Saturday, July 6, 2013

Gunpowder and Colt Walker

Being this close to the Fourth of July, I thought a good topic for the day would be gunpowder. You might say all the fireworks gave me the idea. For all those gun toting hombres we love to write about and read about, gunpowder was a necessary commodity. Well, gunpowder is a rather broad topic so I decided to narrow my search to Texas.
Hence my stumbling over the mystery of Waxahachie. During the Civil War, finding a source for guns proved difficult so Texas decided to lend a hand. Texas subsidized gun manufacturers in an effort to stimulate gun production. According to the Handbook of Texas Online, "..a report read in the Confederate Congress on August 18, 1863, Texas had four gun factories making 800 arms a month, two powder mills, and a percussion cap factory..".

The two gunpowder mills mentioned were located in Marshall and Waxahachie. In addition to the gunpowder mill at Marshall, the entire site consisted of stores for repairing small arms, shops for the blacksmiths, and a foundry for artillery-shell making.  Being a foundry, they also manufactured iron skillets and Dutch ovens.

The manufacturing of gunpowder requires only three ingredients; potassium nitrate also known as saltpeter; sulfur, and powdered charcoal. At the Waxahachie mill, the milling machinery was powered by ten mules and allowed the millstones to grind all three ingredients together. The job was extremely dangerous and men to work the mill were in short supply as most were already fighting in the war.
The gunpowder mill at Waxahachie wasn’t quite so successful. Less than a year after being established in 1862, an explosion destroyed the mill and claimed two lives. An investigation into the cause led to only more questions. A man who was thought to be a Northern visitor disappeared shortly after the tragic event leaving many to speculate that perhaps he, under the direction of the Yankees, had something to do with the blast. The stranger quickly became the chief suspect though he was never found.

File:1847Colt Walker.jpg
photo from Wikimedia commons
photo from Wikipedia Commons
Gunpowder was needed to make weaponry of the era work. Especially, a gun like the Colt Walker. Colt Walker was a special gun commissioned by Captain Samuel Hamilton Walker of the Texas Rangers. Walker traveled all the way to New York on his own dime to meet with Samuel Colt as he desired a special gun for his Texas Rangers that he felt confident Samuel Colt could produce. He gave Colt and order for 1000 revolvers with the stipulation that he make significant changes to the latest version. The year was 1847. Walker wanted the gun to hold six rounds instead of five, to hold enough black powder that it would kill a man or horse with a single shot, and he wanted the gun to be easier to reload. From Wikipedia’s article on the Colt Walker, “The Colt Walker was the largest and most powerful black powder repeating handgun ever made.” In fact, from an article on the American History site, “It proved to be a revolver of such size, weight, and heft that Colt was reputed to have said, "It would take a Texan to shoot it." Walker wrote in 1847 that the gun was "as effective as a common rifle at 100 yards and superior to a musket even at 200."
With parts left over from the Colt Walker, Colt fashioned the Colt Dragoon Revolver. The dragoon was a popular weapon among the U.S. Calvary during the Civil War. These weapons along with similar models were instrumental in helping men forge a new life in the west.




  1. Great post, Ciara. I am always eager to learn more about guns of the period in which we write. I had no idea Waxahachie has a factory, nor of the explosion. Such a picturesque town.

  2. Fascinating, Ciara. I love to use the Colt as a favorite firearms in Westerns. I hope I'm using the right one.
    I didn't know about the gunpowder factories in Texas, and that why I love these posts and our blog. It' very entertaining, yes, but educational, too. I've become much smarter by reading all these. Ha.

    I'll bet it was Yankee who blew up that factory. Makes sense, doesn't it? That was a very dangerous occupation--profitable, if you didn't get killed.

    Thanks. I liked this.

  3. Who ever did it, I can so see this as the premise for a new story. Since no one knows for sure, the writer can just about make up anything. The wheels are turning.


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.