The Colt Model 1847 Walker is one of the most valuable of all US military handguns in the collecting community, with examples sometimes breaking seven figures. However, the Walker was in many ways a remarkable failure as a service sidearm, mostly because it tended to explode. By today’s standards, it exploded quite a lot.
Basically, a combination of several factors:
– The Walker was made of wrought iron, and not always the best quality wrought iron. Cylinders had internal flaws that became weak points and failed upon firing.
– The Walker had a huge powder capacity in its chambers, between 50 and 60 grains depending on the projectile used. This was basically rifle size, and it left the cylinder design with a very small margin of safety.
– Powder composition and grain size was less standardized in the 1840s than it is today, making overpressure loads more likely than today.
– The Walker was designed for a conical “Pickett” bullet that was tricky to load correctly (point forward). Loading it backward could increase the powder volume in a chamber.
Of nearly 400 Walkers issued for the Mexican-American War, only 191 were returned after a year’s service, and only 82 of those were serviceable. Some of those missing guns were lost and stolen, but a substantial number – generally accepted to be 20%-30% – suffered burst barrels, burst cylinders, and broken cylinder arbors. Whoops!