It is 1862 and Matthew Holden had just celebrated his 17th birthday. He had been saving his money all summer and now it was time, time to buy his first sixgun. Every week he went to town with Pa and would always look in the window of the gun shop, however, he had decided never to go in and bother the gunsmith until he had money in his pocket. The time had come. Excitedly Matt entered the shop and allowed a few seconds for his eyes to become accustomed to less light. He really didn’t know what he wanted as he didn’t know what was available. Pa was a shooter but it was always a rifle or shotgun and to put meat on the table or scare something away that was bothering the stock.
It wasn’t that Pa didn’t hold with revolvers; after all, Matt knew Pa had given Ma a little five-shot .31 Colt that was always right there by Ma’s bed, right beside her Bible. But this would be Matt’s first-time to ever even hold a revolver. Matt may not have known what he would find, however he knew it would have to be a pistol. He could always use one of Pa’s long guns but he wanted his very own revolver that was easy to pack, powerful, and quick into action just in case. He expected to spend a lot of time on horseback exploring the country and whatever he chose would be his constant companion. It would have to ride well in a holster and feel good in hand. The first revolver he looked at just wouldn’t do.
The gunsmith pulled a huge pistol from the display case explaining to young Matt it was a Colt Dragoon, and that it shot a .44 round ball faster than the mind could contemplate and he also assured him it was not only the most powerful revolver made, there was no way it could ever be surpassed in power. Matt like the sound of that, however once he picked up the Dragoon he realized its four-pound weight would not be practical for daily use. There was no way he could carry this sixgun all day on his slender frame. No, he needed something smaller.
The gunsmith reached back in the case and brought out just about the most beautiful thing Matt had ever seen. Now this was more like it he thought as he was handed a Colt 1851 Navy. It felt really good, balanced wonderfully well, and would certainly ride easy in leather, but Matt noticed the smaller hole in the barrel. It was .36 caliber and Matt wasn’t sure it would be enough. He remembered the bear Pa had shot when he was ten. Yes, he would need a bigger gun. Now if only there was a .44 that felt as good as this Colt .36.
The gunsmith said he had one gun left explaining it was not a Colt but a new Remington. Matt handled the .44 Remington, and even though the grip was not quite as comfortable in his hands as the Colt Navy he felt better knowing it was a .44. It also had a more sturdy appearance and seemed to be very solid. The gunsmith pointed out to him this was due to the fact the Remington mainframe and grip frame were all one-piece and it also has a top strap across the frame above the cylinder. That certainly made sense to even someone as young as Matthew Holden.
Yes, it would be the Remington. Matt had enough money to purchase the sixgun, powder, caps, lead, a bullet mold, and even a Slim Jim holster and wide belt. Matt had worked very hard that summer and now he was being rewarded. Little did he know what the not very distant future held for so many young boys all over the country. In just a very few short months he would be wearing that Remington when he joined the Union Army.
The Remington was available both as an 8” .44 New Model Army and a 7 1/2” .36 Navy Model. Percussion Colts were more readily available and in a greater profusion of models but the Remington cap-n-ball sixgun had several advantages over the Colt. The frame of the Remington was solid with a barrel that was permanently screwed into the frame while the Colt sixguns were all open-topped with removable barrels that were held in place by two small pins at the bottom of the front of the frame and a wedge pin that entered the barrel assembly from the side. A town marshal using his Colt to smack to a hard headed cantankerous drunk on Saturday night would surely bend his gun but the solidly built Remington would be no worse for wear.
The Remington also had a better sighting arrangement with a rear sight that was a hog wallow through the top of the frame mated up with an easy to see front sight. The Colt carried a brass front sight while the rear sight was a notch in the cocked hammer. The Colt did have two great advantages. Most pistoleros found it to be quicker from leather and slightly faster to handle with its easier to reach hammer and more comfortable grip, and it also would shoot longer without jamming from fouling. However, no less a legend than Buffalo Bill Cody said his Remington never failed him.
When I first started visiting gun shops and then attended my first gun show in 1956 I found it was very easy to find Colt Single Actions, both the 1873 Peacemaker as well as various cap and ball sixguns, but I rarely saw any Smith & Wesson or Remington single actions. Perhaps they were there, and just perhaps my eyes had been trained by who knows how many B westerns, first in the movies and then filling many hours on the new medium of television, to always see Colt Single Actions above all else. My first single actions, after my original Ruger .22 Single-Six, were Colts, thus beginning a lifelong appreciation for the Peacemaker, or Model P. I mentioned earlier the dilemma I would have faced in the 19th century if I had to choose between a Smith & Wesson or Colt Single Action and that choice would been made even more difficult by factoring in a single action from Remington. Come forward to the 1950s when I started really shooting single actions. Would I have gravitated to Remingtons if they were readily and inexpensively available?
One of the great advantages of the Colt Single Action was not only the fact they were made for a longer period of time, 1873-1941 compared to the Remingtons from 1874-1896; the Colts also won the numbers game with 350,000 to around 30,000 Remingtons. Colts were also chambered in cartridges, which for the most part were still available not only in the 1950s but now as well. The top three cartridges found in 1st Generation Colt Single Actions are .45 Colt, .44-40, and .38-40, while the Remingtons were not only in a much smaller supply many were chambered in the obsolete .44 Remington, and more than one-half of the Remingtons produced originally went to the Egyptian Government.
My first encounter with a Remington of any kind was a replica 1858 percussion Remington revolver by Navy arms. It didn't take long to realize how comfortable the Colt Single Action Army grip frame makes the shooting of standard .44s and .45s, nor to notice the cramped (for my hand) grip frame on that 1858 was not nearly as comfortable. Over the years I have added several Remington 1875 replicas to my collection of shooting sixguns, however they also have not seemed to feel as good in the hand as my Colts.
From the very beginning, when compared to the Colts, Remingtons have been an inherently stronger design. Where Colt used three parts, mainframe, backstrap, and trigger guard bolted together, Remington forged a one-piece steel housing incorporating the mainframe and grip frame with no screws to loosen while shooting. Unlike the open-top design of Sam Colt’s percussion revolvers, the early Remingtons had a solid top strap, which the United States Military insisted upon Colt using in their Single Action Army. It is quite obvious to me someone at Colt took a good look at the Remington percussion revolvers before the 1871-72 Open-Top evolved into the Colt Single Action Army in 1873. Is also obvious Remington engineers then looked back at the Colt of 1873 before the first Remington cartridge firing revolvers arrived in 1874.
When one compares the percussion revolvers from Remington and Colt we find them to be quite different. This attribute is also found when examining cartridge firing single actions from Colt and Smith & Wesson. They are quite different as to look, feel, and operation. However, when we come to the Colt Model of 1873 and the Remington Model 1875 we find them to be quite similar in appearance except for the web found under the barrel of the Remington. In fact, when Hollywood wanted the sixgun used in the movie to be a Remington they simply added a pot metal style Remington web under the barrel of the Colt. If one looks at close-up pictures of Westerns using Remingtons it is easy to see how crudely these webs are attached.
Was the purpose of the web simply to give a distinctive appearance? Was it there just to carry on the look of the .44 Remington percussion revolvers? Was it designed as an aid for easy holstering? Did the Remington engineers think it provided extra strength? Whatever the reason it is the one distinctive appearance factor of the Remington 1875 when compared to the Colt Peacemaker. The first few hundred Remington 1875s were chambered in .46 Remington, however this was soon change to .44 Remington with approximately 16,000 being manufactured by 1878, most of which went to the Egyptian Government. All of these were 7 1/2” sixguns with a pinched post front sight and lanyard ring. In addition to the web, the cylinder pin of the Remington sixguns extended all the way to the end of the barrel rather than just to the front of the frame as with the Colts.
Somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 1875s were produced over the next three years with a blade front sight, mostly without the lanyard ring and chambered in .44-40 and .45 Colt. Some minor changes were made in 1881 with between 4,000 and 5,000 being manufactured before the Model 1890 arrived. The last few, less than 1,000 Model 1875s, where chambered in .44-40 with 5 3/4” barrels. In 1883 approximately 1,000 nickel-plated Model 1875s were purchased by the U.S. Government to arm the Indian Police. E. Remington & Sons suffered a bankruptcy in 1888, the company name was changed to Remington Arms, and a few “Model 1888” single actions were produced before the arrival of the Model 1890. The last of the Remington big-bore single actions were produced in .44-40 with less than 2, 000 being manufactured before production ceased in 1896. Both barrels lengths were offered in the Model 1890, which is easily distinguished from the Model 1875 by the lack of the full-length web under the barrel.
For several decades now, Uberti has been producing Remington replicas, which have been offered by Cimarron, EMF, and Navy Arms. I have considerable experience shooting both the 1875 and 1890 Models chambered in .44-40 and .45 Colt. I have never found these to be as easy to shoot as the Colt-style sixguns due to the shape of the grip, the angle of the hammer, and the heaviness of the mainspring. I simply cannot reach nor cock the hammer on any of these Remington replicas as easy as on a Colt. One notable exception has been a 7 1/2” .45 Colt Model 1875 from EMF. This one seems to feel almost as good as a Colt Single Action in my hand and the hammer is very easy to reach. A subtle difference in size and angle, plus the fact it has been equipped with custom stocks by Buffalo Brothers, which are not quite as thick as the originals, makes a large difference. In all of this time I have never had the privilege of handling, much less shooting an original Remington. Now thanks to Hartford Armory the original Remington is back and I have not only been privileged to shoot these new sixguns but also to handle the original Remington 1875 used as their pattern.
Here in the first decade of the 21st century we have a new firearms manufacturer producing, not state-of-the-art semi-automatics, but rather original Remingtons, single action sixguns, which have not been seen for over 100 years. That new company is Hartford Armory and their first cartridge firing effort is that of manufacturing high-quality Model 1875 and Model 1890 Remingtons on thoroughly modern, totally up-to-date machinery using the finest American made 4130 and 4140 steels with mainframes being forged not cast. To come up with these new Remington single actions, they very carefully measured and studied original Remingtons, not currently produced replicas, and they have detracted from the original design in only one way.
The original Remington cylinders were even shorter than those in the Colt Single Action Army, and many of the modern rounds offered in .45 Colt are deliberately made long enough to preclude their being used in Colt Single Actions or replica Remingtons. These new Remingtons have cylinders approximately 1/8” longer than the originals to handle currently manufactured .45 Colt ammunition. Colt Single Actions, replicas thereof, and replicas of Remingtons are not strong enough to handle +P or Heavy Duty .45 Colt hunting loads. Hartford Armory proclaims this newest offering is not only true to the original design of the Remingtons it is also strong enough to handle any factory .45 Colt ammunition currently being offered. It is in fact, strong enough that by the time you read this it will be available in .44 Magnum with an extra cylinder in .44-40 if so desired.
I have been privileged to spend time with four Hartford Armory Remingtons, three Model 1890s and one Model 1875 all chambered in .45 Colt. These four sixguns were tested with everything from 200 grain .45 Colt Cowboy loads at 700 fps all the way up to 265 grain jacketed bullets at 1,350 fps and 340 grain bullets at 1,230 fps. The last two loads are normally the heaviest loads I use in a .45 Colt Ruger Blackhawk, which means, unlike the Colt Single Action or any of its replicas, this Remington handles the same .45 Colt loads which, until now, I only felt safe shooting in a Ruger Blackhawk.
The Colt Single Action grip frame or the modification of such, the XR3-RED found on the Blackhawk , are not the most comfortable for shooting heavy .45 Colt loads. In the process of testing these Remingtons and shooting these heavier loads I found the Remington grip frame to be much better suited to the shooting of heavy loads than the old original Colt-style.
When the Italians first started producing the Remington replicas they changed the grip shape and hammer angle just enough to make it harder for me to reach the hammer spur. In comparing an original Model 1875 and the replicas it was easy to see more room between the back of the trigger guard and the front strap on the original. The same original dimension has been incorporated into the Hartford Armory Models 1875 and 1890 and this combined with the original shape of the back strap makes all the difference when shooting heavy loads.
The grip frame of the Colt, Colt-style, and standard Ruger Blackhawk can be considered comfortable in my hand with 250 grain bullets up to the 900-1,100 fps range, perhaps 1,200 fps. With the Remington the comfort ceiling is raised considerably due to the fact the back strap is slightly straighter and also comes up higher much like the design found on the original Colt Bisley Model, and the current Freedom Arms and Ruger Bisley Model. Here we have had a better-designed grip frame for heavy loads since 1874 and it has been lost until now.
The Hartford Armory Remington comes from the factory with an incredibly smooth action, an easy to reach and operate hammer, and the trigger pull on the 7 1/2” Model 1890 I spent the most time with was set at 2 3/4 pounds. Each Hartford Armory Remington also features a beautifully polished blue finish, with a case hardened hammer and loading gate being used on production models as on the originals. Until now the only single action I knew of that could be guaranteed to be fitted tightly has been a Freedom Arms. The Hartford Armory Remingtons are fitted just as closely with cylinder lockup being absolutely tight with no movement side-to-side or front to back. The barrel cylinder gap on the 7 1/2” Model 1890 will not accept the smallest feeler gauge I have, which is .002 inches. Cylinder to barrel alignment is so precise that the forcing cone is only two degrees. Larry Black, CEO of Hartford Armory, says "a funnel is not needed when the cylinder and barrel line up properly." Tolerances on cylinder chambers are held tightly with chamber throats being a uniform .451 inches.
Both the Model 1875 and1890 Remingtons are fitted with pinched post front sights, which I found quite easy to see. With the strength and accuracy afforded by these new Hartford Armory sixguns they can do double duty as hunting handguns and to this end Hartford Armory has already solved the problem of various loads hitting to differing points of impact by offering a screw in front sight available in different heights with a special wrench for removal and installation.
Once in a great while progress can actually be wonderful. The original Remingtons have been gone for over 100 years. Now they are back, they are better, they are totally American-made, and they are suited to the handling of .44 Magnum and Heavy Duty .45 Colt loads. The wait was worth it!