Growing up in rural West Virginia—and I do mean rural—country music was the norm, hunting was part of life, and westerns were a common part of our TV lineup. Naturally, we wanted to emulate our cowboy heroes. And it was a big day for us kids when a Ruger Single-Six made its way into our home. So, naturally, recreations like the Cimarron No. 3 1st Model American is very exciting.
The Cimarron No. 3 1st Model American
While Ruger Single-Six was very accurate and fun to shoot, it definitely wasn’t as fun to load as we slowly turned the cylinder to remove the shells one at a time. Then one day, I saw a movie that featured a Smith & Wesson No. 3 revolver, and I was hooked.
I can’t remember the name of the movie, but I remember being in awe as the cowboy broke open the action and dumped all of the shells at one time. Even then, I could appreciate the advantage of a faster reload when things went sideways on the high plains. That was heady stuff to me, and I’ve been fond of that single-action revolver design ever since.
So, it was only natural that a wave of nostalgia washed over me when I learned that Cimarron was coming out with the No. 3 1st Model American recently. As you can imagine, I just had to give it a try.
What’s In a Name
During my formative years, I referred to all Smith & Wesson No. 3s as Schofields. Not really knowing the difference between the various iterations. Even now, it’s still a little confusing. But I’ll try to simplify it as best I can because a lot of ground needs to be covered.
Developed circa 1868, the S&W No. 3 was originally chambered in the .44 S&W American caliber. It was the first big-bore revolver to use metallic cartridges and to be adopted by the U.S. Army. The Army ordered 1,000 units in 1870.
During that same time period, the .44 S&W American cartridge was developed into the .44 Russian cartridge to meet the needs of the Imperial Russian Army. The most significant change was the reduction of the bullet diameter to .429. This added lubrication grooves to the base.
The cartridge case was also lengthened .970 inches to help prevent the .44 Russian cartridge from being fired in American No. 3 revolvers chambered in .44 S&W American. The original version of the No. 3 became known as the “American” to help differentiate it from its Russian counterparts.
After the new .44 Russian cartridge had been developed, the Russian army ordered 41,000 revolvers with 7-inch barrels in 1871. In fact, a total of over 130,000 No. 3 “Russian” revolvers in three different configurations were ordered by the Russian army over the years.
The different configurations were due to specific changes requested by the Russians. Unfortunately, Smith & Wesson was almost forced into bankruptcy because the Russians cloned the No. 3 and began producing it on their own.
At the same time, they refused to make payment for some revolvers they had already received. Not to mention revolvers that Smith & Wesson had produced and just hadn’t yet shipped.
The No. 3 Gets an Upgrade
Back home in the United States, the No. 3 got a significant upgrade in 1875. There were a number of improvements to the design under the direction of Major George W. Schofield to make it more useable for the battlefield.
The most important change was the use of a frame-mounted, spring-loaded latch instead of Smith and Wesson’s barrel-mounted latch. This new latch made it easier for cavalrymen to break open the revolver with one hand to dump the shells while riding. It was these changes that catapulted the No. 3 to fame, with this particular model being known only as the “Schofield.”
At the time, the U.S. Army wanted the Schofield to be chambered in .45 Colt. But the cylinder wasn’t long enough to accommodate the cartridge. Smith & Wesson offered up the new .45 Schofield round as a response.
However, because the army had a large supply of .45 Colt rounds and was also using Colt single-action revolvers that could fire either the .45 Colt or .45 S&W cartridges, the Schofield revolver eventually fell into disuse.
The No. 3 Makes Its Way into the General Public
Subsequently, a large portion of the army’s stock of Schofield revolvers was sold as surplus. They were then reconditioned by distributors for sale to the general public. Some Schofields were given a nickel plating, had their barrels cut to 5 inches, or both.
After the Spanish-American war in 1898, all of the army’s Schofields were sold, and a large supply of S&W No. 3s was in the hands of the general public.
Famous names like Theodore Roosevelt, Billy the Kidd, Wyatt Earp, Pat Garrett, John Wesley Hardin, Jesse James, and Bob Ford are all reputed to have used one or more Smith & Wesson No. 3s.
Additionally, a large number of surplus No. 3 “Schofield” revolvers were purchased by Wells Fargo to be issued to their agents. The guns had the barrels cut down to 5 inches to make them more concealable and easier to carry.
In 1877, Smith & Wesson introduced the third evolution of the No. 3 revolver known as the New Model No. 3. This model replaced all previous models, including the American and Russian variants. However, it kept the Schofield changes while it included a few new improvements.
Along with the improvements, it incorporated a longer cylinder to accommodate a variety of cartridges. The New Model No. 3’s standard chambering was for .44 Russian, but it was also chambered in .44-40 for the Frontier Model, .38-40 Winchester, and target models were chambered in .32-44 and .38-44.
Back To The Original
With all of that knowledge under our gun belts, we come to Cimarron’s new offering—the Model No. 3 1st Model American. This is the one that started it all before any subsequent changes resulting in the Schofield iteration.
The Cimarron version has a longer cylinder to accommodate more modern cartridges such as .45 Colt, .44 S&W Russian, .44-40, and .44 Special. That said, those changes were made while still trying to keep Cimarron’s replica as close to the original as possible, with only a couple of other minor changes.
The folks at Cimarron specialize in firearms designs from the late 1800s. They source their reproduction pistols and rifles from overseas with companies like Uberti and then import them into the U.S. for sale.
They, and particularly the owner Mike Harvey, have an excellent reputation for staying as true to the original firearms as possible with the company’s reproduction firearms.
When Harvey first started, he wasn’t satisfied with the quality and faithfulness to original designs. So, he went through the painstaking process of working with companies on each firearm he sourced to ensure they worked, felt, and looked like the original models.
His dedication to that level of quality has made him a valuable asset to the Hollywood film industry. His guns have been featured in films like The Quick and the Dead, Unforgiven, Young Guns II, True Grit, and Lonesome Dove.
Aside from the longer cylinder, everything on Cimarron’s 1st Model American looks and feels as it should, from the wood grips to the barrel-mounted latch. While it is also available with an 8-inch barrel, I opted for the 5-inch version instead.
No, I don’t fancy myself as having the rugged constitution of a Wells Fargo agent. I just felt the compact model would be a bit more manageable.
The Cimarron No. 3 Offers Some Differences
Weighing in at 40.60 ounces, this chunky six-shooter doesn’t have quite the same balance as a Colt Single Action Army. Even with its shorter barrel, it’s very front-heavy, though that may help knock down a little recoil.
However, the grip provides just enough room for three full fingers with my pinky hanging off the edge. So, it might be a bit of a wash where recoil control is concerned.
Another difference from the original version is the patented hammer-block safety that’s contained within the frame. The original S&W No. 3 required the user to carry the revolver with the hammer down on an empty chamber. They didn’t have modern safeties back then like we do now.
With Cimarron’s No. 3, you pull the hammer back slightly until you feel/hear the click, and then you lay the hammer back down. There will be a steel insert between the hammer and frame that will prevent the gun from firing accidentally.
Provided you use this process, you’ll be able to store and carry your revolver safely with the cylinder fully loaded. But never, ever leave the hammer fully forward on a live round. Dropping the revolver in this state could result in an accidental discharge.
Finally, the Cimarron No. 3 American sports a blued finish and a pair of minuscule pegs that sit atop the break-open latch to be used as the rear sight. With those tiny posts and the period-correct front sight, I was starting to wonder if I’d be able to hit anything past 10 yards.
Absent any additional ornamentation like engraving, however, the American truly looks like a gun built for work and not for display. So, I did what was required and put it to work.
Smoke On the Range
There was lots of fun to be had at the range as a couple of buddies, and I tried out the Cimarron’s No. 3 American. We had a few different brands of ammo on hand, including some standard pressure Buffalo Bore rounds, Winchester’s 225-grain PDX1 load, and Fiocchi’s 250-grain Cowboy Action round.
The Winchester and Fiocchi loads were very pleasant to shoot, with velocities running 650-670 feet per second (fps). Despite being “standard pressure,” the 200-grain JHPs from Buffalo Bore still ran close to 300 fps faster.
Even with the substantially increased recoil of the hotter loads, the recoil was easily manageable, if not still downright gentle. As with most guns of this style, the curved grip allowed the revolver to roll a bit without driving the recoil straight back into the hand.
Even so, there was a good amount of particles blowing back into our faces with each shot, owing to the gun’s design. So, eye protection is definitely a must-have item.
Despite my earlier misgivings, I was able to throw up some decent groups from the bench at targets set out to 25 yards. In fact, the groups were rather good, considering the age of the design, the tiny sights, and my own vision limitations.
The single best group was just a hair over 2 inches, and that was with Winchester’s PDX1 load. However, average group sizes for all brands only ran 2.25 to 2.70 inches. I was actually quite surprised by how well the American shot at that distance.
The Cimarron might even be capable of better results with a different sight arrangement or with a better set of eyes calling the shots.
The No. 3 1st American Offers Solid Accuracy
Part of that solid accuracy was a pretty good trigger on the No. 3 American. My Lyman digital gauge registered 6.25 pounds for the single-action trigger break, and that had me a little befuddled. The trigger pull just doesn’t feel that heavy when you’re shooting the gun. It actually feels lighter, and the break was rather crisp, so don’t let the numbers fool you.
But for fast offhand shooting, those tiny rear sight posts just did not work for me or my friends. So, we experimented with shooting from the hip and with basic point shooting at a B27S silhouette at 7 and 10 yards. Our shot placement was more than good enough to take care of any ne’er-do-wells we might encounter with the No. 3 American.
In fact, I played around a little with my own version of snap shooting at 10 yards and landed all six shots in the 9-ring with quick and relative ease. The No. 3 American wouldn’t be my first choice as a defensive handgun. But when it was state-of-the-art back in the day, I can definitely see how it could get the job done.
The Smith & Wesson No. 3 American is a significant firearm in American history with its status as the first big-bore revolver to use metallic cartridges. It changed the landscape of sidearms used for military and personal defense forever.
Cimarron has done a fantastic job striking the right balance between being true to the original and making it compatible with today’s modern cartridges. If you’re a fan of the Old West and looking for your own piece of the past without the expense of a true original, it doesn’t get much better than this.
For more information, please visit Cimarron-Firearms.com.
Cimarron No. 3 1st Model American Specs
Caliber: .45 Colt
Barrel: 5 inches
Overall Length: 10 inches
Weight: 40.6 ounces (empty)
Grips: American black walnut
Sights: Front blade, rear posts
|Buffalo Bore 200 JHP||937||2.43|
|Fiocchi 250 LRNFP||668||2.50|
|Winchester 225 PDX1||655||2.06|
Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in feet per second (fps) by chronograph and accuracy in inches for best five-shot groups at 25 yards.
This article was originally published in the Guns of the Old West Summer 2022 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.