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Colt Peacemaker was the most popular gun in the Wild West

Domagoj Valjak

Cowboys, lawmen, outlaws and bandits can hardly be imagined without a gun. Specifically, when people picture a drifter from the Old West, they most likely imagine a gritty figure wielding a distinct long-barreled revolver.

This is the Colt Single Action Army Revolver, also known as the Colt Peacemaker. The Peacemaker was popularized in popular culture by its extensive use throughout of the Western genre of the 20th century, but its historical significance is undeniable.

Second generation Colt Single Action Army.
Second generation Colt Single Action Army

The Peacemaker, also called the Frontier, the Model P, and the Equalizer was firstly widely used by the army. During the mid-1860’s the army was looking to replace their slow and fragile percussion pistols, so they tested the .44-caliber Colt revolver, which they rejected for being robust and unreliable. However, during the 1870’s William Mason and Charles Brinckerhoff designed and created the .45-caliber centerfire Colt Single Action Army. The army immediately recognized the gun’s potential: they used it as their official service weapon until the World War II.

Colt quickly began producing the gun in a variety of calibers: the .32-caliber version was very popular because it used the same rounds as the popular Winchester rifle. The Peacemaker became every man’s dream despite being expensive, as its reliability and elegance made it legendary. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday carried the Peacemakers during the famous 30-second shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Billy the Kid, Jesse James and Butch Cassidy carried them too.

Colt .45 cartridges. Photo Credit
Colt .45 cartridges Photo Credit


The Peacemaker even earned the nickname “the gun that won the West”. This nickname was popularized by the showman and bison hunter Buffalo Bill, who had traveled around telling stories about the gun’s divine accuracy.

"Buffalo Bill," nicknamed after his contract to supply Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with buffalo meat.
Buffalo Bill- nicknamed after his contract to supply Kansas Pacific Railroad workers with buffalo meat

By the 1950’s Hollywood cowboys were almost exclusively equipped with the Peacemakers, as the gun became a national icon. John Wayne carried custom-designed ivory-gripped Colts, and Clint Eastwood and Kirk Douglas also used the legendary revolver.

Although the Peacemaker was the most popular and most reliable gun, it wasn’t mass produced.

John Wayne with Marsha Hunt in Born to the West (1937).
John Wayne with Marsha Hunt in Born to the West (1937)



Second Generation Colt engraved in a 19th Century pattern.
Second Generation Colt engraved in a 19-th century pattern

While only around 300 000 units were made between 1873 and 1941, and the lesser-known company Harrington & Richardson manufactured over three million revolvers by 1908, the Peacemaker remained an icon and the Harrington & Richardson’s guns drifted into obscurity.

Read another story from us: Punt Gun – The massive vintage gun that could kill 90 waterfowls with one shot

The production of the Peacemaker ceased after the World War II, but the gun was reintroduced in 1956 due to its on-screen popularity, and it is still being produced.

Domagoj Valjak

Domagoj Valjak is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News