February 17, 2021
Compared to battles with familiar/famous names like Waterloo, Gettysburg, and Stalingrad, the Battle of Walker’s Creek in June of 1844 was minuscule. Just 15 Texas Rangers fought for their lives against a raiding party of 75 Comanches.
History records that the Rangers won. The Comanches left 20 dead, while the Rangers lost only one man. The surviving Comanches withdrew. While Walker’s Creek did not alter the course of a war, like Waterloo or Gettysburg, it had far-reaching consequences beyond the Comanche wars.
The decisive factor in the battle was Colt’s five-shot revolver, and it changed the world.
First, it led directly to the resurrection of Samuel Colt’s company, which turned into one of America’s greatest industrial concerns. Second, it dramatically changed the way firearms were manufactured, and this became a cornerstone of America’s industrial dominance for 150 years. Third, it transformed the role of horse soldiers. What had been merely mounted infantry, using the horse for transport, became cavalry—moving fast and striking hard. It redefined warfare in the late 19th century.
Until Walker’s Creek, there was no really effective way of combating the Comanches, who were the finest light cavalry in America. A Comanche warrior was capable of riding a hundred miles without a break and loosing 20 well-aimed arrows per minute while hanging under the neck of a galloping horse. Confronted with such an enemy, and armed only with single-shot rifles and pistols, the standard defense was to dismount, take cover, and fight a defensive action.
In 1842, by accident, the small force of Rangers came into possession of 150 Colt Paterson five-shot revolvers, discarded by the disbanded Texas Navy. They learned how to use those revolvers, and each Ranger was issued two revolvers and four spare cylinders. All at once, a mounted man—and the Rangers were horsemen almost on a par with the Comanches—had 30 shots at his disposal. Instead of dismounting to fight, he could pursue on horseback, shooting all the while.
What does this have to do with modern-day self-defense? Quite a bit. Around 1990 a gun scribe wrote in praise of the then-new Glock 19, insisting it gave an advantage over any revolver in the event you were confronted on a lonely highway by 19 outlaw bikers. The absurdities are obvious. Suppose there are 20? Suppose you miss with a shot or two? There goes the math.
You can pile up “what ifs” to the point where you’re only safe towing a howitzer with a .50-cal. on the roll bar and a brace of attack dogs. For most of us, this is hardly practical, so we go back to the lessons of Walker’s Creek.
The Rangers were outnumbered five to one, and even with their Patersons, the Comanches commanded much greater sustained firepower. In relative terms, 20 Comanches with full quivers were a substantially greater threat than any bunch of bikers I’ve ever seen.
What gave the Rangers an advantage—aside from surprise at unexpectedly turning the tables—was accuracy. Eventually, they ran out of ammunition (the cylinders could not be reloaded in the field) and were at the Comanches’ mercy (good luck!). Capt. Jack Hays asked if anyone had a round left. One man did and, as instructed, dropped the Comanche chief out of his saddle at “30 long paces.” The Indians abandoned the fight.
The battle may have been won by the sustained firepower of the Paterson Colt—moderate by today’s standards—but a single accurate shot, executed at the critical moment, decided the day. Newfangled the Patersons might have been, but the Rangers had practiced with them endlessly to master changing cylinders and shooting accurately—both done on horseback under stressful conditions.
Confrontations are not won solely by firepower. Cool judgment and confidence, both in your equipment and your ability to use it, count for more than mere cartridge capacity.