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


First Look: New Barra Schofield Part 3

First Look: New Barra Schofield Part 3

A little more aging

By Dennis Adler

Let’s jump to the end, the finished gun has been wiped down and wrapped up in an old oiled rag like it was going to be stored away. Fast forward 100 years, and you unwrap your heirloom S&W handed down from your great grandfather; and since we’re making this up, your great grandfather who was a Deputy U.S. Marshal. (I’m sure there are a few readers out there descended from 19th century lawmen, so this really isn’t that much of a tall tale). How did we get to this point? Read on.

Old blued guns that have aged with time (as opposed to those meticulously preserved) usually end up with gray finishes (often referred to in auction catalogs as “an attractive silver-gray patina” or “smooth blue gray patina” and occasionally “mixed gunmetal appearance”) along with traces of deeper bluing and case colors, if they originally had any color casehardened parts. Some old finishes also turn dark or brownish (plum). It all depends upon the original bluing process or the conditions under which the gun was kept, but the majority of 19th century revolvers that have lost their finish over time do not look like the aged finishes used on CO2 air pistols and that is really the point. read more


First Look: New Barra Schofield Part 2

First Look: New Barra Schofield Part 2

Almost aged to perfection

By Dennis Adler

At a distance one would be hard pressed to decide if this was an old S&W Schofield revolver or the new aged Barra Schofield hanging on the wall with an old hand tooled leather holster and cartridge belt.

If we are going to look at the new model as just a finish option it will need to perform as well as the original and nickel Schofield models, both with BB shells and the rear-loading pellet shells. First, let’s review what those guns delivered for velocity.

Colt v. S&W

Compared to a 7-1/2 inch barrel length Colt SAA, the Schofield and Colt are comparably balanced but almost everyone to a man will find the Colt faster to cock because of the larger hammer and longer hammer spur. I’ve never found the difference that significant when drawing from a holster – strong side or crossdraw (my personal preference) –especially since the Schofield’s hammer has a shorter length of travel to cock the action. The real difference for me is in re-cocking the gun after firing the first shot, and here the longer Colt hammer has a slight advantage. Of course, one learns how to work with what they have. If all you carried back in the day was an S&W model you got fast with it. It just depended how fast the guy with the Colt was. read more


First Look: New Barra Schofield Part 1

First Look: New Barra Schofield Part 1

Almost aged to perfection

By Dennis Adler

The newest addition to the Bear River (now Barra) Schofield line is an aged finish model. The new gun has two obvious advantages, better looking faux wood grips that also show aging, and the removal of the white letter warnings that obliterated the right side of the frame (which are evident even on the Adams & Adams hand engraved “Texas Jack” nickel model at top).

The Bear River Schofield models that came out four years ago were authentic in design but were sorely lacking in a proper finish. I was amazed at this one shortcut that took away from what was potentially a worthy rival to the Umarex Colt Peacemakers. Bear River responded after I had polished out one of the black matte guns and then had it engraved by Adams & Adams, by adding their own nickel version (without engraving), which, as expected, took off and by 2017 had become a worthy rival to the 7-1/2 inch Colts, despite still having a smoothbore barrel. Bear River discovered that loaded with pellet cartridges (the same used in the Webley MK VI pellet revolvers), that the six-guns were capable of coming very close to rifled barrel Peacemaker accuracy. And that remained the standard for Bear River, with plans for the future to add other finishes, barrel lengths, and a rifled barrel model. read more


Young Gun, Old Gun

Young Gun, Old Gun

The design of a firearm

is still based around a simple principle

By Dennis Adler

I am reminded every time I put a montage of CO2 models like this together, that we have at hand a remarkable variety of firearms designs. Some, like the early 20th century Mauser M712 would be almost out of reach for the majority of collectors as a centerfire pistol, first because of the value, and second in still being a Class III weapon after almost 90 years. Others have simply gone up in value exponentially because of their rarity, like original Colt Peacemakers and WWII pistols like the P.08 Luger, while most of what you see here remain the mainstream guns of the 21st century, such as the latest Ruger 10/22 carbine,the Glock 17, S&W M&P40, and Sig Sauer P320/M17. As real firearms this would be quite an expensive group of guns.

I am paraphrasing the legendary William B. Ruger, Sr., when I say that all gun designs serve the same purpose, to fire a projectile, but what the gun fires and how it fires it, will dictate the design of the gun. Case in point, John M. Browning designed .32 ACP and .380 ACP cartridges and he designed the guns to fire them in 1903 and 1908, respectively. Bill Ruger, Sr. was something of a modern day J.M. Browning and what I learned from my time around him in the 1990s, while I was writing a short biography of his life, visiting his factories, talking with his engineers and staff, and having quiet, introspective dinners with him discussing firearms history, was that great design, and the fundamental breakthroughs that come with them, become the paradigm for all that follows. I understood than as I do now, that with few exceptions, every single action revolver, regardless of manufacturer (including the c. 1953 Ruger Single Six and c. 1955 Ruger Blackhawk), is descended from Samuel Colt’s original revolver designs, even though Colt had died years before the Peacemaker was designed. Ruger’s point being that no matter how different, regardless of the ammunition it fires; however large or small the pistol may be, the fundamentals of its design began with Colt. Bill knew this when he designed the original “Old Model” Single Six .22 revolver, and all the Ruger-designed and built single actions that followed. Were it not for Sam Colt… read more