A Brief History of the Colt Single Action Army Revolver
The Colt Single Action Army which is also known as the Single Action Army, SAA, Model P, Peacemaker, M1873, and Colt .45 is a single-action revolver with a revolving cylinder holding six metallic cartridges. It was designed for the U.S. government service revolver trials of 1872 by Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company – today’s Colt’s Manufacturing Company – and was adopted as the standard military service revolver until 1892.
The Colt SAA revolver is a famous piece of Americana, known as “The Gun That Won the West”.
The Single Action Army became available in standard barrel lengths of 4 ¾” and 5 ½” as well as the Cavalry standard, original 7 ½”. The shorter barreled revolvers are sometimes called the “Civilian” or “Gunfighter” model (4 ¾”) and the Artillery Model (5 ½”). There was also a variant with a sub 4” barrel without an ejector rod unofficially referred to as the “Sheriff’s Model”, “Banker’s Special” or “Storekeeper”. The Colt SAA Cavalry Standard with the 7 ½” barrel was used by General George A. Custer’s 7th Cavalry at the Battle of Little Big Horn on June 25-26, 1876.
The .45 caliber Artillery SAA Revolvers were used successfully by front troops in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War. Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders changed up San Juan Hill wielding the .45 caliber Artillery Model.
The “Civilian” or “Gunfighter” model has the most extensive exposure of all the SAA’s primarily because of it’s use in most western movies and television programs.
At the beginning of each episode of the TV program “Gunsmoke” which ran from 1955-1975, Marshall Matt Dillon is seen quick-drawing his Colt SAA Cavalry model against an unseen opponent. Dillon evidently was the quicker as the show ran for 635 episodes and he won each contest. The Cavalry model with the 7 ½” barrel was not the best choice for a quick draw due to the time it took to clear the holster. However, James Arness, who played Marshall Dillon, was 6 ft. 7 inches tall and may have had extra arm length to compensate for the extended barrel length.
An expanded history of this handgun can be found at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colt_Single_Action_Army.