On January 4, 1847, Samuel Colt sold his first revolver to the United States government, allowing buckskinned frontiersmen and uniformed soldiers everywhere to sheathe their Bowie knives and mail their powder-and-ball kits to their poorer relations.
When Samuel Colt, cigar clamped manfully between his teeth, shook hands on the deal for one thousand .44-caliber revolvers to be sent ASAP, his brain was shrieking like a girl–not that there’s anything wrong with that–How in hell’s acre am I supposed to make that many guns in so short a time? The U.S./Mexican War had made the gun popular on a scale he hadn’t even dreamed of but which was a godsend to his struggling armaments company.
(*Short political rant alert*) Unlike many current U.S. government contractors in Iraq, who somehow seem to have lost or misplaced the roads and hospitals they were supposed to build, he used the federal dollars to jump-start Yankee ingenuity, and lo–interchangeable parts and mass production won the West (or lost it, depending on your point of view).
The Colt revolver was revolutionary. More precise than its predecessors, its barrel had a rifled interior that put a stabilizing spin on the bullet that sent it to its target. And what the hell, if the gunslinger missed the first shot, the revolving chambers of the Colt permitted him five more bullets.
In honor of Samuel Colt, who singlehandedly elevated the American icon of the cowboy from pastoral workhorse to gimlet-eyed gunslinger, I present the continued countdown of 51 Cowboy Facts. For 51 to 15, see Powboy, Bucko’s Boots, The Mythic Metaphor, Ka-Ching!, A Cowboy’s Life, What Roy Rogers Taught the World, Americans Can Tighten Their Belts, and Buckaroo’s Back.
Cowboy Fact 14: Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But in a movie western, a gun is totally a penis symbol.
Cowboy Fact 13: Cowboys don’t always have to have a gun. But they have to know how to use one.
Cowboy Fact 12: Nevertheless, a gun in the holster of a movie cowboy implies he is a man. Or she, in the case of Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar.
Cowboy Fact 11: The parts and action of a gun, like “cock,” “trigger,” “butt,” and “fire,” evoke shootouts of all kinds–hence the cinematic showdown’s drawn-out foreplay,* flurry of action, and climax.
*complete proof of the influence of the female sensibility on westerns