The Tragedy of George Schofield

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic


The arms race that claimed the lives of some of the greatest firearms innovators of all time.

Submitted: April 14, 2018

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Submitted: April 14, 2018

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The patent for the first practical revolving handgun was issued to Bosnian firearm inventor named Elisha Collier. His revolving flintlock was quite popular in the English market places. That is the beginning of the story, but not the start of this story. The start was a man by the name of Samuel Colt, and his Paterson Colt. During the years after he applied for his first patent, Sam Colt looked for buyers of his new revolving handgun. The Paterson was one of the first firearms that every part was interchangeable. One could take the hammer assembly from a pistol made in July and it would fit into the same model made in December the next year. This meant that the weapons could be made faster and extra parts could be ordered without risking getting ones that wouldn't work.
That is what Texas did. Captain Jack Hayes and his fifteen Rangers left San Antonio in early June of 1844, and ran into a Comanche raiding party of seventy or more men. Until then, it was suicide to not dismount and find a defensible location when fighting the horse warriors of the Comanche. Captain Hayes and his men, however, were armed with the Colt Paterson and the Colt Paterson revolving rifles. Each man was now worth five or ten of the Comanche, simply not having to reload after every shot, but instead after five. They also carried several replacement cylinders, the magazine of the revolver, fully loaded. The Comanche force was much larger, but Hayes ordered his Rangers to ride right at them, flanking the cavalry. There are varying reports of how many on both sides were killed in the charge and subsequent battle, but the aftermath was clear. Hayes' men had won the fight. With the renown of this new firearm and its prestige among such men, Colt knew he had work ahead of him. He was approached by a man named Samuel Walker, a captain of the Texas Rangers, and a man of vision.
Captain Walker originally planned to only purchase more Colt revolvers for the Rangers, Walker went to New York to find Colt, and found him in a gunsmith shop. He placed an order for one thousand revolvers for use in the Mexican-American war. He wanted some changes however. These new revolvers needed to hold six shots rather than five, be a large enough caliber to kill a horse with a single shot, and be easier to reload, not needing to take the gun apart and he asked for a ramrod to be added to the barrel. Colt agreed to the terms and he and Eli Whitney Blake designed the new Colt Walker. The new .44 caliber revolvers were such a hit, that Colt was called to make another thousand. Though commonly mistaken for the Colt pattern Dragoon, the Walker predates the Dragoon by several years. The Colt Dragoon was an updated version of the Walker. Civilians, always looking for the newest toy, the best tool for defense or the best murder weapon could get their hands on the Colt Baby Dragoon. It was a smaller weapon better suited for daily carry, and was until 1851.
In 1851 the Colt Company released the 1851 Colt Navy Revolver. This would be the company's penultimate creation before their Peacemaker. It was a .36 caliber, and was adopted in greater rapidity than his older weapons, and would serve a prominent place in the War Between the States, with both sides of the conflict using his weapon system. The Griswold and Gunnison weapon in the show Hell on Wheels, is actually a Griswold and Company Colt Navy 1851 made much shoddier. For one, the cylinder was made of twisted iron instead of steel, and the receiver was made of brass, resulting in the ability to blow up, to come apart or simply wear itself to death.
Up to this point, another company was making great strides, a company that started out as a failing lever action company. Volcanic Repeating Arms Company was owned by a trio of names that would make history separately. Daniel Baird Wesson and Horace Smith, along with their business partner Oliver Winchester. After nearly failing in the lever action world, Smith and Wesson left to make their own company (with blackjack and hookers apparently). The Smith and Wesson company appropriated the Rollin White patent for a rear loading cylinder, and in 1856 they began building a rimfire revolver. White would make a profit of twenty five cents on every dollar Smith and Wesson made, and the court case would lead to his financial ruin. The Smith and Wesson Number 1 became popular during the Civil War, due to using metallic cartridges and easy to reload, and so after the war, they were hit with orders in the thousands. They began producing as many as they could make, and eventually decided to upgrade the caliber, improving from the .22 rimfire to the more powerful .32 rimfire.
Keeping Colt at arms length, Smith and Wesson developed the Number 3, in 1870, the caliber was .44 Smith and Wesson, and was popular with cavalrymen and other nations for its ease of load. It was quite simple, press a button, break the pistol removing the shells and replacing them, shutting it again. Speed loaders made the process take mere seconds, but some thought to improve it.
Colt was back in the race, Smith and Wesson's monopolizing patent on rear loading cylinders, and therefore metallic cartridges was over. Not that it ever stopped the Colt Company, they had been making conversions of their cap and ball revolvers for years. Then again, it wasn't as if Samuel Colt's own death stopped his company. Though he died in 1862, his company soldiered on, and by the glorious year of 1873, they had a revolver that would stand out in the world's imagination for all time. In 1873, the Colt Company released their Single Action Army, or the Peacemaker. Its original configuration was a seven and a half inch barrel chambered in .45 Long Colt. Long would spell doom for George Schofield. The Colt was simply amazing, with its ease of loading, simply setting the hammer to half cock, and opening the side gate, you could load six rounds rapidly. If unaccustomed however, it could seem cumbersome, and definitely was perceived as such by the United States Military. Though they did purchase 8,000 of the new Colts. One thing that the Colt Peacemaker did well, was it was chambered in the 44-40 Winchester. In 1873, Winchester released a new lever action rifle, and it was awesome. Many use "The gun that won the west" interchangeably between the Colt 1873 and the Winchester 1873. One thing that Colt definitely did better that the Smith and Wesson Schofield was fire a .45 Long Colt cartridge.
The US Government adopted the Smith and Wesson Number 3 in its .44 Smith and Wesson configuration, but wanted changes to be made, to make it more user friendly. Major George Schofield was chosen to work with Smith and Wesson in a collaboration to produce a weapon that would suit the military's needs better. They made minute changes to the Number 3, but the most noted change was the introduction of the Smith and Wesson .45 S&W or .45 S&W Short. Schofield's handgun was an instant hit, and with its ease to load and its new caliber, soldiers loved the weapon.
With the adoption of both the Colt and the Schofield, the US forces on the frontier found themselves in a logistical hellscape. Soldiers issued with Colts would often find themselves supplied with .45 S&W and soldiers with Schofields would be issued .45 Colt rounds. The confusion left many soldiers without enough rounds to be effective, or in many cases, many couldn't do their jobs at all. At least in divisions armed with Schofields. Divisions armed with the Colts found themselves loading the shorter round into their Colts and were able to fire it. It was for this reason that the US armed forces would eventually drop the Schofield and retain the Colt.
Major Schofield found himself in a lot of heartache in the subsequent years after his revolver hit shelves. His wife of only a few months fell ill and passed away, and he was under investigation for Court Martial due to collecting royalties and attempting a lawsuit on behalf of his revolver. These compounding weights, as well as his isolation on a frontier outpost led him to contemplate suicide, and after stealing one of his own revolvers from the armory in Fort Apache, he ended his own life. He was only forty nine years old.
The arms race of the American West was marching ever onward, and Schofield's revolvers were put into the civil market, and gained fame as the weapon of such figures as Billy the Kid, Virgil Earp, and Jessie James. The Colt however, went on to become far more commercially successful, both with the army and the civil marketplace. It was the weapon of Jesse James, Billy the Kid, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Buffalo Bill Cody and the list goes on. Though both were revolutionary, Colt had a pedigree that would last well into the twenty first century, and Smith and Wesson's shrewd business practices would earn them a seat at the table even into the twenty first century.
However, only Colt became such an industry giant, that they controlled much of the revolver market. They along with the Winchester company, would attempt to control the two most crucial sales, pistol and rifle. That though is a story for another time.


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