying from 10 to 12 feet above the target --- satisfactorily proving the capacity of the weapon for still greater range.' "
( Gatofeo notes: Amazing what passed for satisfactory accuracy back then, eh?)
"Another states that the weapon is sufficiently accurate to place six shots in an eight-inch circle at 50 paces."
"The mountain men held many contests at the Rendezvous on Brown's Hole on Green River (Wyoming). The targets were three posts 10 inches in diameter and six feet in height, planted in a vertical position about 20 yards apart. The contestants rode at full speed past the posts at a distance of not less than 15 feet, and attempted to place two bullets near the top of each post --- a feat which it was claimed most of the participants were cable of.
"¬Ö the Texas Rangers were even more adept, for it was said that most of Hayes' men could put from four to six bullets into a hat while circling it at full speed at a distance of about 15 yards. The notch in the nose of the hammer served as a rear sight, but we are told that most of the plainsmen, '¬Ö shoot as it were by intuitive feeling, glancing maybe along the barrel as they draw the trigger.' "

"Captain Robert Marcy relates an interesting incident which throws light on the efficiency of the Dragoon. While in the vicinity of Medicine Bow Butte (Gatofeo notes: Not sure where this is but may be Montana) in the spring of 1858, he observed a number of mounted men empty the chambers of the .36-caliber Navy pistols into a full-grown grizzly.
"However, the beast was not dispatched until another man armed with a Dragoon rode up and brought the animal to the ground with two shots.
"Subsequent examination disclosed that all of the .36-caliber missiles had penetrated hardly more than an inch below the tough hide, while the two bullets from the Dragoon had entered the vitals, with fatal effect."
(Gatofeo notes: It would be interesting to know what loads were used in those Navies. The combustible cartridges typically held a rather small powder charge for their conical bullet and were notably weak.
The Navy .36 with a fully chamber of loose powder and round ball gives good penetration in hard-packed newspaper. I'd find it hard to believe that such a load would only penetrate an inch but then, never examined the skin of a grizzly. Perhaps it is unusually thick. Alas, we'll never know whether those Navies were loaded with loose powder and round ball or the weaker combustible cartridges).

"The revolver was preferred by the best hunters among the plainsmen for running buffalo, which was due to its greater convenience in handling; and a contemporary traveler tells us that, 'Of the revolvers in use the old style Dragoon pistol of the Colt pattern seems the favorite. The plainsmen who posses a pair hold them in great esteem ¬Ö A single revolver ball well placed is quite sufficient to bring down the stoutest old bull.' "
"The experienced hunter ¬Ö approached a fleeing buffalo upon the left side, and when nearly opposite delivered the fatal shot, which was directed to a point just behind the shoulder and a little below the center of the body. The weapon was cocked only on being presented and fired almost immediately, frequently burning hair so close was it held.
"When running buffalo, the Dragoon was loaded with loose powder and ball rather than the fixed ammunition (combustible cartridges --- Gatofeo) supplied for that model. In this way, the heaviest possible charge could be used."

"(Combustible cartridges) were more quickly loaded than loose powder and ball, but contained only about 30 grains of powder, while 44 grains of FFFG black powder could be compressed into a chamber of the Dragoon with the round ball."
"For buffalo running, where shocking power rather than accuracy was the prime requisite, this heavy charge was permissible, but for accuracy a lighter charge was much more satisfactory.
"The charge of the copper Colt flask customarily supplied with the Dragoon holds 33 grains of FFFG black powder, which gives a fairly good charge for the 243 grain conical bullet cast in the old-type brass mold for this pistol. This mould also casts a 140-grain round ball, which gives better accuracy than the conical at usual pistol ranges when propelled by 38 grains of FFFG."

"The case of the combustible envelope cartridge was punctured before it was introduced into the chamber, thereby allowing a small portion of powder to escape, which insured positive ignition."

Tryon notes that Lyman, "some time ago brought out a special mould which casts a conical bullet known as the Ideal No. 450225 ¬Ö a round ball with ¬Ö 38 grains of FFFG black powder will usually be found more satisfactory than a conical bullet, for target purposes.
"Pure lead may be used for bullets, but a mixture of one part tin to 25 parts lead will produce a bullet of about the proper temper for use in the Dragoon."

"Powder of fine granulation performs most satisfactorily, as it burns quickly and is entirely consumed before leaving the barrel ¬Ö one should never experiment with smokeless in these old charcoal-burners.
(Gatofeo notes: Tryon is apparently saying that FFFG powder is better than FFG powder. However, I find it difficult to believe that his counsel to use "fine granulation" powder would extend to FFFFG powder. This powder produces pressures higher than FFFG and should only be used for priming flintlock pans or perhaps a small amount as a priming charge near the nipple or, in the case of black powder cartridges, near the primer. Frankly, I use almost nothing but FFFG and get very clean burning. I don't see much need for a small FFFFG priming charge in revolvers.

"Beeswax was often applied to the bullet as a lubricant, also to the tubes (nipples) before capping, for the purpose of rendering the charge waterproof; and when so prepared, the weapon could be immersed for hours without damage to the loads."

"In ante-bellum days (pre U.S. Civil War) a lubricated wad between the bullet and powder charge was rarely if ever used ¬Ö it was not needed as a gas check inasmuch as the bullet was of groove diameter. However a well-lubricated wad of felt placed between the bullet and powder will greatly diminish powder fouling. The wads are cut with a .45-caliber wadcutter, from hat felt or similar material, which has been soaked in a hot mixture of one part paraffin to two parts Vaseline." (By weight or volume? Unknown --- Gatofeo).
Gatofeo notes: Never tried this formula but I'm basically sold on an old formula I found printed in a 1943 American Rifleman: 1 part canning paraffin, 1 part mutton tallow and 1/2 part beeswax. All parts are by weight. I use "Wonder Wads" sold by Ox-Yoke or cut my own from stiff felt.
It is not easy finding the proper felt but Frost King makes it in long rolls of window seal. This is sold in hardware stores. Read the package; you don't want polyester, you want genuine wool felt. Polyester is plastic and will leave melted plastic in your bore.
Or you may, as I did this weekend at a thrift store, find an old cowboy hat made of felt. I'll soon be cutting wads from it.

"The jar of heavy loads frequently loosens the screws that hold the trigger guard and back strap to the frame ¬Ö remove each screw, put a drop or two of linseed oil on the thread and set it up snugly. The oil will congeal ¬Ö preventing the screws from loosening, yet they may be removed at will with a heavy screwdriver of the proper size and shape."
Gatofeo notes: Of course, today we have Loc-Tite and similar products but the warning is still true. All screws on cap and ball revolvers should be checked frequently at the range with a perfect-fitting screwdriver. The screws of the rammer assembly are particularly prone to loosening to the point of falling out.

(Gatofeo notes: The author describes breaking the revolver down to its components of barrel assembly, cylinder and frame. Nipples should also be removed from the cylinder. I need not elaborate on the disassembly of this revolver).
"After shooting, wash the barrel and cylinder first in cold water and then in hot, and then dry and oil thoroughly. Keep the base pin on which the cylinder revolves clean and well lubricated."
(Gatofeo notes: Interestingly, the author Tryon suggests using cold water for the first cleaning. There are others out there that swear by this. However, I've tried it and never cared for cold water. Cap and ball revolvers customarily use a fair amount of stiff greases. When cold water and soap are used, this grease stubbornly resists removal. Hot water and soap work better, in my experience.
I use CVA Grease Patch for greasing the bolt, hand, cylinder ratchet cuts and base pin in my Colt and Remington reproduction revolvers. I suspect this grease is nothing more than a mix of beeswax and olive oil. When I exhaust my supply, I'll likely try making my own. Crisco may also be used but use the standard kind, not the butter flavor.

Mighty interesting reading about the old Colt Dragoon, eh? Dang ¬Ö now I have the bug ¬Ö may just have to get a reproduction and make some noise!

*** ColtForum MVP ***
15,794 Posts
I could kick myself for trading off my early 1980's Third Model Colt Dragoon.

I made a pair of one-piece white paper micarta grips for it.

I traded it, because I usually did a 100% disassemble and clean because the internal parts would get coated with black powder residue, and I feared rust. The problem was, even though I was very careful, the parts were starting to show wear and tear.
In any case, as usual, there was something else I wanted, and I traded it off.

That was some POWERFUL gun. I can't remember which, but the Walker/Dragoon was the most powerful handgun around up until the .357 Magnum, and possibly until the .44 Magnum.

In a day where men in danger carried a single shot percussion pistol, no matter HOW powerful, being handed a Dragoon must have been like being given a magic death ray.

I do know the Colt I had would flat WHACK whatever you hit with it.

I know the 1851 Navy is nice, and the 1860 Army is just absolutely gorgeous and streamlined, but to me, the Colt Third Model Dragoon is the prettiest and most desirable of them all.

[This message has been edited by dfariswheel (edited 02-15-2004).]

67 Posts

Thanks for taking the time to do that detailed post with so many quotes from Tryon and your own useful commentary as well. Interesting article. A fair bit more literate and a good bit less ego than in so much contemporary writing.

I'm fond of the old Dragoons as well. Don't have and can't afford originals, but I've finally paired up a couple of the so-called 2d Generation Colt Dragoons, one a 1st model and one a 3rd Model. They're handsome pieces and the No 3 is quite accurate at 20 yds. Haven't shot the 1st Model yet. Seem to like the .454 balls.

Looking forward to trying them at a local SASS match when I manage to get to an outdoor range to do a little drill with them. (Haven't shot cap and ball guns since the mid-1980's).

Had a fellow named Tom Dyer at Saguaro Leather out in Kingman, Arizona make me a handsome rig for the dragoons and a brace of the Signature Model 1860 Armies based on a money belt with butt forward Slim Jims with a stable belt loop in some of the period floral carving that Tom does so well. All in primo skirting leather to support the big guns properly.

Beautiful rig for two sets of handsome revolvers. Too bad I figger I'll never shoot up to the guns and leather.

Thanks again for sharing the info. I've made a copy 'til I can find a copy of the RIFLEMAN.

...for iron, cold iron is master of men all...

83 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thanks for the compliment. I own every American Rifleman from December 1928 to last month's issue. And I'm working on completing my Handloader and Rifle magazine collection.
As I read the old issues, from the 1960s back, I am struck by the excellent writing and exhaustive effort.
If it's an article on the .273 Loudenboomer, when you finish that article you were INFORMED. In fact, much of the writing is so detailed that it approaches tedium. But few, if any, questions were left.
That depth of writing is sadly lacking in today's gun magazines.
The only down side to reading these old magazines is seeing the prices! Colt New Service .45 revolvers for $14.95. Lugers for $19.95. Krag .30-40 rifles for $9.95. Cases of ammo for ... awww ... I can't go on or I'll cry!
And all of it available through the mail. Wahhhhhhhhhh!
Owning over 850 American Rifleman magazines provides me with scores of hours of interesting reading. I'm never at a loss for a magazine for the bathroom ... lol.
I'm quite a fan of cap and ball revolvers. There was quite an interest in these charcoal burners back in the 1930s, judging from the number of articles and inquiries to the American Rifleman.
That interested waned in the 1950s when everyone wanted big bore pistols and Magnum rifles. I believe that the interest is again on the upswing; I seem to see more inquiries about them in websites.
A good cap and ball revolver is cheap and fun to shoot, and a thing of pride.
1 - 4 of 4 Posts