Colt debuted its grand Single Action Army (SAA) revolver in 1873. Knighted the “Peacemaker,” it is undeniably one of the greatest handguns ever produced. To date the SAA has been chambered in upwards of 30 cartridges and has been offered in a variety of barrel lengths, from the short-barreled Sheriff's Model to the lengthy Buntline Special. Volumes of history and lore surround the SAA, and several names have been bestowed on the classic sixgun: Peacemaker, Thumbbuster, Hogleg and Model P—to name a few. The SAA has been discontinued twice, but each time it returned due to public outcry for Colt's classic single action. It is currently in production.
As you can imagine, a gun that has been in production for over 140 years has been connected to its share of history, both well-documented and little or unknown. That is a part of the charm of the Colt SAA, especially the old guns that were in service during the frontier times.
I am lucky to own one such Colt, a First Generation, and while I do not know its earliest history, I do know a good bit about its later existence. My SAA was manufactured in 1901 and started out as a .41 Long Colt. Sometime after World War Two, my Grandpa Ashley bought or traded for the gun. For one reason or another my granddad eventually had the sixgun converted to .45 Colt by swapping out the cylinder and adding a 7½-inch barrel. I know he liked the .45 caliber, and I also know at one time he worked for a rancher who carried a .45 Colt and supplied ammunition for target practice. I suspect that could have been a deciding factor in the caliber conversion as well. He had the .41 barrel and cylinder for years, but several moves while chasing better jobs for his growing family finally misplaced the parts.
The stocks on the Colt are the factory-supplied hard rubber version with the Rampant Colt at the top. These stocks were taken from a rusty single action decades ago that was snagged when some men were seining the Navidad River for bait. One can only wonder how the gun ended up in the river. “WF” is scratched into the bottom of the left stock and whoever carried the gun was right-handed, as the right stock is worn smooth from what must have been years of contact with shirt and coat sleeves.
The fact that my granddad kept the Colt all those years is a testament to his admiration for the gun. I can recall guns he spoke of once owning that will bring a tear to the eye of the staunchest gun collector: Octagonal-barreled Model '94 Winchesters, 1892s, black powder framed Colts and a Smith and Wesson .38 Top-Break revolver, all of which were swapped or sold to make other purchases. Times were lean and the only way he could afford another firearm he wanted was to get rid of one he had.
My granddad taught me from an early age to respect guns, and his long-barreled Colt always rode on the pickup seat in a black basket weave Bianchi flap holster. He was raised in the Great Depression and those conservative values ran strong. He did not “waste” ammunition, so I never shot the old Colt as a youngster and only recall seeing him shoot it a couple times, one of them being when a turkey vulture was after a half-born calf. He dumped it with one shot.
When my granddad died the old Colt went to my uncle and on a long-distance visit by me to his place he unexpectedly gave the six-shooter to me. I rarely shoot it, but it’s neat to pull it out of the safe every once in a while and think about all of the history surrounding the blue-worn gun. The crisp click, click, click, click it makes as you ear back the hammer spells out C-O-L-T and stirs up images of outlaws, lawmen and Indian fighters. Owning a Colt Peacemaker is owning a piece of history.