General George Smith Patton, Jr. (11 November 1885 21 December 1945), is a legend in US military history. In his 60-years of life, he spent the majority of it wearing one uniform or another and died on active service. Forever the warrior, he is fittingly buried in a military cemetery in Europe, not far from where he died.
As a soldier, he carried many guns, but one of these is almost as famous as he was.
His Colt .45.
The Single Action Army
Colt's Model of 1873, better known as the Single Action Army and sometimes as 'the Peacemaker', was the sidearm of the late 19th century US Army. A six-shooter that was chambered in more than 30 different calibers including .45 Colt, .44-40 WCF, and others, it was Colt's first popular revolver that used cartridges and not cap and ball. Adopted and carried from 1872-1892 by the 'bluecoats' they were used in the great plains wars and kept in hard service in civilian use by ranchers, outlaws, and lawmen for decades after.
George S Patton in 1916 was a renaissance man in the US military. He had spent a good bit of his active service overseas. He competed in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics in the modern pentathlon, studied sword fighting in France, and even designed the last cavalry saber the US Army ever issued. The standard sidearm at the time in the Army was the brand new Colt 1911 longslide, which augmented a series of .38 caliber revolvers. Patton however wanted something with just a little bit more character.
Based at Fort Bliss, he ordered from the Shelton-Payne Arms Company in El Paso for $50 a specially engraved Colt 1873 in .45 LC, serial number 332088. With a 4.75-inch barrel giving the six-shooter an overall length of 10.25-inches and a weight of 38-ounces, the gun was hefty. Patton requested a highly engraved silver finish along the frame and barrel. Custom Helfricht engraved ivory grips, with 'GSP' in black enamel on the right panel and a volant eagle on the left, set the gun off. At the time, Patton's pay as a Second Lieutenant was just $155 a month, so the revolver was a large investment.
He picked up the revolver from Shelton-Payne on March 5, 1916, just in time for war.
A famous 1915 picture of Pancho Villa (center in suit) visiting El Paso. To the right is General Pershing. Over Pershing's shoulder is a tall, slim, and young, George S Patton.
Just days after his new purchase, Patton was transferred from his position as a young 31-year old second Lieutenant with the 8th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Bliss, to the staff of Brigadier General John Blackjack Pershing, who was marching south into Mexico. The reason Pershing was moving south was to chase, with the Mexican government's permission, the bandit horsemen of Pancho Vila who had just raided the town of Columbus New Mexico. Patton, without a command, became something of a jack-of-all-trades for Pershing, moving around Chihuahua with a small group of soldiers and civilian scouts in a convoy of Dodge Brothers cars to accomplish one task or another. While on a scouting mission to buy corn for hungry troopers and horses, Patton bumped into one Captain Julio Crdenas, Villa's second in command at the San Miguelito Ranchero.
The resulting gunfight left Crdenas and the two bandits with him dead at the hands of Patton and his men. In the gunfight, instead of using a military-issued firearm, Patton went into combat with his Colt and personally engaged targets. Afterward, the good lieutenant Patton tied the dead bandit to the hood of his Dodge and carried him back to Pershing, earning the nickname, 'Bandito' in the process.
The Colt has a notch that Patton personally carved into the ivory grip in remembrance of this battle. He was to continue to carry the revolver off and on for the next 29-years of his military service. Although he did not carry it in World War 1, he was famously seen with it often during World War 2. It was then that he famously addressed the statement in a newspaper that his Colt was pearl-handled with, "Only a pimp in a New Orleans whorehouse or a tin-horn gambler would carry a pearl-handled pistol."
(30-minute National Archives film on General GS Patton, Jr)
The Revolver today
If you want your own, Uberti built a number of close working replicas, as did a few others. Non-firing examples are marketed through The Danbury Mint.
The real deal revolver is currently located on public display at the General George S Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor, at Fort Knox, just south of Louisville, Kentucky on US Highway 31W. The museum overlooks the US Gold Depository. His grandson personally handed the gun over to the base commander to be put in the museum's collection.
Prop movie guns carried in the 1967 film Patton in which George C Scott played the title role. The grips on the prop gun are not ivory, but simply painted wood with the GSP initials carved much larger than on the real deal. The gun in the bottom right is a replica of Patton's Smith and Wesson Model 27 357-magnum that he occasionally carried in a left hand holster to complement his Colt. These guns are currently in the Patton Museum
The museum is in the process of moving to Fort Benning and you can expect that the old Colt will be on prominent display there as well.
Old George would have liked that.