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Colt Dragoon Revolver
Colt Dragoon Mod 1848.JPG
Martial Third Model Dragoon, U.S. Cavalry issued
Type Revolver
Place of origin  United States
Service history
In service 1848–60
Used by U.S. and primarily, civilians also produced in London Armoury circa 1851-55
Production history
Designer Samuel Colt
Designed 1848 through 1850
Manufacturer Colt Firearms
Produced c. 1848–1860
Number built about 18500 in U.S.A.
Variants Walker Transitions, First and Second Models
Weight 4 lb 4 ounces (1.9 kg)
Length 14.75 inches (375 mm)
Barrel length 7.5 inches (190 mm)

Caliber .44 ball, revolver (.454 in., dia.)
Action single-action
Muzzle velocity 850–1,100 feet per second depending on powder/projectile
Effective range 80 yards
Feed system six-round cylinder
Sights blade front sight, hammer notch rear sight, some with sight mounted on rear of barrel for use with shoulder stock

The Colt Model 1848 Percussion Army Revolver is a .44 caliber revolver designed by Samuel Colt for the U.S. Army's Mounted Rifles, also known as "Dragoons". This revolver was designed as a solution to numerous problems encountered with the Walker Colt. Although it was introduced after the Mexican-American War, it became popular among civilians during the 1850s and '60s, and was also used during the American Civil War.


The Colt Dragoon Revolver was produced with several variations between 1848 and 1860, when the Colt Model 1860 revolver replaced it. All the improvements in design of Colt revolvers were applied to the Dragoons as well to the smaller models of Colt revolvers. Total production of Colt Dragoons including the 1,100 Walkers, from 1847 to 1860: 19,800; plus 750 Dragoons in a separate number range for the British market.[1] For collectors, there are three different types.

First Model

The First Model Colt Dragoon Revolver has oval-shaped cylinder notches, a V-type mainspring, no wheel on the rear of the hammer, no pins between the nipples on the cylinder and a squareback triggerguard. Colt produced about 7,000 first models between 1848 and 1850.

Second Model

The Second Model has rectangular cylinder notches. Until the no. 10,000 the V-shaped mainspring was standard and then replaced with a flat leaf mainspring and a wheel on the hammer at its bearing on the mainspring. All the Second Model Dragoons have the squareback triggerguard. The company made about 2,550 Second Models in 1850 and '51.

Third Model

The Third Model Dragoon numbers stand at ten-thousand from 1851 through 1860.[2] This design had more variations as compared to its earlier counterparts. Some of the third model Colt Dragoon Revolvers had frame cuts for detachable shoulder stocks, horizontal loading lever latches and folding leaf sights. Third Colt Dragoon Revolvers had a round trigger guard. Government records showed an order for 8,390 Dragoons.[1]

1848 Pocket Pistol

Other variants included the Colt "1848 Pocket Pistol" now known as the Baby Dragoon, marketed in California with success during the Gold Rush days. With the addition of a loading lever this evolved into the 1849 pocket revolver (see Colt Pocket Percussion Revolvers).[1]


File:1847Colt Walker.jpg

Colt Walker 1847 Model {Modern reproduciton}

The Dragoon was produced because of the problems seen with the fielded Colt Walker revolvers, namely, the Walker's large size, four and a half pounds, making it suitable only for use as a saddle-mounted revolver, the Walker's propensity for cylinders exploding on occasion when fired (due to the chambers being loaded with too much powder), and the Walker's habit of dropping the loading lever upon discharge, locking up the revolver action in the middle of combat. The Colt Dragoon Revolver had a comparatively shorter cylinder (thus preventing overloading the cylinder) and held up to 50 grains of powder, whereas the Walker had used up to 60 grains of powder. The Dragoon Revolver had a shorter barrel at 7.5 inches (some later revolvers 8 inches) as compared to the 9 inches (230 mm) barrel on the Walker. A loading lever latch in front of the lever replaced the spring to keep the lever from dropping during recoil, thereby preventing jamming of the revolver. These variations made the Colt Dragoon Revolver 4 pounds two ounces. These changes also reduced the risks of the Colt Dragoon Revolver from exploding when fired, unlike the risk that had been demonstrated with the Walker revolvers.[1]


Colt Dragoon 1848 first model. Squareback Triggerguard, oval-shaped Cylinder Stops

Colt Dragoon 1848 second model, squareback triggerguard

In the troublesome events that led to the Civil War, Colt Dragoons became extremely popular. In the beginning Colt Dragoon Revolver were issued for the U.S. Army's Mounted Rifles. They were carried in pommel holsters on the saddle. The Colt Dragoon Revolver gained popularity among civilians in the Southwest where many had served in the Mexican-American War. The Dragoon became a master weapon for civilians who hailed it as a powerful weapon of the time.

Famous users included Joaquin Murietta, the California bandit, Charley Parkhurst, California teamster, Union general George B McClellan,[3] probably Harriet Tubman of the Underground Railroad, and fictionally Mattie Ross in the 1969 version of "True Grit". Parkhurst, while driving freight, was confronted by two bandits whom he dispatched with the Colt Holster Pistol. According to Harper's Weekly, James Butler (Wild Bill) Hickock arrived in Springfield, Missouri carrying a Dragoon though it is generally accepted that he used a Navy in his street duel with Davis Tutt.[4]


The Dragoon is now a collectible arm and sold for high prices.[1]

Non-firing replicas of the Colt 1848 Dragoon were manufactured at Denix in Spain. In 2005, a fire burned down the factory and destroyed the mold for the gun, which has since gone out of production. Denix has since reintroduced the non-firing model of the Colt 1848 Dragoon in Nickel.

Quality Replica Dragoons are currently produced by the Aldo Uberti Company of Brescia, Italy and distributed in the United States by Taylors, Inc.; Cimarron Firearms,and others.[5] They are quite accurate and potentially more powerful than the belt sized revolvers of the same bore diameter. Velocities with .451-457-inch round balls of approximately 141 grains over the full 50 grains of powder frequently show chronographed readings in the 1,000 to 1,100 foot per second range depending upon the powder used.[4]

A cartridge-converted Colt Walker instead of the Colt Dragoon in the book was used in the 1969 film True Grit, as the weapon carried by 14-year-old Mattie, possibly due the Walker's bigger size. The Dragoon was used in the 2010 Coen Bros. movie as in the original book.


Modern Copy of Third Model Dragoon circa 1850, over copy of Old Model (Baby Dragoon) Pocket Model variation for scale

File:Dragoon bullets.jpg

Dragoon Bullets

Firing a Brace of Dragoons

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Rick Sapp (2007). Standard Catalog of Colt Firearms. F+W Media, Inc,. pp. 35–40. ISBN 978-0-89689-534-8. 
  2. Wilson, R.L. “Colt, An American Legend.” New York-London:Artabras, A division of Abbeville Publishing Group 1985
  3. McClellan's Colt Dragoon at the Smithsonian
  4. 4.0 4.1 Bates, Johnny, Cumpston, Mike (2005)Percussion Pistols and Revolvers, History, Performance and Practical use,Lincoln Nebraska, New York, London:iUniverse Publishers
  5. Dan Shideler (2010). Guns Illustrated: The Latest Guns, Specs & Prices. F+W Media, Inc,. p. 276. ISBN 978-1-4402-1392-2. 

4. Flack, Jeremy Rifles and Pitols Florida:Sunburst Books, 1995.

  • A History of the Colt Revolver from 1836 to 1940 Copyright 1940 by Charles T. Haven and Frank A. Belden

External links

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