By Murphy Givens
Originally published 12:00 a.m., December 12, 2007
Updated 03:56 a.m., December 12, 2007
Frank Lemos/Art Illustration A Matamoros newspaper ad from 1847 shows improvements of 1844, 1845, and 1846 made to Colt's repeating pistol.
The first Texas Rangers in the 1830s used muzzle-loading rifles. In Indian fights, they had to dismount to aim and reload. A charging warrior could shoot off half a dozen arrows in the time it took to reload a cap-and-ball rifle.
Walter Prescott Webb wrote that the Rangers and Indian fighters "would discharge their rifles, then mount, and go in pursuit. At most they had only two shots each, and these were soon spent. In the meantime, the Indian could discharge his arrow from a running horse, and as soon as his adversary's guns were empty could turn upon him with arrows and spears. Texas needed a new weapon. The man who supplied that weapon was a Connecticut Yankee named Samuel Colt."
Colt patented his practical repeating firearm -- Colt's Patent Revolver -- in 1836, but it didn't appear in Texas in any numbers until about 1839. Most accounts say the first use of the Colts in an Indian battle took place on the Pedernales River north of Seguin in 1842 in a fight between Jack Hays' Rangers and Comanches. But was the battle on the Pedernales the first use of the Colts in fighting Indians in Texas? A.J. Sowell in "Texas Indian Fighters" wrote that the first use came in a battle near Corpus Christi the year before, in 1841.
Sowell noted that Hays and 12 of his men ran into 75 Comanche warriors near Corpus Christi. A fight ensued in which some 30 Indians were killed or wounded. This victory, wrote Sowell, was due to the use of Colt's revolvers that the Texans used for the first time, to the great astonishment of the Indians.
The usual Indian tactics in such a fight were described in another battle on the outskirts of Corpus Christi, this one in 1844. The town was hit by Comanche warriors on a horse-stealing raid. The Indians took some horses, but were hotly pursued by town residents. They chased the Comanches to an area west of town (near where the airport is today). Both sides dismounted for a fight.
At this point, the Indian chief rode to the front, holding up his shield of tough buffalo hide, and yelling insults at the Texans. The Texans fired repeatedly at him, but their bullets were stopped by the rawhide shield, said to be as tough as iron. The chief's taunting antics were meant to draw the fire of the Texans and then, before they could reload, the warriors would charge. But this tactic would no longer work, as the Indians soon learned, after the appearance of Colt revolvers.
Whether on the Pedernales or near Corpus Christi, Colt's Patent Revolvers made a revolution on the frontier. Maj. W.W. Chapman, an Army quartermaster who first came to Corpus Christi with Zachary Taylor and again in the early 1850s, was one of the original distributors of Colt firearms in South Texas.
There's another local connection to Samuel Colt. In 1856, he and his brother bought 14,000 acres on the Lamar Peninsula and Goose Island with plans to engage in land speculation. The Civil War intervened, then Samuel Colt died in 1862.
Murphy Givens is Viewpoints Editor of the Caller-Times. Phone: 886-4315; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org