When Centuries Collide – an adventure in CO2

When Centuries Collide – an adventure in CO2

By 1915 Texas Ranger’s were mixing .45s

By Dennis Adler

In the early 20th century, it was not unusual to see a Texas Ranger packing a .45 Colt and a .45 ACP. This seemingly incongruous pairing of Peacemaker and 1911 was an interesting part of Sam Peckinpah’s groundbreaking 1969 western, The Wild Bunch, which took place in 1913, and had an eclectic mix of Single Action Colts and Model 1911 semi-autos. This same mix was taking place in real life, at the same time, in Texas and throughout what remained of the American West. And these two legendary Colt models were still being carried during WWI, and well into the 1940s. But the period from around 1915, when the 1911 was first coming into the hands of civilians, lawmen, and outlaws alike, the choices of sidearms worn by Texas Rangers covered the entire last three decades of the 19th and first 15 years of the 20th centuries, along with a mix of smaller caliber Colt semi-autos, early S&W double action revolvers, and Winchester slide action shotguns from the 1890s.  

There was a period in the early 1900s when lawmen were carrying the Colt Peacemaker and the .45 ACP Model 1911. This was especially true in Texas where Rangers began carrying the .45 Auto around 1915. And while the “Old West” was fading away by then, throughout Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and in the Oklahoma oil fields, not that much was different when it came to crime. The semi-auto gave lawmen (and outlaws) another choice in guns, but the Peacemaker was still favored by those on both sides of the law.
When this picture of eight Texas Rangers was taken in 1915, only one of them had switched to carrying a 1911, the man standing second from the left in the top row. (Photo courtesy Former Texas Rangers Assoc.)
A closer look at Texas Ranger Edwin DuBose shows his cocked and locked Colt Model 1911 in a western drop loop holster. DuBose may have been the first Ranger to carry a 1911.

Airgun enthusiasts have the unique option of pairing the 1911 and Peacemaker for shooting reenactments in CO2, and with the aging process I have outlined in past articles, the ability to create a duo of authentic looking Colt handguns for the early 20th century period.

The CO2 models antiqued by the author look right at home with these vintage style Old West holsters. The work put into defarbing models like the Peacemaker and early-style 1911A1 is definitely rewarding compared to standard finish CO2 models.

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Time is relative

With a Peacemaker and a 1911, especially if you have indulged your desire to antique a pair of CO2 models, it is possible to have a lot of fun creating a shooting match that might have taken place with the real guns more than a century ago. For this day, time is relative, it is 1920 and a comparison between a well-aged Peacemaker and a slightly worn 1911 is about to be revived with airguns. It is a fanciful flight of imagination but around here (the set of Guns of the Old West) costuming and locales are close at hand to make this a visual, as well as practical, comparison of my favorite topic, pellets vs. BBs.

It’s pretty easy to draw the 1911, which is ready to fire as soon as the safety is thumbed down. A quick reverse draw from the left and one could deliver justice in two calibers. (Holsters based on period rigs reproduced in Spain by Javier Garcia/.45Maker)

Peacemaker vs. 1911

Just for a little history, the .45 Colt cartridge was introduced in 1873 (officially .45 Long Colt and .45 Colt Army, in 1875); the .45 ACP cartridge was developed by John M. Browning in 1905 and adopted six years later along with the Model 1911 semiautomatic, as the standard U.S. military sidearm. Officers (usually Generals) were permitted to carry other guns at their discretion, and the Peacemaker was among them, famously in the hands of George S. Patton from the time he was a Lieutenant in 1915. 

It was unquestionably faster to load a magazine into the 1911 than reload a Single Action Colt. It’s the same for the CO2 versions.

Average velocity for an old black powder .45 Colt round was up to 1,050 fps with a 230 gr. lead bullet. The .45 ACP, which used smokeless powder, had an average velocity of 830 fps with a 230 gr. jacketed bullet. The early .45 Auto cartridges were known as hard ball. It is an interesting comparison with the CO2 models because the Peacemaker being a pellet firing pistol will have a higher velocity than the BB-firing 1911. In historic terms, there is some parity in the velocity differences, and for fun I am using lead pellets and copper coated steel BBs.

The optimum effective range for a .45 Colt was 25 yards (according to the Ammo Encyclopedia by Michael Bussard), and optimum effective range for a .45 ACP was 50 yards. That’s going to be the other way around with the CO2 pistols; the Peacemaker pellet model having an optimum effective range (for accuracy) of 10 yards (actually 10 meters), and the 1911 BB model 7 yards. With a fresh CO2 the 1911 can still put rounds on target with some degree of accuracy out to 10 yards, as well.

Both holsters are from the turn of the century and are copied from actual rigs pictured in Packing Iron. Early holsters for the Colt Model 1911 were still based on revolver holster designs, such as this drop loop model with three silver conchos. The retaining strap was a necessity for the 1911 in a holster of this design. Unlike a SAA, a lot of the weight in a 1911 was in the grips when the gun was loaded, making it more apt to fall out of the holster than a 7-1/2 inch Peacemaker. The fringe holster was for a 7-1/2 inch Colt and is one of the few known examples to use this twist leather fringe as a design element.

Outside of finish, nothing has been done to the internal mechanisms of these two Colt CO2 pistols, and with fresh CO2 average velocity for the Peacemaker, using the heavier Meisterkugeln 7.0 gr. lead wadcutters (last test was with H&N Sport alloy wadcutters traveling downrange at an average of 400 fps), and the Swiss Arms 1911A1 with Remington copper-coated steel BBs, clocked 389 fps and 301 fps, respectively.

Starting with the 1911A1 and then the Peacemaker at 21 feet I shot at an IPSC silhouette target. Both the 1911A1 BB model and Peacemaker pellet model delivered decisive hits in the target’s center mass A Zone.

Aimed fire at 7 yards

Keeping things slightly real, I only loaded seven BBs into the 1911 magazine. At the 21 foot distance the Peacemaker punched its six into 1.25 inches, the 1911 also grouped seven into 1.25 inches on an IPSC silhouette target. Keep in mind, there’s no bullseye and POA is dead center in the middle of the A Zone. All hits with the Peacemaker were in and around the “A” in the A Zone, and the hits with the 1911 aimed just slightly lower were within the same spread. Not bad for those old fixed military sights on the 1911 and the channel rear and blade front on the 1873.

Six shots with the Peacemaker and seven with the 1911A1 both measured 1.25 inches from 7 yards.
I shot a little left of POA at 10 yards but put four of six rounds into one ragged tear in the 10 ring.

Pushing things out to 10 yards using a Shoot-N-C target, the Peacemaker punched six into 1.24 inches, with four of six in one elongated hole (though I was hitting left of POA), while the 1911A1, really shooting beyond its limit, put its seven steel BBs into 2.25 inches.

For a blowback action BB pistol averaging 300 fps, I was not disappointed with this spread from 10 yards. POA was right below the red bullseye. I would estimate from earlier velocity tests, my quick firing, about 1-second intervals, means the velocity was more like 285 fps toward the last few shots. Again I was hitting a little left with the fixed sights and no POA correction.

I used the same backer (the IPSC target) all day and had every shot inside the A Zone, with a total spread for the day of 3.43 inches. Not the greatest shooting, but a great way to shoot an afternoon!

4 thoughts on “When Centuries Collide – an adventure in CO2”

  1. Dennis,

    I myself think the two to be an excellent combination to carry. You have the dependability of the revolver and the rapid rate of fire and reload of the semi.

    • I totally agree, especially when taken in context with the times (early 1900s) when revolvers were the most familiar and semi-autos a bit suspect among old timers. Lawmen were among the first to embrace the dual purposes afforded by carrying both types of firearms. It remains a potent combination.


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