Wednesday, February 17, 2021


By Andrea Downing



Most of the authors here at Cowboy Kisses write historical western romance, and at some point in their stories, a Colt .45 or a Colt Peacemaker or some other Colt gun is sure to make an appearance.  But I wonder how many of us know the story of the man behind those guns:  Samuel Colt.

Samuel Colt by Matthew Brady, 1857

     Born in 1814, Colt seems to have had an early interest in blowing up things.  It was after a show of pyrotechnics at his boarding school, and a subsequent fire, that he was sent off to be a seaman and go to London and Calcutta. While on board, he noted that the ship’s wheel could either turn or be locked into position by employing a ratchet or clutch mechanism.  He duly carved from scrap wood a similar mechanism for a gun, which could hold 5 or 6 bullets in a rotating cylinder. Back in the states in 1832, his father financed the production of both a rifle and a hand gun, but when the former exploded on being fired, these early demonstrations went no further.

Since he had learned about nitrous oxide (laughing gas) in his father’s textile plant, Colt decided to present himself as Dr. Coult in demonstrations across the US. Entertaining crowds in fairground presentations and other shows, he made enough money to start his first firearms business. Only 21 when he received his first Patent, the Colt Patent Arms Manufacturing Company opened in Paterson, NJ. Sales were low with most in TX and FL (for use in war with the Seminoles). The business floundered and closed in 1842 leaving Colt in debt. But without Colt knowing it, down in TX his 5-shot gun was finding favor.

Part of Colt's Patent application, courtesy of The Gutenberg Project

Famed Captain of the Texas Rangers, Samuel Walker, wrote to Colt to tell him how the Rangers were partial to his firearm. When the Rangers were joined by the US Army to fight the Mexican American War in 1846, the fame of the gun spread.  It was then Walker worked with Colt to develop an improved .44, and President Taylor ordered one thousand for his army. 

Colt was back in business. He built a factory in Hartford, Conn., his hometown, along the Connecticut River. This was subsequently enlarged in 1855 to include games rooms, washing stations, parks, orchards, a railroad depot, a beer garden, and tenement housing for his employees. He was one of the first to use assembly line production with the employees working ten hours daily. In this way, he was able to produce some 150 guns a day. Colt also manufactured the Gatling gun, underwater detonators, and in a deal with Samuel Morse, underwater telegraph cable. In addition, in 1853, he opened a plant in London although after only four years it closed; the guns did not prove popular with the British Army or Navy., CT

The Colt Mansion, 80 Wethersfield Avenue, Hartford, CT

Prior to the Civil War, Colt supplied guns to both sides, which did not sit well with the Union.  Despite this, he was made a Lt. Col. in 1861 and formed the 1st Regiment Colt’s Revolving Rifles.  They never saw action.

A marketing genius, Colt employed George Catlin, the famed painter of Native Americans, to portray the guns in a dozen paintings. Colt also made gifts of his weapons in signed presentation boxes to numerous heads of state, traveling to present the gilded and engraved pistols. Colt even trademarked his signature. And, of course, he had the slogan “God created men; Col. Colt made them equal.”

Colt’s private life was somewhat less smooth-sailing.  He purportedly had a marriage in Scotland in 1838 to one Caroline Henshaw. Henshaw was left pregnant and later married Colt’s brother, John, in 1841 to legitimize the child she bore.  John, however, was convicted of murder in 1842 and sentenced to hang.  He took his own life prior. Colt recognized the child,  Samuel Caldwell Colt, in his Will.  Colt and his wife, Elizabeth Jarvis Colt, had one son, Caldwell Hart Colt; three other children passed at birth or before age four.

Elizaabeth and Caldwell Colt, 1865

Samuel Colt died from complications from gout in 1862. He left an estate of $15M—some $387M at today’s value. The estate passed to his wife with her brother, Richard Jarvis, handling the business side of the company.

The Single Action Army Handgun was not produced until some ten years after Colt’s death.  Samuel Colt never held the Peacemaker—the Colt .45.


A Colt was one of the guns my hero, Shiloh Coltrane, carries on his search for the murderers of his sister and her son in Shot Through the Heart.

Gunslinger Shiloh Coltrane has returned home to work the family's Wyoming ranch, only to find there's still violence ahead. His sister and nephew have been murdered, and the killers are at large.
Dr. Sydney Cantrell has come west to start her medical practice, aiming to treat the people of a small town. As she tries to help and heal, she finds disapproval and cruelty the payment in kind.
When the two meet, it's an attraction of opposites. As Shiloh seeks revenge, Sydney seeks to do what's right. Each wants a new life, but will trouble or love find them first?





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Sydney watched as he rolled out his bedroll where the table had been, now pushed aside. “I’ll get you some fresh water,” she said as she made a move toward the door.

“No. You don’t know who might be lurking out there, who might’ve snuck up. I’ll go.”

Frustrated, she stamped her foot. “You are sooo annoying! You won’t be here tomorrow night, or the night after. I look after myself, Mr. Coltrane! I—”

“I thought we were using first names now.” His hands found his hips and he had that funny smile once more.

She pursed her lips, trying to hold in her anger. “It doesn’t matter what I call you! You are still the most infuriating man I’ve ever met.”

“Met many, then?” He had one brow up and a smirk now.

“I’m a doctor. Of course I’ve ‘met’ many.”

“Dead or alive?”

“Very funny.” She grabbed the dishcloth and flicked it before spreading it out on the handle of the range. “Good night!”

“Good night, Sydney,” he said mildly as she headed for her bedroom and slammed the door.

In the dark, she lay as she did many nights, the moon glowing through her window, a shadow cast of the cross panes, her thoughts simmering in her brain. He had asked why she had become a doctor and her answer had not been the complete truth. She recalled now a dinner party her parents had given when she was sixteen, new acquaintances her father had met at his bank, a professor and his wife. Sydney had formed an instant attachment to them, held the woman in high esteem, admired her greatly for being a doctor, having a profession. And the husband! It had been love at first sight, or what she considered love at her tender age, a ‘crush,’ infatuation of the deepest variety. Not only had he been kind, handsome, and good-natured, unlike the example her own father had set, but he was learned and interesting, fascinating even. She would have walked over freshly fired nails had he asked her. The example they had set stayed with her. She would emulate them, walk the same path as they.

From the front room came the sound of the board creaking as Shiloh turned in his sleep. A very different man from Professor Willis. A man who took things into his own hands, a man of doing, of action rather than study, complacency and thought. There was something here that attracted her as well. There was kindness in Coltrane, but kindness of a different sort, and where the professor had been handsome with his goatee, dark eyes, and studious, respectable demeanor, Shiloh Coltrane had a sort of rough and ready beauty to him, the unkempt appearance and bearing of someone who worked hard to get what he wanted. That, too, was very appealing.

Her loneliness grew on her, was amplified with the knowledge there was a man in the next room whose soft, even breathing she imagined she could hear. Other things she could imagine, too. Sleeping in his arms, his hard body wrapped around her, their legs entwined, the intimacy of shared jokes, little whispers through the soft night. And if she went through that door? If she lay down next to him?

If she could just have the peace of companionship for one night?

Her bed moaned slightly as she shifted her weight to touch her bare feet to the floor, her light nightdress falling about her. Cat-like, she tiptoed and clasped the doorknob, stopped in her tracks, wondered if she knew what she was doing, and why she was doing it? Just a peek, she told herself. Just a glance to let her imagination know better. A kind of yearning and curiosity rolled into one.

Giving in to her own inability to sleep unless she just had this one glimpse of him, she turned the knob and slipped into the front room. The profile of Shiloh bundled in his bedroll, lit by the moon, greeted her. She advanced with care, afraid to wake him, and then heard the metallic clunk as his gun hit the floor. She stood and stared down at him: his hands cradled his head, elbows akimbo, the thin smile upon his lips.

And then he reached out his hand, his palm open, and she let the long fingers wrap around her wrist and guide her down.





Julie Lence said...

Hi Andrea: Many times I've used a Colt in my stories, so it was fun to learn about the man himself. I've never researched him, and especially like the part about his schooling and sailing, how the ship's wheel gave him an idea.
Your excerpt is wonderful! Pulled me right in. Best wishes with the story. Hugs!

Andrea Downing said...

Thanks for your kind words, Julie, about the excerpt. As for Sam Colt, I did suddenly think how often we write about Colts but I for one knew nothing about the man himself.

GiniRifkin said...

Thank you, interesting post. Colt had a cameo in my book Victorian Dream when he brought his guns to display at the Crystal Palace. Intriguing excerpt...!

Andrea Downing said...

Gini, what a clever idea for you to include Colt in yr book like that! And thanks for your kind words re the excerpt.

Patti Sherry-Crews said...

How interesting! I'm amazed he was only 21 when he received his first patent. He must have had quite a mind. Of course, I'm more interested in his messy personal life...Loved your book, Shot Through the Heart!

Andrea Downing said...

Patti, I don't think any genius ever has an easy life!! But yes, isn't it interesting how he turned out one way and his brother quite another? Or maybe, going by his first marriage, he wasn't too far from his brother after all.