Staff Writer (Updated: 7/26/2014):
Outwardly, the Colt Walker was a beautifully crafted revolver. Conventional in its design and layout, the Walker showcased the smooth and clean lines of the Paterson before it and was consistent with other Colt revolvers up to this point. Key exceptions with the Walker were its 6-shot cylinder (as opposed to the well-established five-round series) and static trigger system. The Walker was a massive firearm, measuring over 15.5 inches in length with a 9-inch barrel, the revolver collectively weighing in at 4.5lbs. The weapon was chambered for six large .44 ball bullets (.45 was also supported) and the firing operation was of single-action, requiring manual cocking of the hammer for each shot. The cylinder rotated with each hammer action allowing for repeating fire until all chambers had been cleared. The ball ammunition was loaded with black powder and ignited by percussion caps manually placed on each chamber rear along the cylinder. The powder charge (60 grains) was fed into each chamber (from the front) from a tear-drop style flask carried by the operator. Each chamber then was fed a ball with the cylinder being manually rotated by the user. There was a loading lever set under the barrel and hinged to fold downwards. The folding action create a "ramrod" style effect in which an attached arm pushed the chamber contents to the extreme rear near the percussion cap. The receiver of the gun had an open frame meaning there was no support across the top of the cylinder - this seen in later upcoming revolver types, Remingtons being quite famous for the design element. The hammer spur was clearly visible at the rear and the wooden-covered pistol grip was ergonomically finished for a firm hand hold. The thin trigger assembly was held within a wire-type trigger ring. Despite its size, the Walker was designed for use from a holster.
The Colt Walker was introduced in 1847. Unfortunately for Captain Walker, he suffered a fatal wound in battle that same year but was the recipient of two of these sidearms prior to his death. Colt netted a government contract and enlisted the help of Eli Whitney, Jr and his Whitneyville, Connecticut facility for the assignment. In all, some 1,100 Colt Walkers were produced with 100 or so of these being specialized forms for the civilian market. Production lasted only through 1847 however.
In practice, the Colt Walker did not disappoint on the whole. She was a handful of power with stopping qualities out to 100 yards - comparable to that of then-modern rifles. The ball ammunition could cause maximum damage at range but was truly ruthless in close-in fighting. A cavalryman could open fire with his Walker at distance and, once out of ammunition, could close in with his sabre for the final death blow - hopefully against retreating forces. The firing action was, as expected, rather violent in nature and with a heavy recoil. The recoil proved violent enough in some actions that the loading lever was lowered unexpectedly, such was its force. This led to many in-the-field remedies to rectify the issue. Compared to other sidearms of the day, the Colt Walker was a very heavy handgun and its large dimensions made for some issues when quick handling from a holster was in order, particularly when on horseback - the user needed to clear over 15 inches of gun from his holster before aiming and firing. Additionally, early construction was such that the cylinder held a nasty habit of rupturing when deposits of gunpowder unknowingly remained near the firing chamber openings along the front of the cylinder. To counter this issue, Colt suggested a 50 grain load instead of the listed 60 and repaired any damaged Walker units - about 30% were returned with this damage.
The Colt Walker led a legendary existence despite the rather modest production numbers. Few firearms matched the stopping capabilities of the gun at the time and it was not until the arrival of the famed .357 Magnum in America that the Colt Walker was "truly" unseated from its throne. Due to its uniqueness in the field of firearms and its scarcity in original availability, the Colt Walker is a favorite among collectors today. Its popularity is such that modern firearms manufacturers have taken to production of replicas for the civilian market.
The limitations of the Colt Walker led to the development of the Colt Dragoon model of 1848. It featured smaller dimensions, a revised loading lever and different metal construction. The US government alone would go on to order 8,000 of this very popular Colt product. The Dragoon was also featured in the Mexican War.