The most recognized Old West sixgun was the 7.5-inch Colt Single Action Army. It was the version of the 1873 Peacemaker chosen by the U.S. government for its mounted soldiers. Likewise, it also inspired many revolvers that followed, like the Pietta “Last Stand” Great Western II.
Setting the Foundation for the Pietta Great Western II
The big Colt .45 was solid in the hand with a hefty cartridge that delivered knockdown power. Likewise, it had a barrel long enough to improve accuracy and increase velocity. For this reason, it proved well-suited to cavalrymen.
The Peacemaker became legendary as one of two quintessential American arms famously known as “The Guns that Won the West.”
In truth, by the time the Peacemaker was in general use, the West had already been won. Specifically by men armed with post-Civil War era guns and early cartridge conversions of the same.
But the Colt .45 became the crown jewel, anointed with legend alongside the Winchester Model 1873. It also came on the heels of earlier Winchester lever actions, like the Model 1866.
But rest assured, the Peacemaker and 1873 Winchester still cut a wide swath through the American West in the late 1870s and well into the 1880s. Both guns continued to prove their worth well into the early 1900s. Thus, making the earliest examples from the 1870s very collectible.
Of course, this is old knowledge to Colt enthusiasts and collectors who look for the best possible condition gun when purchasing an original 1870s model. Still, well-used and weathered guns with worn finishes have a place in history and collecting. Mostly based on the provenance of former owners.
Less the history of the owner, however, these are also much more affordable examples. Each with its own distinctive wear and patina, each with its own story.
Peacemakers in a Category of Their Own
Interestingly, early Peacemakers—those guns built from 1873 up until 1892 when Colt introduced the transverse cylinder latch to improve disassembly of the gun for cleaning—have become a separate category among collectors.
The greatest distinction of these early models was the transverse cylinder latch. This is among the numerous minor changes Colt made over the years to the original William Mason design.
These improved transverse latch Colts were considered capable of handling the new, more powerful smokeless powder cartridges. This led to earlier guns being categorized as “black-power frame” models. They contained the original slotted cylinder pin retaining screw at the front of the frame.
It is true that the transverse cylinder latch was a line of demarcation in design. However, the Peacemaker wasn’t officially designated as being “guaranteed against smokeless powder” by Colt until 1900. Thus, guns with transverse cylinder latches weren’t strengthened for the more powerful smokeless powder cartridges until serial numbers after 192000.
The early transverse latch models were still black powder cartridge guns! With reproductions like Pietta’s Single Actions, it is merely a cosmetic difference. And Pietta has favored building the later transverse latch models.
There are, however, a handful of exceptions with “black-powder frame” designs. The new “Last Stand” model is one such gun. An early cavalry-era black-powder frame with a single slotted retaining screw passing into the front of the frame to hold the cylinder pin in place.
We’ll look at this more later. Both historically and how this feature pertains to the current Pietta EMF Great Western II Black Powder frame revolvers.
Pietta’s New Take
The new 1873 Great Western II “Last Stand” hints at a Custer-era Single Action. And the side of the frame on this new model not only has Colt’s patent dates but is stamped U.S. to further support this notion.
The grips are checkered plastic with a dark brown finish. They easily could have been replaced over time from the original cartouche-marked wood grips on cavalry-issued guns.
But the finish on the “Last Stand” is unlike any weathered Colt I have seen. It is a uniformly dark gunmetal grey with flecks of white metal breaking through and only very minor edge wear.
Being a Great Western II, it is the more expensive Pietta variant with a hammer-forged steel barrel. Likewise, the frame is drop-forged, and then CNC machined. Just like the original Colts, this revolver has a round bullseye ejector head, floating firing pin in the hammer, and casehardened frame. In this instance, it has been faded to grey to match the rest of the finish.
That’s all good, depending on how you like your aged guns to look. This one looks dull, but that is a matter of opinion. One thing that requires no opinion is the black-powder frame design.
Pietta went to great lengths in creating the frame design some years back. Right down to the proper, recessed, and slotted retaining screw for the cylinder pin. I have one of the first they made, and it is a proper-looking gun.
The “Last Stand” is not, and here’s why.
Taming Of The Screw
The transverse latch was created by Colt to simplify disassembly for cleaning. This originally required getting a screwdriver and removing the screw from the front of the frame. Then the cylinder pin could be extracted, and the cylinder removed from the frame.
That’s simple enough if you had the screwdriver and didn’t mislay the screw. If you did, you were, well, screwed when it came to reassembling the gun.
Now, the original style gun is desirable and a little cleaner looking than the later cylinder latch version. But today, some gun purchasers who want the old look but not the old problem (at least not in its entirety) are simply too lazy to pick up a screwdriver and remove the screw.
Pietta came up with a fix—an extended screw with a knurled head that can be removed sans tools. It’s just as easily lost or misplaced, but easier than picking up that darned old screwdriver to remove.
The end result is an ugly, profile-defiling screw head that protrudes downward from the front of the frame. And it looks totally out of place. In terms of authentically reproducing a black-powder frame, this is a thumb in the eye.
Availability of the Extended Screw
Used to be that those who did not like the big screw (gun guys with tools like screwdrivers) could purchase a traditional screw and replace the offending knurled head debacle.
Pietta stopped making the replacement screw, and a look on the internet shows that many owners are searching for one. But they are few and far between.
Worse news, Uberti still makes the replacement screw for their black-powder frame Single Actions. But it is not compatible with the Pietta (we would expect no less). And Colt screws, which are readily available, will not fit the Italian-made guns.
So, this is the look of black-powder frame guns unless you are able to find a replacement screw or have one machined. It’s a matter of aesthetic taste, but “authentic” only has one definition.
Does this sour me on the gun? Not at all, as in other respects, it is the same Pietta Single Action that has been around for years.
Shooting the Great Western II
Pietta Single Actions come with standard factory-tuned actions, which remain quite impressive for out-of-the-box sixguns. This has been typical of Pietta’s SA models for years. But not quite so with the “Last Stand,” which has a heavy trigger pull that averages 6 pounds, 6 ounces. This contrasts some of my earlier Pietta models that average 1 pound, 8 ounces to 2 pounds.
A trigger pull average of under 2 pounds would be regarded as a hair trigger in most circles (the author’s preference is 2 pounds for single-actions). However, Pietta’s triggers have proven delightfully consistent. Specifically with the trigger breaking cleanly shot after shot with only 3/16th of an inch of take-up.
The 6-plus pounder on the “Last Stand” travels ¼ of an inch to drop the hammer. This is 1/16 of an inch more travel. Clearly, this gun does not have the glass-smooth trigger pull I am accustomed to with a Pietta. The closest I can come to characterizing this trigger is that it feels more like a Uberti Single Action.
This is not to say things do not move smoothly on the “Last Stand.” The trigger does not drag or feel rough, it just has more resistance. Some will like this difference. And in all fairness to Pietta, my Colt 3rd Generation 4.75-inch SAA has a factory trigger pull of 3.8 pounds. Not to mention a heavy hammer draw of 6.1 pounds.
And here’s another factor often overlooked—the effort to cock the hammer, which on most Single Action models averages 6 pounds, like my Colt. The Pietta “Last Stand” averaged 4 pounds, 9.2 ounces. That’s better than most guns with tuned actions. So, that is something to be weighed in favor of the Pietta “Last Stand.”
Keeping Things Authentic with the “Last Stand”
I decided to keep things as authentic as possible. So, for this gun test, I broke out my old supply of Goex Black Dawge .45 Long Colt black-powder cartridges in heavy-hitting 235-grain round-nose flat point. These rounds fill the air with Old West clouds of acrid black-powder smoke. And they feel and smell as real as it gets.
They also make measuring velocity a real chore. Suffice it to say velocity is an estimate of around 680 fps. And with the 235-grain bullet, akin to being hit by a slow-moving truck, you’re still going to get knocked down.
Most gunfights were at close range, but to test the accuracy of the Pietta, the target was set out at 45 feet. This is technically close range for a 7.5-inch barrel. I shot my five rounds (keeping one chamber empty in Old West tradition) one-handed. Drawing and aiming each shot, then re-holstering and repeating.
A second-best accuracy test was shot off-hand (no bench rest shooting) with a two-handed hold and Weaver-style stance. Like Piettas in the past, this sixgun shot pretty true to point of aim with rounds hitting a little to the right.
My best five shots from the holster measured 1.75 inches, with two overlapping in the 9-ring at 5 o’clock, one just to the right, another cutting the 10-ring, and one in the 10, both at 3 o’clock.
Those aimed and fired with the two-handed hold grouped tightly in the X and 10 ring all around 3 o’clock with a spread of 1.25 inches. Either group passes for good accuracy from a black-powder Single Action.
As for consistent accuracy, at this sub-$800 price point, you can’t ask for much more than what the 7.5-inch Pietta Great Western II delivered from 45 feet. It’s an unattractive gun that doesn’t disappoint. And if you’re looking for a brand new old-looking gun, this is your “Last Stand.”
The “Last Stand” is only available with the 7.5-inch barrel. In addition, it is an exclusive product for a specialty retailer with sales information available from EMF.
For more info, visit EMF-Company.com.
Pietta “Last Stand” Great Western II Specs
Caliber: .45 Colt
Barrel: 7.5 inches
Overall Length: 12.75 inches
Weight: 40 ounces (empty)
Grips: Brown checkered plastic
Sights: Steel front blade; rear square notch in top of frame
Action: Single Action
This article was originally published in the Guns of the Old West Fall 2022 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions at OutdoorGroupStore.com. Or call 1-800-284-5668, or email email@example.com.