John C. Hays’ Colt Pistols
REVOLVERS PRESENTED BY SAMUEL COLT TO LEGENDARY TEXAS RANGER REPRESENT A ‘REMARKABLE DISCOVERY’
Col. John C. Hays was a legend among Texas Rangers. His aggressive and innovative style of fighting American Indians brought him national attention.
“When the Mexican War broke out in 1846, he led a regiment of Texans in the U.S. Army, and was able to convince President Polk to send additional troops for the protection of Texas,” says David Carde, Heritage Auctions’ arms and armor consignment director.
Hays’ Mexican War fame and “Hays’ Big Fight” with a numerically superior band of Comanches, while armed with Paterson revolvers in 1844, won him the attention of Samuel Colt, manufacturer of the famed Colt pistol and contractor to the U.S. Army.
“Colt saw military officers and lawmen as the perfect heroes to promote his pistols,” Carde says. “So he often presented his firearms as gifts to these men.”
Consequently, on June 3, 1847, Colt sent the very first pair of his Civilian Walker Revolvers to Hays. “Col. Hays,” says firearms historian and expert Herb Glass Jr., “was of the utmost importance to Sam Colt in his earliest attempts to promote his improved revolver,”
“Colt recognized the importance of having Hays as an advocate in hopes of securing additional contracts from the military,” Carde adds.
After being held in a private collection, two Colt pistols presented and attributed to Hays are being offered at auction for the first time, in Heritage’s Civil War & Militaria Arms & Armor auction scheduled for Dec. 10, 2017.
“The existence of an intact original group of the arms of Col. John C. Hays is a remarkable discovery,” Glass says.
The Walker is named for Samuel H. Walker, an officer who collaborated with Samuel Colt on the design, which was based on the Paterson. Walker was able to get approval from the U.S. Ordnance Department to order 1,000 pistols from Colt. “Walker was anxious to have his company equipped with the new pistols, and although Colt was eager to comply,” Carde says, “he realized Hays could maximize exposure of his guns and land a larger contract from the U.S. Army.”
Hays was in the process of recruiting the First Regiment, Texas Mounted Volunteers, when he learned of Colt’s new pistol design, and hoped to secure the pistols for his men, Carde says. There are letters from Colt documenting his plan to direct his new guns to Hays’ regiment.
Firearms expert and author Robert D. Whittington III has noted that Colt manufactured 100 pistols in addition to the 1,000 made for the Ordnance department. They were numbered 1001 to 1100, and were made to be given as gifts to officers and for public sale. “Before any of the 1,000 pistols were delivered to the army,” Whittington writes, “Colt sent the first pair of the ‘civilian’ pistols to the man whom Colt considered his best promoter for the weapons. That man had replaced Sam Walker in Colt’s esteem and his name was John Coffee Hays, who was then in San Antonio. … It is extremely probable that the serial numbers on Hays’ pair of pistols were close to 1001 and 1002.”
Of the 100 Walker Civilian Colts that were made, a total of 16 are known. The Serial No. 1001 offered in Heritage’s upcoming auction is newly discovered, and although not inscribed, has been attributed to Hays by noted firearms experts.
“That these guns have been under the radar for so long is incredulous,” Carde says, “so when we were approached to offer them at auction, we knew we had to take extra precautions to ensure that they were as purported. These are extremely rare pistols, and the attribution to John Hays raises the stakes exponentially.”