Cimarron’s Open Top Revolver

Cimarron Open Top revolver left side

The history of men and women and machines is fascinating. The revolver may not be the most in-demand at Cheaper than Dirt! but there are none more interesting. The first cartridge revolver in the United States was the little Smith and Wesson Number 1 in .22 Short. Colt was making thousands of cap-and-ball revolvers for the Union Army and Smith and Wesson sold its revolvers through a private sale. Soldiers could tuck the little .22 into their shirts or jackets. Colts were the horse pistols, and the revolvers used by fast-moving cavalry units.

one box of Winchester 45 Colt
The .45 Colt is a hoary old cartridge in service since 1873 and still a fine all-around revolver cartridge.

By the time the War Between the States ended, Colt was caught in a technology gap. Unable to circumvent Smith’s Rollin White patent for a cartridge-firing revolver, Colt devised revolvers based on the Thuer conversion, in which the cylinder was loaded from the front. Later, the Richards conversion was used to convert existing cap and ball revolvers to cartridge use. But the little known 1872 Colt, known as the Open Top, was a purpose-designed cartridge revolver. Originally chambered for the .44 Rimfire cartridge (Henry rifle)—this revolver is an important design in single-action history.

Cimarron’s replica is chambered for the readily available .45 Colt cartridge. While this isn’t the revolver to load with heavy handloads or +P ammunition the .45 Colt is a powerful defense cartridge well suited to taking on predators as well. The Open Top is similar to the Single Action Army but more similar to the 1860 Army cap and ball revolver. The hand-filling grip frame is the famous 1860 Army type.

The Open Top is handled a little differently than the Single Action Army. The ejector rod is a more complicated affair. The ejector rod end must be lifted out of its slot in the ejector rod housing in order for the ejector rod to be pressed to the rear to remove spent cartridge cases from the cylinder. The cylinder is loaded one cartridge at a time with the hammer at half-cock and the loading gate open. The same procedure is followed to eject spent cartridges. The procedure isn’t quite as handy as the Single Action Army design, but the Open Top’s charm is that it is different.

The Open Top’s trigger action is typical Cimarron with a clean break in the trigger action and a relatively light let off at 4.5 pounds. The sights of this revolver are typical of the 1871 period. There is a rear notch that is simply a wedge raised above the barrel. The front post is fairly visible. Each is period correct.

One wonders at the old requirement of hitting an Indian War Pony at 100 yards with the pistol and how these sights would apply. No wonder so many westerners practiced snap shooting and using only the front sight! These sights are true to the original and this means the revolver shoots high. The theory was that a revolver that shoots high could be used well at close range in fast shooting. On the other hand, a significant drop at longer range is more difficult to account for. The Open Top shoots to the point of aim beginning at 50 yards.

Cimarron Open Top front sight
The front post sight of the Open Top is visible and appropriate to the time period.

As might be expected, the original Open Top enjoyed a short service life. The improved solid frame Single Action Army, with its powerful .45 Colt cartridge in the modern centerfire configuration was adopted by the Army. However, the Open Top was an important revolver that is attractive, elegant and easy shooting. The cartridge is a good one.

While I do not recommend the single-action revolver as a front line defensive handgun, it is surprising how often it comes up in my training classes, or in conversation at the gun shop, that folks rely on these handguns. If the gun is reliable and well made, and the shooter is familiar with the action, they could do worse. As for the cartridge let me borrow a few lines from the informative and exciting book, 21st Century Stopping Power from Paladin Press.

Regarding the .45 Colt Cartridge

The .45 Colt earned its reputation the hard way—through frontline use. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps, American lawmen, and the Royal Canadian Mounties have used the .45 Colt cartridge.

Of all standard pressure revolver cartridges the .45 Colt is among the most effective if not the most effective. The 255-grain conical bullet load will often tumble in ballistic media per my testing and produce a severe wound. In testing the Cimarron Open Top revolver, I fired a modest quantity of the Winchester 255-grain Cowboy load. Velocity was about 780 fps from the 7.5-inch barrel. Despite the small sights accuracy was good, with a singular 2.75-inch five-shot group at 25 yards, with the average about 3.25 inches. This handgun will shoot.

I also fired a few handloads using the Oregon Trail 250-grain hard cast bullet. Trail Boss is the preferred powder, and Starline Brass was used. At about 740 fps this load produced a 3-inch group. The Winchester PDX load is designed as a modest pressure defense load for all revolvers. I would avoid any load heavier than this standard; it simply isn’t safe in a 19th Century design. The PDX load exhibited heavier recoil but the plow-handled grip frame gave a comfortable hold. Accuracy was very good, at 2.9 inches for a five-shot group.

Cimarron Ejector Rod
This is the ejector rod button. Not a slot for the button.

In firing the Open Top .45, we had a ball. Loading, unloading and handling this single-action revolver isn’t for everyone, but for interested shooters, the Cimarron Open Top is very appealing. It is about 10 times less expensive than obtaining an original. The modern Cimarron handgun is well made of good material with obvious attention to detail.

The .45 Colt cartridge uses a bullet with a frontal diameter of 1.6 inches. That is a lot of bullet. The .45 Colt operates at low pressure, less than 20,000 psi, but creates a lot of damage. This immortal cartridge is at the top of my list of the standard press revolver cartridges for use in cowboy guns.

Specifications and Features

Cimarron 1872 Open Top Single-Action Revolver

Manufacturer: Cimarron Firearms Co. Inc.

  • .45 Long Colt
  • 7.5-inch Barrel
  • Six Rounds
  • Fixed Sights
  • Case-Hardened Frame
  • One-Piece Walnut Grip
  • Standard Blued Barrel
  • Weight: 2.5 lbs

Are you a fan of the open top or another single-action revolver? Share your thoughts in the comment section.


About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.

Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Rifle Magazine
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns

Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (6)

  1. I am partial to the Colt open top .22. Had an article about it in MAA earlier this year, or was it last year. Anyway, a short version is on my website,

  2. i am ra orr i have two originals open top colts my grandaddys deddy bought them when the family moved to winder ga from dawsonville a long with a (LC SMITH) double barrel rabbit eared shot gun thats (!00PERCENT) the colts one shows were the other is pretty darn amazing he only wore it to church all three are mine iv been shooting quick draw since i was a small boy. now i understand they call it sass i have new colts now . tricked out RED NECK GREASE DULUX i will be (50) in sept and im in my (PRIME) 32 lighting around my neck sand paper a tigers ass in a phonebooth all letters from colt . and remember any body can shoot when the wind ant blowing.

  3. ok, so the key word is “area”, per CTD Blogger, rather than “diameter”, as stated in the original article, is what got me confused … I just dug out my calculator to do the area of a circle with a .45 inch diameter, and got 0.159…, so there must be another step to account for the protrusion of the projectile beyond the case rim in the dimension of the bore axis to arrive at 1.6 SQUARE inches of “frontal area”

  4. Frontal area is taken as the projection of the three dimensional to give shape onto a two dimensional plane perpendicular to the direction of travel. A straightforward geometrical exercise.

  5. Leon: If he’s talking about the frontal diameter shouldn’t that be .45 inches? It’s not 1.6 but it’s still a hefty round and I think that’s why I like it. Unfortunately I’ve seen what it’ll do to a person’s innards so it’s my first choice for personal defense. I like the ACP version in a 1911 but I don’t like needlessly compressing the magazine spring so I go to the revolver for home protection. I like a single action revolver with an empty under the hammer so you don’t scare the hell out of yourself if you drop it like Wyatt Earp was reported to have done when he was a young man.
    In all fairness to the author, there’s no editorial feature to these postings which would enable the writer to correct typos and mistakes after it’s written and posted. I know I make a lot of them and sometimes I have to go over something three or four times to get all the bugs out like I hopefully just did. Hank
    I hope the site administrator will correct that. Hank

  6. …”The .45 Colt cartridge uses a bullet with a frontal diameter of 1.6 inches. That is a lot of bullet.” … Sure is ! Bigger than the brass and the cylinder into which it is loaded on the weapon ! I have some .45 Colts and there must be a typo in that first sentence I copied and pasted. Can somebody please correct it ? Thanks !

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