The Colt Single Action Army (or ‘Peacemaker’) may have been the definitive Old West six-gun, but it was far from the only revolver to ride in the holsters of lawmen, ranchers, rustlers, and outlaws from that era.
It may not have sold to the same degree as Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers from the same timeframe, but it was a better design in some ways.
The revolver I’m talking about is Remington’s 1875.
Why Did the Remington 1875 Exist?
When it was released in 1874 (despite the name), the Remington 1875 was essentially a modernization of Remington’s earlier revolver, the percussion cap-and-ball 1858.
The Remington 1858 was arguably the best handgun used in the Civil War era.
Unlike the competing open-top Colts with the barrel mounted to the frame via a hinge in front of the cylinder, Remington’s gun was more advanced by utilizing a one-piece frame and a solid top strap.
Not only was it a far more durable gun than the Colt open-tops, the 1858 could theoretically be released faster since cylinders could be easily swapped out in the frame (similar to using a modern speedloader).
Of course, this was assuming that the user had several pre-loaded cylinders on hand and cylinders that were machined to fit in their specific revolver as well. While reloading an 1858 quickly in this fashion can be seen in successful Western movies like Pale Rider and Django Unchained, in real-life it was probably not practiced as much as Hollywood would like you to think.
In any case, the 1858 was still a highly successful gun for Remington. In the late 1860s, Remington helped spearhead the movement from cap-and-ball to cartridge revolvers by rechambering many of the 1858 revolvers for cartridges. The cartridge converted 1858s were revolutionary, and Colt followed suit by cartridge converting most of their cap-and-ball revolvers.
By the early 1870s, however, it was apparent that Remington would need to design and release a new handgun. The 1858 was starting to show its age. Smith & Wesson released the Model 3 Top-Break cartridge revolver in 1870, and in 1873, Colt’s iconic Single Action Army (which borrowed the same top-strap design as the 1858) had taken the firearms world by storm almost overnight.
All the signs were pointing to Remington needing to release a new handgun to keep up with the competition, and they needed to do it fast.
Enter the Remington 1875.
The Remington 1875 in the Old West
When the 1875 (dubbed the “Improved Army” and “Frontier Army” by Remington) was released it was immediately forced into competition with the Colt SAA and Smith & Wesson top-break revolvers.
The United States military had already adopted both of these guns, so Remington had to turn to law enforcement and civilian sales for the 1875. The new gun ended up obtaining a small but very loyal following.
The Remington’s most distinctive feature (and the easiest way to tell it apart from the Colt at a distance) is the triangular rib or strap of metal that is located underneath the barrel and mounted to the front of the frame.
This strap accomplishes two things. Cosmetically, it makes the gun look very elegant (at least in my opinion) with the same profile as the earlier 1858 model. Functionally, it adds more strength in-between the barrel and the frame, and can be used as a weapon in its own right if you have to get physical.
Famous lawman Wyatt Earp spoke favorably of Remington for this reason. Earp was known for pistol-whipping his opponents into submission and claimed that the Remington’s distinctive strap turned it into “an effective club.”
Those on the opposite side of the law were drawn to the sturdiness of Remington’s new pistol as well. The infamous outlaw Frank James (brother of Jesse James) recognized the inherent durability of the Remington 1875 and called it the “hardest and surest shooting pistol ever made.”
He was armed with two 1875s in .44-40 when captured.
The 1875 was in production from 1874 to 1889, with around thirty thousand units produced in total.
Initially, the 1875 was only offered in the proprietary .44 Remington caliber. I believe this was one reason why the 1875 experienced slow sales at first. Long story short, it could be difficult to find .44 Remington ammunition.
In contrast, most of the Colt SAA and Smith & Wesson Model 3 were available in .45 Long Colt and .45 Schofield respectively. Both of these calibers were in wide use due to their adoption by the military, and you could find plentiful amounts of ammunition for either virtually anywhere that sold ammunition. The .44 Remington was not so common.
Furthermore, Colt and Smith & Wesson also released versions of their revolvers for the .44-40 caliber, the same caliber that Winchester’s hugely successful 1873 rifle was chambered for. This permitted the user to have both a handgun and a rifle with only one caliber for both.
By the late 1870s, Remington finally released the 1875 in .44-40, and in the early 1880s, they also released it in .45 Long Colt. The .44-40 variant was by far the most successful, and it’s not hard to see why due to people being able to share its ammunition with their Winchester rifles.
It’s also worth noting that authentic Remington 1875s in .45 Long Colt are very rare and worth quite a bit of money.
Colt or Remington?
Now it’s time for the big question. A big debate that relates to Old West firearms is whether or not the Remington 1875 is superior to the Colt.
In short, I believe the Remington is a better gun in some ways, but the Colt shines over its rival in other areas.
The Remington is definitely the more durable gun thanks to its one piece frame (meaning it has less components and screws that can get loose than the Colt’s two-piece frame design) as well as the strap that runs under the barrel to the frame. At the time, the Remington 1875 was also machined to tighter tolerances than most of the Colts were, which meant that they were (at least theoretically) more accurate than their Colt counterparts and less prone to breakage. I’m not sure if this holds true for modern reproductions.
The Colt, however, is easily the more ergonomic and natural-feeling gun. Since the hammer on the Remington is shorter and the grip sticks out a little farther back, I have to readjust my grip ever so slightly for my thumb to reach the Remington’s hammer.
On a Colt SAA, I can move my thumb up to the hammer without having to adjust my grip at all. The Colt just feels more natural to me, and I can manipulate it faster than I can the Remington.
I also prefer the location of the ejector rod on the Colt over the Remington. The Colt’s ejector rod is located on the left side of the barrel. My practice is to hold the grip in my right hand and then use my left hand to operate the rod to get the shells out. It’s very easy to do.
The Remington’s ejector rod is located on the right side of the barrel, and it’s somewhat more awkward to use. It’s also not shrouded over with metal for protection from the elements like the Colt’s ejector rod is. At the end of the day, I can operate the Colt to eject the spent shells faster over the Remington.
Given the choice, if I had to pick one over the other, I would gravitate to the Colt for these reasons. Thankfully, however, I didn’t have to choose and I’m very blessed to own Uberti-made Taylor’s & Co reproductions of both handguns.
Reproductions of the Remington 1875
Speaking of which, there are numerous high-quality Remington 1875 reproductions available today by Uberti and that are also imported by Cimarron and Taylor’s & Co. Other companies like Stoeger and Navy Arms used to import 1875 reproductions as well.
These 1875 reproductions are offered in .45 Long Colt, .44-40 Winchester, and .357 Magnum, and in a variety of barrel lengths, grips, and finishes.
My personal 1875 is the Taylor’s & Co Army Outlaw Rambler model in .45 Long Colt, and (full disclosure) I picked it solely because of the gorgeous looking ivory-looking grip it sports.
I’ve always admired the look of a single action revolver with a blued finish, color case hardened frame, and ivory-style grips, and the 1875 is no exception for me.
Uberti-made 1875s are also a common presence as props in modern day Western films. You’ll see the 1875 being wielded by heroes and villains alike in popular movies and shows such as Crossfire Trail, Lonesome Dove, Open Range, Red River, Tombstone, True Grit, Unforgiven, and Wyatt Earp, among many others.
Ultimately, both the Colt SAA and Remington 1875 are great handguns, and you would have been fortunate to be armed with either one if you had lived in the Old West era.
The Remington 1875 may never have captured the attention of so many like its Colt competitor did, but it’s a very respectable revolver in its own right. And the Colt may have a more natural feel (at least for me), but the Remington is the stronger design.
Equally as elegant as it is tough, the Remington 1875 is worth taking a peek at if you’re looking to add an Old West-style revolver to your collection.
Who Used the 1875 Remington?
The 1875 Remington was used predominantly by lawmen and outlaws of the American Wild West. Notable figures of that era, such as Frank James and William “Billy the Kid” Bonney, were known to have favored this iconic revolver. Its durable construction and effective firing capability made it popular among those requiring reliable weaponry.
What Caliber is the Remington 1875?
The Remington 1875 was chambered in several calibers, including .44-40 and .45 Colt. These specific calibers were favored for their stopping power and reliability, cementing the revolver’s reputation as a formidable firearm. The diversity in calibers offered adaptability to different ammunition types available during that period.
How Accurate is the Remington 1875?
The Remington 1875 is renowned for its moderate accuracy. While it was not as precise as some contemporaneous models, its robust design and reliability under various conditions made it a favored choice. The revolver’s effectiveness in close to medium range combat situations underscores its operational capability.
What Gun Won the West Revolver?
The Colt Single Action Army revolver, also known as the Peacemaker, is often credited as “The Gun That Won the West.” It was favored for its reliability, ease of use, and powerful chambering in calibers like .45 Colt. The revolver’s widespread use among lawmen, soldiers, and frontiersmen underscores its historical and functional significance.