Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

The Colt Paterson Revolver:
True revolvers were available in very limited quantities by the end of the mountain man era (I define this as about 1840).  In 1835 Samuel Colt obtained the first of numerous patents in regards to the design of his pistol.  By 1836 he formed the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company, which began operations in an unoccupied section of a silk mill in Paterson, N.J. (producing the Colt-Paterson pistol)  The Colt-Paterson was a single-action pistol distinguished by a disappearing trigger and no trigger guard.  The earliest pistol were manufactured without a loading lever, though some those of later manufacture were produced with a loading lever.  The pistols were relatively small, being characterized as belt pistols, rather than holster pistols and were available in .28, .31, .34, and .36 calibers.  Approximately 2,000 of these were manufactured between 1836 and 1842.  Starting in 1839 a larger, holster pistol, with a 9-inch barrel and in .36 caliber was manufactured.
Acceptance of this pistol was slow, and only small orders were received.  Limited quantities were purchased by Army officers for their personal sidearms, some seventy-five were ordered for South Carolina Militia officers and
small numbers were obtained by the new Republic of Texas for use by the Texas Rangers.  The U.S. government made no official purchases of this weapon.  In 1842 the Paterson factory went into bankruptcy and manufacturing of the pistols ceased.
In spite of the small production, Colt revolvers do sporadically show up in the accounts of trappers and traders in the west who were quick to see the advantages of a multi-shot pistol.  Josiah Gregg in 1839 while traveling on the Santa Fe Trail reports “My brother and myself were each provided with Colt’s repeating rifles and a pair of pistols of the same-36 ready loaded shots apiece; capacity rarely matched on the prairies” (Gregg).   Then in 1841, a train traveling the Santa Fe Trail under the leadership of Kit Carson was attacked by Indians (Sabin).  Carson’s party was armed with Colt revolving pistols in addition to their single shot rifles.  After the initial volley of fire, the attack turned disastrous for the Indians when the white party was able to continue firing repeatedly without reloading.  Finally in 1842 an entire party of about 40 men under the leadership of William S Williams was equipped with Colt-Paterson revolvers for a trapping expedition in the Columbia basin. (Hamilton, Reference)  Because of the limited quantities produced, it is not known how Carson’s or Williams’ parties came to be equipped entirely with these guns, unless by a special order.
For more about the Colt-Paterson revolvers see:  Guns on the Early Frontiers, by Carl P Russell, 1957, published by Bonanza Books, New York.