I Have This Old Gun: Colt 'Baby Dragoon' 1848 Pocket Pistol

posted on January 11, 2022
Baby Dragoon

In the mid-19th century—just as in today’s world—citizens were clamoring for a concealable, reliable and affordable handgun. Ironically, inspired by the acceptance of his massive .44-cal. 1847 Walker and First Model 1848 Dragoon, the enterprising Sam Colt sensed an opportunity.

Using his 4-lb., 8-oz., Dragoon as a starting point, he scaled down the horse pistol dramatically until it became a 22-oz., .31-cal., five-shot revolver that could easily be tucked into a gentleman’s sash or a frontiersman’s belt. The gun came with a blued barrel and cylinder and a color-casehardened frame and hammer—with silver-plated brass backstrap and trigger guard—and one-piece varnished walnut stocks. Its 3", 4", 5" or 6" octagonal barrel and square-backed trigger guard have subsequently inspired collectors to call this diminutive revolver the Baby Dragoon. In fact, cylinders of early guns sported the Texas Ranger and Comanche Indian fight scene originally designed by W.L. Ormsby for the Dragoon. This was changed to a stagecoach-holdup scene around Serial No. 11100.

Babay Dragoon

Adding to the gun’s compactness, the loading rammer was omitted. Instead, the end of the cylinder base pin, which was affixed to the frame, was concave so as to be used to press each ball into the charged chambers of the removed cylinder in a slow, cumbersome process. It was surmised, however, that the mere presentation of this five-shot revolver, in spite of its size, would be enough to circumvent any violence without a need for reloading. In fact, the 1848 Pocket Pistol was often referred to as “a gambler’s fifth Ace.”

Concurrently with the Baby Dragoon, the Model 1849 Pocket Pistol began production with a five- or six-shot cylinder, rounded trigger guard and a loading lever. Approximately 4,000 Model 1849s made with 3" barrels and without loading levers are incorrectly called Wells Fargo models, despite there being no evidence that they were ever purchased by the express company.

Baby DragoonBoth the Baby Dragoon and the Model 1849 were immensely popular during the California Gold Rush and the Civil War. In fact, they became the most prolific of all Colt cap-and-ball revolvers, with 15,000 Baby Dragoons produced before being discontinued in 1850, plus 340,000 Model 1849s, which were made until 1873.

The above Type III Baby Dragoon, with later stagecoach-holdup scene and in 10-percent condition, still retains traces of silver plating on its backstrap and trigger guard, has legible stampings and displays a surprisingly pristine bore. As such, it is worth $3,500 to $3,750.

—By Rick Hacker, Field Editor

Gun: Colt “Baby Dragoon” 1848 Pocket Pistol
Serial No.: 114XX
Caliber: .31
Manufactured: 1850
Condition: NRA Good-Very Good (Antique Gun Standards)
Value: $3,500 to $3,750


Desert Tech Trek 22 Ruger 1022 Stock F
Desert Tech Trek 22 Ruger 1022 Stock F

First Look: Desert Tech Trek-22 Bullpup Stock

Converting a standard Ruger 10/22 carbine into a bullpup rifle has never been easier, thanks to the Trek-22 bullpup stock from Desert Tech.

First Look: Samson Manufacturing Hannibal Mini-14 Rail

For the first time, owners of Ruger Mini-14 or Mini Thirty rifles can now mount optics forward of the action, thanks to the Samson Manufacturing Hannibal Rail.

The Story Behind Remington Ammunition

Through several name changes, ownership exchanges, and financial debacles over the past century, Remington Ammunition lives on today under the guidance of Vista Outdoor.

NRA Gun of the Week: Mossberg 940 Pro Snow Goose

On this week’s “Gun of the Week” video preview, American Rifleman examines a dedicated goose gun from Mossberg with increased capacity and custom finishes.

New For 2022: Savage Arms Model 64 Precision Rifle

New for 2022, Savage Arms introduces a new addition to its Model 64 semi-automatic rimfire rifle lineup with its introduction of the Model 64 Precision rifle.

The Armed Citizen® Jan. 28, 2022

Read today's "The Armed Citizen" entry for real stories of law-abiding citizens, past and present, who used their firearms to save lives.


Get the best of American Rifleman delivered to your inbox.