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THE COLT DRAGOON PERCUSSION REVOLVER March handgun of the month
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 Posted: Thu Mar 8th, 2007 02:54 PM
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WildBill



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THE COLT DRAGOON PERCUSSION REVOLVER




    Among the most colorful and historic of all U.S. military firearms is the Colt Model 1848 Percussion Army Revolver, or "Dragoon." Introduced in 1848 after the close of the Mexican War, the Dragoon formed the big bore part of the Colt stable. Initially intended for use by the U.S. Army's Mounted Rifles (U.S.M.R.) or "Dragoons" this model went on to see considerable civilian use during the 1850s and '60s, and was used during the Civil War.

    The massive Dragoon was introduced to rectify a number of defects found in the even larger Colt Walker revolver which were discovered in active service during the Mexican War. For example, the Walker was so large at four and a half pounds that it was quite unwieldy. Additionally, a number of Walkers exploded when they were fired, no doubt causing much grief to their users. Features introduced in the Dragoon model include a slightly shorter cylinder, holding up to 50 grains of powder and a round ball (compared with 60 grains in the Walker), a slightly shorter barrel (7.5 inches versus 9 inches for the Walker), and a somewhat more positive loading lever latch designed to keep the lever from dropping down during recoil and jamming the piece. The shorter barrel and cylinder brought weight down to 4 pounds two ounces and thus made the arm slightly easier to handle. The lower powder capacity lowered chamber pressures and made the gun inherently less likely to blow up when shot. Improvements in Colt's metallurgy also helped in this regard.

    During the 1850s leading up to the Civil War, Colt Dragoons saw extensive military and civilian use. The Dragoons were originally issued to the U.S.M.R. in pairs which were carried in pommel holsters on their saddles. However, they also gained in popularity among civilians in the Southwest, many of whom had seen recent service in the Mexican War. Some of these men had no doubt seen the Walker Colt in action and wanted to have similar firepower on their side. Others knew a good thing when they saw it, and latched onto the powerful and rapid-firing Dragoons. The American West in the 1850s was a place where a man might need a powerful, rapid-firearm, whether for defending his homestead on the plains of "Bleeding Kansas" or while fighting Indians and desperados in Texas. The Colt Dragoon, more than any other weapon, fit this description to a "T."

    During its production run from 1848 through 1860, when it was superseded by the Colt Model 1860 Army revolver, the Dragoon was produced in three main variations. Naturally, these are referred to as the First Model, Second Model, and Third Model Dragoons. Government orders totaled 8,390 revolvers during this time frame.

    The distinguishing external feature of the First Model Dragoon is the  oval-shaped cylinder notches. Nearly 7,000 First Models were made by Colt from 1848 to 1850.

    The Second Model differed from earlier guns in that the cylinder notches are rectangular, and it could have either a regular leaf mainspring, or the "V" mainspring of the First Model. This is by far the scarcest variation, with only about 2,550 being made in 1850 and '51.

    The Third Model Dragoon was produced in greater numbers than the two earlier models, with a little more than 10,000 made from 1851 through 1860. Some were even0. Some were even made at Colt's London armory. There were more variations of this model than earlier types. Features incorporated on some Third Model Dragoons include frame cuts for detachable shoulder  stocks, horizontal "Navy-type" loading lever latches (most Dragoons have a vertical latch), and folding leaf sights. The key external identifying feature of the Third Model is the round trigger guard, instead of the square-back trigger guard of earlier types.

    All three models of the Dragoon revolvers have an unfluted cylinder which bears an engraved scene of a battle between soldiers and Indians.   The cylinder may also bear the inscription "U.S. DRAGOONS" or "MODEL U.S.M.R."  

    The first impression most people have when seeing a Colt Dragoon for the first time is something like, "Damn, it's big!" To give you an idea of just how big, let's look at the gun's specifications:

    * Weight: 4 pounds, two ounces.
    * Length overall: 14 inches.
    * Barrel length: 7.5 inches.
    * : 7.5 inches. Caliber: .44 nominal; actually shoots a .451 to .457 ball.
    * Powder capacity: 50 grains when shooting a round ball.

    This dwarfs the Ruger Old Army, no lightweight at 3 pounds, or a Colt M1860 Army at 2.75 pounds. It's also considerably more powerful than either of these other two .44s. The Old Army has a maximum powder charge of 40 grains, while the M1860 Colt will hold 35 grains (both when shooting round balls). 



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 Posted: Mon Mar 12th, 2007 12:05 PM
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sdb777



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Thank you for a very well researched and informative article!

 

Scott (enjoyed it) B



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 Posted: Mon Mar 12th, 2007 07:32 PM
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wolfkill
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I think the poster I have in my computer room shows Clint Eastwood with the Colt Dragoon...esp after reading your piece WildBill and the time line the movie was in.  

Seems to me he used that piece in a couple of movies?

I remember one scene in particular in "The Good, the bad, the ugly" where he is putting the gun back together just as he is being stalked by some bad guys and you think,"Oh no he ain't going to get it back together in time..." but he does.

Yaaa I'm pretty sure it was the Dragoon. The tear down was quite unique and the directors concentrating on it for the he man crowd in the audience did a good job I thought.

Thanks for the work WildBill makes me want to rent a couple movies just to see the piece again  :thumbs:

Last edited on Mon Mar 12th, 2007 07:46 PM by wolfkill



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 Posted: Tue Mar 13th, 2007 03:07 AM
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Charley



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That's a Walker in his hand. Look at the loading lever latch. Not right for the Dragoon. 



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 Posted: Tue Mar 13th, 2007 04:23 PM
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wolfkill
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                                                 :homer:



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 Posted: Fri Apr 13th, 2007 12:39 AM
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72coupe
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In 1968 I had a replica of the 2nd Model and an 1860 New Model Army. I had 35 days leave before I shipped out to Veitnam and I stood in a field and shot at a 20 inch disk from the hip for hours on end every day. Stopping only to cast more ball and clean once per day. I fired thousands of shots through the Dragoon and the New Model.

I think all that instinct shooting saved my life more than once while I was in country.

I shot the 2 pistols so much they became extremely loose. After I returned home I traded them for a Remington 788 in 22-250. Thats when I started reloading.



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