Clipped From The Kerrville Times
THIS WEEK IN TEXAS HISTORY Colt Owes Success To Texan Samuel Colt Invents Modern Firepower — The Revolver By BARTEE HAILE Dec. 7, 1846, Texas Ranger Samuel Walker, speaking from frontier experience, implored the President to purchase a revolutionary new six- gun for the United States Army. That very afternoon, afternoon, James K. Polk saw to it that the soldiers sent to fight in Mexico carried a Colt on their hips. The illiterate genius responsible for the most awesome breakthrough in weapon technology in two centuries was born in 1814 on a Connecticut farm. A prodigy who could barely read and write, Samuel Colt at 15 devised and detonated an amazing amazing underwater explosive for harbor defense. Afraid his son might blow up the homestead, the senior Colt sent the school dropout to sea. During the round-the-world cruise, Sam first envisioned a pistol equipped with a rotating, six-chamber cylinder. cylinder. From a block of scrap wood, he carved a crude prototype of the historic concept. Back home in New England, excited Sam convinced convinced his skeptical father to finance construction of a working model of his brainstorm. But after the youth refused to ship out again, Mr. Colt balked at sinking any more hard earned cash into the crazy contraption. Determined to develop the daring idea, Sam discovered to his dismay that the services of skilled skilled gunsmiths did not come cheap. To raise money for the expensive project, the resourceful teena- . ger hit the road with a portable rig for making nitrous oxide. Billing himself as "The Celebrated Dr. Coult of New York, London and Calcutta," Sam sold the g iggle gas to eager audiences for 50 cents a whiff, onsidering that a complete dinner cost only 15 cents in those days, the price was mighty steep but that did not stop him from doing a brisk business and plowing the profits back into his dream. Sam was granted the U.S. patent for his revolver revolver in early 1836 and soon after demonstrated the creation for President Andrew Jackson. The young inventor mistook polite patience for genuine interest because Old Hickory later told the Army to stick with ancient flintlocks. Three years later, a Colt employee gave several samples of a five-slug version to a visting Texan, who in turn presented the firearms to President Mirabeau Lamar. Deciding that the newfangled weapon was just the thing for the endangered Republic, Lamar bought a batch for the Rangers and Texas Navy. Though Colt was inundated with orders bearing Lone Star postmarks, he was getting nowhere with the short-sighted Army. Returning to the underwater mine, he blew to smithereens a series of surplus ships. In addition to widespread interest, the dramatic sales pitch attracted a new foe, John Quincy Adams. The same President turned Congressman who singlehandedly stalled Texas annexation condemned subsurface explosives as a violation of In nine years, Sam Colt went from wretched subsistence to fantastic riches. By 1856 he was the wealthiest industrialist in New England and on his legendary way to amassing a $15 million million fortune before his premature death at age 47. the rules of "fair and honest warfare." In 1842 Sam was preoccupied with the impending impending execution of his older brother. Convicted for the hammer murder of a New York bill collector, John Colt was sentenced to hang. While John sweated the gallows countdown, his mistress Caroline Henshaw gave birth to a boy she named Sam Colt, Jr. The Henshaw woman was in fact Sam's ex-wife, though the estranged couple had never obtained a divorce. Five minutes before the execution, a suspicious fire engulfed the jail. Finding a body burned beyond recognition in the death row cell, the authorities authorities declared the condemned man dead, For years, however, unconfirmed sightings of John Colt kept alive the sensational rumor that Sam had masterminded his successful escape. Samuel Walker truly was Colt's guardian angel. Not only did the famous Texas Ranger unlock the door to lucrative government contracts with his personal appeal to President Polk, he also helped the impoverished inventor redesign his revolver. In gratitude, Colt made his benefactor immortal. immortal. Stamped on the cylinder of the gun was a scene that showed Ranger Walker giving the Comanches their first taste of modern firepower. In nine years, Sam Colt went from wretched subsistence to fantastic riches. By 1856 he was the wealthiest industrialist in New England and on his legendary way to amassing a $15 million fortune before his premature death at age 47. The impact of the Colt handgun on Texas and the Old West is well illustrated by an episode from Lone Star folklore. Questioning a point made by an attorney in his court, a crusty Texas judge asked, "Your law, sir. Give us the book and page, sir." "This is my law, sir," replied the lawyer brandishing brandishing a puny pocket pistol. "And this is my book, sir," he added removing a Bowie knife from its scabbard. "And," he said pointing the pistol at the judge, "this is my page." Without batting an eye, the judge whipped out his huge six-shooter, aimed the miniature cannon at the frightened attorney and drawled, "Your law is not good, sir. The proper authority is Colt on Revolvers." Bartee Haile is a free-lance writer based in Pearland, Texas.