One of the things Hollywood does well is create legends. And one of the most enduring to come out of the television Westerns of the 1950s and ’60s was the Buntline Special, a Colt Single Action Army with a 12" barrel.
This elongated hogleg made its theatrical appearance in “The Life And Legend Of Wyatt Earp,” which aired on ABC from 1955 to 1961 and starred Hugh O’Brian, who carried it in a Bohlin-made double rig with a holster featuring an extended drop (necessary for the foot-long barrel to clear leather in a timely manner).
But the Colt Buntline wasn’t conjured up by a screenwriter. It was based in fact-sort of. Back in Earp’s day, Colt customers could order extra-long barrels at a dollar an inch for anything over 7½". Approximately 31 such guns-with barrels ranging from 10" to 16"-were produced from 1876 through 1884. However, in Stuart N. Lake’s book, Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall, upon which the TV series was based, he relates that five of these stretch-tubed SAAs were presented by dime novelist Edward Zane Carroll Judson, who used the pen name Ned Buntline, to Earp and four other Dodge City lawmen-Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, Charlie Bassett and Neal Brown-in 1876. Historically, it is doubtful this ever happened, but the story was too good to be ignored.
Just as the TV cowboy craze corralled Colt into reissuing the Single Action Army in 1955, in 1957 “Earpmania” caused the company to bring out a Buntline Special, which remained in the line until 1975, with 4,060 produced. Most were blued and case-hardened with rubber stocks but some had two-piece walnut grip panels and 65 were nickeled.
The guns were serial numbered in the same SA suffix range as standard second generation Peacemakers, but their 12" barrels were stamped “Colt Buntline Special .45.” Buntlines produced through the late 1960s also had a three- or four-digit BB (Buntline Barrel) assembly number on the underside of their barrels. During the 1980s and ’90s many Buntlines were rebarreled, adding to their scarcity. Thus, like all Second Generation Colts, the Buntline has climbed in collectability.
This second-year-of-production Second Generation Buntline is in 98 percent condition, with a barely discernable drag line on the cylinder and a faint hint of holster wear near the muzzle. As such, it easily commands a price of $1,500 to $1,800 on today’s market.
Gun: Second Generation Colt Single Action Army Buntline Special
Caliber: .45 Colt
Condition: 98 percent (NRA Modern-Excellent)
Serial No: 216XXSA
Value: $1,500 to $1,800
(Note: The BB under-barrel numbers are assembly numbers and are not meant to match Buntline serial numbers.)