Tales of Wells Fargo Part 3

Tales of Wells Fargo Part 3

Barra recreates the 5-inch Schofield model

By Dennis Adler

There were more than 300 refurbished Schofield revolvers purchased by Wells, Fargo & Co. with the majority having their barrels cut down to 5 and 5-1/2 inches. Some were also nickel plated in the refurbishing process. The shortened barrel .45 S&W Schofield caliber revolvers were easy to carry undercover, especially in some very innovative holsters that used steel clips to attach to the wearer’s trouser waist.

No matter how famous or infamous the owner, the S&W Schofield found its way into the holsters of legendary outlaws and lawmen alike, many of who also famously carried Colts, Merwin Hulberts, and Remingtons; but the Schofield in its several iterations and barrel lengths was conspicuous throughout the period from 1875 to the turn of the century.

One of the most infamous guns of the Old West is the Smith & Wesson New Model Number Three used by Bob Ford to assassinate Jesse James in St. Joseph, Missouri on April 3, 1882. James, pictured at left, may even have given Ford, shown at right, the very gun that was turned against him. (William I. Koch Collection)
As the tenuous relationship between Jesse James and his men began to further disintegrate in 1882, brothers Robert and Charles Ford, (pictured), set upon a plan to kill Jesse in exchange for amnesty from the Governor of Missouri and a $10,000 reward. After they had murdered Jesse, Bob Ford had the S&W engraved and used it in a stage show about how he captured and killed the West’s greatest outlaw. The play was a sham because Ford had assassinated James by shooting him in the back of the head. Ford was reviled by everyone from the Governor of Missouri to the audiences at his plays who usually booed him off the stage.

Frank and Jesse James both had Schofield revolvers among their arsenal of handguns, (Jesse James was murdered by Robert Ford with an S&W Topbreak believed to have been given to him by Jesse), celebrated frontier lawmen Bill Tilghman carried a Schofield 7-inch model, El Paso, Texas, City Marshal (and Territorial Deputy U.S. Marshal) Dallas Stoudenmire also carried a 7-inch model in a leather lined trouser pocket, John Wesley Hardin owned an S&W No. 3 Topbreak (not a Schofield); as did Virgil Earp (the very gun he may have handed to brother Wyatt at the OK Corral shootout); lawman Pat Garrett had a Schofield, and Theodore Roosevelt carried a finely engraved New Model No. 3. The S&W topbreak revolvers were not at all uncommon guns. The Wells Fargo model and other cut down refurbished military Schofields more so into the 1880s and 1890s, with several hundred being purchased by Well Fargo alone. Civilian sales also likely numbered in the hundreds, and eventually more military Schofields, a sizable number also refurbished with cut down 5 inch and 5-1/2 inch barrels, ended up on the secondary market. The new Barra Schofield 5-inch models then, are in some very good company, including some very pricey .44-40 and .45 Colt caliber Schofield Wells Fargo reproductions manufactured in Italy by A. Uberti. (Smith & Wesson also made a limited edition of 7-inch and 5-inch models as commemorative pistols in 2000. These were official S&W copies, however, for safety reasons; these guns were fitted with an internal firing pin and a transfer bar, rather than a proper Schofield hammer-mounted firing pin. read more


Tales of Wells Fargo Part 2

Tales of Wells Fargo Part 2

Barra recreates the 5-inch Schofield model

By Dennis Adler

Wells, Fargo & Co. became the nation’s largest carrier of mail, gold, currency, and other valuable property between the early 1850s and the 20th century. It was also the largest target of highwaymen and train robbers in the late 19th century; a veritable who’s who of famous outlaws. In turn, the company pursued those who held up Wells Fargo shipments relentlessly with large rewards and a team of trailblazing late 19th century detectives. By the 1870’s, Wells Fargo agents were armed with refurbished military Schofield revolvers that had their barrels shortened to 5 and 5-1/2 inches.

The first guns used by Wells, Fargo & Co. field agents (investigators) were Colt’s 1848 Baby Dragoon and improved 1849 model.Both guns were essentially scaled down versions of Colt’s new First Model Dragoon and featured a full octagonal barrel in 3-inch, 4-inch, 5-inch, and 6-inch lengths without loading lever. The new lightweight Colt pocket pistol could dispense five .31 caliber balls with deadly accuracy at close range. The 1849 Model Colts requested by Wells Fargo without loading levers came to be known as the Wells Fargo Model. That title was not attached to any other gun until the Schofield was taken up by Wells Fargo agents in the 1870’s. read more


Tales of Wells Fargo Part 1

Tales of Wells Fargo Part 1

Barra recreates the 5-inch Schofield model

By Dennis Adler

The first S&W revolvers used by the U.S. Army, beginning in 1870-1871, had been criticized for the top-break design which had a barrel-mounted release latch that was often hard to use. Maj. George Schofield redesigned the latch mechanism to fit the frame instead of the barrel and thus release the barrel by simply pulling the latch back (with the hammer at half cock). The barrel could then be pressed downward against one’s leg (or other surface) to pivot it open, thus automatically ejecting all of the spent casings (the gun’s greatest advantage over Colt revolvers). The U.S. Ordnance Dept. ordered almost the entire production of this distinctive model. Standard barrel length was 7-inches. At top an original S&W No. 3, middle a Schofield, and bottom an engraved version of the Barra Schofield.

The Schofield model of S&W’s No. 3 American was designed by a military officer looking for a way to correct a problem with the original topbreak latching mechanism that was proving problematic for U.S. Cavalry soldiers trying to reload the gun on horseback.

The groundbreaking .44 caliber S&W No. 3 revolver had been adopted by the military in 1870 and was being issued to troops early in 1871. It was a fine handgun for most, but mounted soldiers found it problematic to handle on horseback. The S&W design had been intended to make reloading faster by breaking open the action, tilting the barrel down, at which point a cam rotated by this movement forced the ejector upward to expel all six spent shell cases at once. The open cylinder also provided quick reloading of all six chambers before rotating the barrel up and locking it. All well and good if you had two free hands, one to hold the gun and the other to raise the latch on the top of the frame so the barrel could be tilted down. On horseback two free hands was a little daunting. Army Major George W. Schofield regarded the S&W as an excellent sidearm but believed the latching mechanism was all wrong, at least for the Cavalry. He set about redesigning the latch and secured a patent to “first, provide a lock-fast for such weapons, which shall hold the barrel securely in the position for firing; second, to provide a cylinder-stay for holding the cylinder in position when the weapon is opened for loading or ejecting discharged cartridge cases; third, to provide a simple and effective ejector-spring stop.” Maj. Schofield’s changes also improved the rear sight by incorporating a sighting notch on the latch itself, which was easily opened one-handed by pulling the hammer to half cock and using the thumb to pull the latch back releasing the barrel. read more


Go West Young Man Part 2

Go West Young Man Part 2

It’s all about realism

By Dennis Adler

Armed to the teeth or at least to the waist the author has the pair of engraved Colt Peacemakers holstered and the 1875 Remington tucked behind the cartridge belt. Were it not for the exposed seating screw holes in the bottoms of the frames the CO2 models would be almost indistinguishable from their centerfire counterparts.

It’s all about realism and authenticity, and I don’t care if you’re talking about centerfire Colt, S&W, and Remington reproductions or their CO2 counterparts, the guns have to look right, feel right, and handle right. That’s a tall order for Uberti and Pietta, (and they have been at it for quite awhile) even for U.S. armsmaker Standard Mfg. and their new, very expensive Colt-style Single Action models, so getting it right with an air pistol is even more difficult.

Drawn and aimed the CO2 Colts look as real as the centerfire pistols I was using for the Guns of the Old West photo shoot. The 1875 Remington is foolproof from this angle, too. It’s when you start getting closer that the details of a finely hand engraved CO2 model really start to blur the lines with the centerfire models.

What adds authenticity? read more


Go West Young Man Part 1

Go West Young Man Part 1

Cowboy Up with Custom Engraved Guns

By Dennis Adler

During a recent photo shoot for Guns of the Old West I substituted the three Colts I was being photographed with for the latest hand engraved CO2 guns to come from Adams & Adams, a two-tone pair of 7-1/2 inch Peacemakers with inked engraving and one of a pair of magnificently engraved Remington 1875 models. They look like they belong!

It’s not a myth, men with engraved guns felt a special bond with the gun that made it more than just a gun.Some men were emboldened by it, some more than others, like the Dalton Gang, but an outlaw packing a finely engraved gun was unusual, same for most lawmen, though there are some very famous exceptions (and you can fill in the blanks on that one starting with Wild Bill Hickok). An engraved gun was actually more likely to found in the holster, or perhaps on the desk, of a wealthy rancher, a successful businessman, or ranking military officer. Of course, anyone who saved up enough for a hand engraved gun could have owned one, too. Engraved guns usually meant something personal; a presentation to a friend, brother or relative, others were presented to a Sheriff or Marshall by the grateful citizens of a town. Most lawmen with engraved guns were in fact carrying guns presented to them. read more


M17 Reboot Part 4

M17 Reboot Part 4

Sig Sauer Reflex Sight at 10 yards

By Dennis Adler

The outdoor shoot at 10 yards went well except for fairly steady crosswinds. Even so, and hitting a little off the mark, the M17 ASP and Sig Sauer reflex sight combo put shots close within the A-Zone of an IPSC silhouette target.

This is the practical accuracy range for the M17 ASP fitted with the Sig Sauer M17/M18 Low Profile Reflex Sight. As shown in the earlier installments the sight is easy to mount to the M17 slide and once attached and sighted in the gun becomes a far more accurate pellet pistol. My initial tests (sighting in and targets) were done at 21 feet (7 yards) and now I am going outdoors to do a complete range test from holster draw to shooting a 10-round string at 10 yards (30 feet).  The added 9 feet of distance should not make much difference for the M17 ASP in terms of velocity; the rapid shooting at 1-second intervals will likely have some affect on velocity but not significantly for 10 shots. read more


M17 Reboot Part 3

M17 Reboot Part 3

Down to business with the Sig Sauer Reflex Sight

By Dennis Adler

It’s a whole new gun when you add the Sig Sauer Low Profile Reflex Sight to the M17 ASP. It goes from a combat pistol to something closer to a target pistol.

The Sig Sauer P320/M17 ASP was not a tack driver during any of its previous range tests, but it was good enough for its intended purpose as a fixed sight military handgun for close quarter to medium range use. Yes, the 9mm M17/M18 models are far more accurate than the 4.5mm CO2 model which is intended as a training gun and for general sport shooting. The M17 ASP is a darn good gun as designed and can keep groups tight at 10 meters, but it’s no target pistol. But can it be, now that the airgun is equipped with a dedicated Sig Sauer design Low Profile Reflex Sight mounted to the slide? read more