By Jeremy Harding
The wind is blowing. A tumble-weed cartwheels by as seasoned lawmen and thieving scoundrels face off over a dusty Tombstone thoroughfare. Shots ring out and, for a few frantic seconds, the town erupts into booming chaos. In less than half-a-minute, it’s all over. As blood soaks into the dry Arizona dirt, the four unwitting survivors of the shootout are set to become American icons… along with the firearm that the most famous among them, Deputy Sheriff Wyatt Earp, brought to the fight: the venerable Colt Peacemaker.
As inextricably American as apple pie, baseball, and the second amendment, the Colt model 1873 Single Action Army (SAA), which would later be affectionately known as the Peacemaker, changed the face of revolvers forever. After being selected as the preferred firearm of the United States military in 1873, the Colt Peacemaker saw more than 20 years of active service before more modern revolvers and semi-automatic options forced it into retirement.
However, its solid platform design and rugged reliability kept it from becoming another historical footnote. That stellar reputation was bolstered to become something more than just famous by larger than life characters that helped the “wild west” to live up to its name. Veritable legends like the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid, dogged and determined man of the law Wyatt Earp, and Robert Ford who used one to kill outlaw Jesse James all contributed to the timeless firearm’s renown as: “the gun that won the west.”
Despite this prestige, production of the Peacemaker was halted twice; most notably during the Second World War when production facilities were used for supplying the war effort. Fortunately, the overwhelming popularity of the Colt Peacemaker and the resurgence of interest in the old west due to movies starring big names like “the Duke” himself, John Wayne, and television programs like the Lone Ranger, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke all served to convince Colt to restart production of their esteemed pistol in 1956. They have been manufacturing them ever since with only a short pause between 1974 and 1976.
When it was first conceived, the original SAA’s barrel length was 7½ inches, which was issued to the U.S. Cavalry. There were also shorter models that were made later like the 4¾ inch “Civilian” and the 5½ inch “Artillery.” Weighing in at nearly 2 pounds, the Peacemaker is no lightweight, but the solid construction helps keep shots on target by reducing recoil. Not long after being introduced to the market, the Peacemaker received modifications that would see the classic design incorporate a host of different calibers. Although, in 2019, Colt primarily produces them in .45 and .357 magnum.
While older models are viewed more as valuable collector’s items these days, the tried and true construction of the Colt Peacemaker is as strong in today’s market as it was when it was first conceived. It is a living piece of history that has remained nearly the same for more than a century and will forever be immortalized as an American legend.