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The Colt Buntline Special is a variant of long-barreled Colt Single Action Army revolver that author Stuart N. Lake created while writing his 1931 biography of Wyatt Earp. According to Lake's biography, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal published in 1931, dime novelist Ned Buntline had five Buntline Specials commissioned. Lake described them as extra-long, 12 inches (300 mm)-long barrel Colt Single Action Army revolvers. Buntline was supposed to have presented them to lawmen in thanks for their help with contributing “local color” to his western yarns. According to Lake, the pistol was equipped with a detachable metal shoulder stock.
After the publication of Lake's book, various Colt revolvers with long (10″ or 16″) barrels were referred to as "Colt Buntlines". Colt re-introduced the revolvers in its second generation revolvers produced after 1956.
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Origin of mythEdit
According to Lake, the weapon was a single-action revolver chambered for .45 Long Colt cartridge. However, it had a 12″ (305mm) long barrel, in comparison to the Colt Peacemaker's, 7.5″ (190mm) barrel. A 16″ (406mm) barrel was available as well.
The Buntline Special was further popularized by The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp television series. It had a removable stock that could be easily affixed through a combination of screws and lead-ins. These modifications allegedly gave the weapon better precision and range, and supposedly allowed the user to affix the stock and turn the revolver into an even more precise weapon to give it most of the advantages of a rifle.
Ned Buntline is supposed to have commissioned this weapon in 1876, but the Colt company has no record of receiving the order nor making any such weapon. Lake conceived the idea of a revolver that would be more precise and could be easily modified to work similarly to a rifle. Lake's creative biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, published in 1931, and later Hollywood portrayals, exaggerated Wyatt's profile as a western lawman. The book later inspired a number of stories, movies and television programs about outlaws and lawmen in Dodge City and Tombstone, including the 1955 television series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp.
Alleged presentation to lawmenEdit
According to Lake, Earp kept his at the original 12″ length but the four other recipients of the Specials cut their barrels down to the standard 7½″. Lake spent much effort trying to track down the Buntline Special through the Colt company, Masterson and contacts in Alaska. Lake described it as a Colt Single Action Army model with a long, 12 inches (30 cm) barrel, standard sights, and wooden grips into which the name “Ned” was ornately carved. Researchers have never found any record of an order received by the Colt company, and Ned Buntline's alleged connections to Earp's have been largely discredited.Lake wrote that Wyatt Earp and four other well-known western lawmen - Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, Charlie Bassett and Neal Brown - each received a Buntline Special. However, neither Tilghman nor Brown were lawmen then.
Buntline wrote only four western yarns, all about Buffalo Bill. There is no conclusive proof as to the kind of pistol Earp usually carried, though it is known that on the day of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, October 26, 1881, he carried an 8 inch (200mm) barreled .44 caliber 1869 American model Smith & Wesson. Earp had received the weapon as a gift from Tombstone mayor and Tombstone Epitaph newspaper editor John Clum. Lake later admitted that he had 'put words into Wyatt's mouth because of the inarticulateness and monosyllabic way he had of talking'.
The revolver could have been specially ordered from the Colt factory in Hartford, Connecticut as extra-long barrels were available from Colt at a dollar an inch over 7.5 inches (190 mm). Several such revolvers with 16-inch barrels and detachable stocks were displayed at the 1876 Centennial Exposition, but these were marketed as "Buggy rifles". While there are no company records for the Buntline Special nor a record of any orders from or sent to Ned Buntline this does not absolutely preclude the historicity of the revolvers. Massad Ayoob writing for Guns Magazine cited notes by Josie Earp in which she mentioned an extra-long revolver as a favorite of Wyatt Earp. He cited an order by Tombstone, Arizona, bartender Buckskin Frank Leslie for a revolver of near-identical description. This order predated the O.K. Corral fight by several months.
In the 1950s, when Colt resumed manufacture of the Single Action Army they made a Buntline version due to customer demand. The barrels are marked on the left-side "COLT BUNTLINE SPECIAL .45". A few 3rd Generation Buntlines were manufactured in the late 1970s as well.