Until 1900, one out of every four Colt’s Single Action Army (SAA) revolvers was produced in .44-40 caliber.
The .44 WCF (.44 Winchester Central Fire, more commonly called the .44-40) was designed in 1873, for use in that year’s famed Winchester lever-action repeating rifle. Within a couple of years, several other rifles—and revolvers—were being produced in that caliber, so that both arms could employ the same ammo—an important consideration in the wild open ranges of the West. By 1877, having seen the obvious advantages to teaming up a .44-40 revolver with the Winchester, or any of the several other .44-40 repeating rifles, Colt began offering the chambering in its popular Peacemaker six-shooter.
Colt’s .44-40 SAA was quickly dubbed “Colt Frontier Six Shooter.” Rather than the numerical designation on the arm—as was the custom—this legend was etched into the left side of the barrel. The marking appears on Colts produced from 1878-89 (later guns used a roll stamping). Savvy gunners of the era knew instinctively that the moniker meant .44-40 caliber—no numerical stampings were necessary!
The pairing of the .44-40 rifle and revolver proved to be an extremely popular one with many Westerners, as was the .44 WCF revolver by itself. Colt Frontier Six Shooters were packed by frontier notables such as then-rancher Teddy Roosevelt, Sheriff Pat Garrett, John Clum, who served as the editor of the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper and that boomtown’s ill-fated Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton of O.K. Corral infamy. Although gunmakers like Smith & Wesson and Merwin, Hulbert & Co. produced quality .44-40 revolvers, Colt’s version was by far one of the first choices with those who were seeking a powerful, reliable and overall high quality six-gun.
Last year, Colt reintroduced its SAA in .44-40 with the acid-etched Colt Frontier Six Shooter barrel markings, along with other features that recall these sought after “forty-fours” of the late 19th century. One of the major differences between the Colt Custom Shop’s newest .44-40 six-shooters and a standard Colt SAA is the return to the pre-1896 blackpowder frame. This frame type has the cylinder base pin retaining screw at the front of the revolver’s frame, rather than on the sides, as with standard post-1896 Colts. Finished in blue and color case hardening, in barrel lengths of 4 ¾, 5 ½ and 7½ inches, these Colt Frontier Six Shooters sport the 1880s-style black composite eagle grips. It is also made with the second generation-type cylinder bushing, which reduces stress and wear on the cylinder.
Original Colt Frontier Six Shooters command prices in the several thousand dollar range. The new Colt Custom Shop offering, which carries a suggested retail of $1,350, gives enthusiasts an opportunity to own a fully functional six-gun like the old-timers carried, but at a fraction of the cost.