Episode XII: Weapons of Every Description
The Pistols of Blood Meridian
1. “She’s a Stout Looker.”
In Chapter VII of Blood Meridian, the Gang rides to the outskirts of Chihuahua City where Glanton buys crates of new pistols from a Prussian arms dealer named Speyer. McCarthy provides the following description of these revolvers:
“Glanton opened the package and let it fall to the dirt. In his hand was a longbarreled sixshot Colt’s patent revolver. It was a huge sidearm meant for dragoons and it carried in its long cylinders a rifle’s charge and weighed close to five pounds loaded. These pistols would drive the half-ounce conical ball through six inches of hardwood and there were four dozen of them in the case. Speyer was breaking out the gangmolds and flasks and tools and Judge Holden was unwrapping another of the pistols. The men pressed about. She’s a stout looker, said one.” (86)
Here is a photo of the Whitneyville Colt Dragoon that Glanton purchases—this particular pistol brought $1.6 million at auction in 2019:
In 1849, before the invention of the “repeating” rifle, these dragoon pistols were the deadliest small arms on the planet. Known as “Whitneyville Colts” (for the Connecticut town that was home to Eli Whitney’s gun factory), these pistols represented a rather significant advance over Samuel Colt’s two previous handguns: the 1836 Colt Paterson (the world’s first production revolver) and the 1846 Colt Walker, the weapon Sam Colt upgraded to produce his Dragoon pistol.
Whereas each of the men of Glanton’s Gang are given a pair of these Whitneyville Colt pistols, the Kid somehow gets his hands on a Colt Walker and carries it with him to the novel’s end. Note the similarity of the Walker pictured below to the Whitneyville Colt pictured above:
In 1846, when the Mexican-American War got under way, the Colt Walker was the most formidable pistol in the world. But it had two design flaws:
The loading lever (that steel rod directly underneath the barrel) had no latch and would drop under recoil, locking the cylinder in place and jamming the action—a malfunction that could have deadly consequences in a gunfight.
The massive cylinder allowed for a rather generous charge of black powder; this, combined with metallurgical problems at the time, meant that the cylinder would sometimes explode in the operator’s face. Because the steel wasn't strong enough to withstand the combustion of all that gunpowder, the user was potentially creating six pipe bombs whenever he loaded the cylinder’s six chambers.