Cimarron Wyatt Earp Buntline


by Mike Cumpston

photography by Mike Cumpston

August 12th , 2008




Though ungrammatical, it would not be out of place to say that the legend of the Colt Buntline, the Buntline donation and Wyatt Earp's association with a 12-inch barreled, .45 Colt Single Action Army Revolver has been bunked, then debunked then rebunked again. The oft- repeated story is that in 1878, Ned Buntline, the dime novelist, ordered a batch of foot long Colts and presented them to Wyatt Earp, Bill Tilghman, Bat Masterson, Neal Brown and Charlie Bassett - all lawmen in Dodge City. They fly in that ointment is the absence of any record of such a transaction in the Colt archives.  This, combined with the absence of any surviving examples and the general view that Buntline, Earp biographer Steward Lake and Earp himself were but indifferent honest has cast considerable doubt on the story.  In his book, Colt: An American Legend, R.L. Wilson quotes a letter found in the Colt papers that may redeem the legend to some extent. One Buckskin Frank Leslie, a bartender in Tombstone, wrote to Colt Patent Firearms early in 1881 requesting a revolver of superior finish, ivory gripped with 12-inch barrel along with belt and holster rig.  There is no documentation on whether the order was filled or not but if so, it could have been in prominent display in Tombstone months before the O.K. Corral fight. The order, filled or not, may well have resulted from Buckskin Frank's observation of just such a revolver in the hands of Earp.

In the late 1950s, we all believed the legend. Hugh O'Brian as Earp was clubbing drunks with a Buntline on a weekly television show and Colt had reissued the Buntline in its second generation production.  In 1959, the scaled down rimfire Buntline Scout came out with its black anodized alloy frame and 9.5-inch barrel. The Scout was my first revolver. My dad's reasoning in the choice stemmed from two important considerations.  Handgun shooting and hunting, while growing in popularity, were totally illegal under Texas law.  Enforcement was often tied to reason and it seemed that the police would be inclined to view the long revolver as a sporting tool rather than a concealed weapon. The other factor came from his belief that I might actually be able to hit something with the long-barreled revolver. That was important because, at that time, the Central Texas countryside supported huntable populations of cottontails, jackrabbits and a huge influx of armadillos from southern regions.  The sights of the Buntline Scout were in perfect register and I did, in fact, bag a considerable number of the operant fauna. The Buntline was much more shootable than the more popular ejector rod length Frontier Scouts.  One time in the mid -sixties, the local gun club held a turkey shoot. The rifle targets were the head and neck of live turkeys at 100 yards and they set up a side match for rimfire handguns.  The contestant had to bust four of five balloons at 25 yards and in a second match, put three of five rounds into the black of a fifty-yard rifle target at the same 25-yard distance.  I quickly racked up two dressed turkeys and handed the Colt off to a friend who repeated the performance. They changed the rules to keep that from happening again.  From that time forward, contestants would have to fire the revolver from one hand and could only win one turkey.  I came back the next day and picked up another turkey under the new rules.

The Buntlines inspired quite a number of long-barreled, adjustable-sighted sporting revolvers and then, in 1993, Tombstone burst forth on the silver screen renewing a public demand for a Buntline in the traditional configuration. By the end of the decade, Cimarron Arms Company had conspired with the A. Uberti plant to bring out the Earp Buntline. The Cimarron product has a ten-inch barrel, black powder frame and the traditional pre-1920 sights of the Cimarron "Model P" line.  Among the Model P's, the flat, two- pronged trigger bolt spring is retained but the leaf spring that drives the hand has been replaced by a durable coil spring/plunger arrangement.  Broken trigger/ bolt springs are easy to replace and obtainable through Cimarron Arms and VTI Gun Parts. The traditional hand, hand springs are often replaced as a unit with the hand requiring fitting.  The coil spring arrangement is much more user-friendly in the long run.

Johnny Bates' Buntline is perfectly timed. There is no end or side play in the cylinder at rest or at full cock. This is the wished for and often achieved situation with the Cimarron Model P and Uberti single actions in general. It is not uncommon to find these revolvers exhibiting fore and aft movement of the cylinder or a carry-up timing issue where the bolt drops just short of the lead to the cylinder notch. Ubertis as a rule, have ideal chamber bore dimensions and relationships and are predictably very accurate-even when the timing and cylinder/bushing fit fall short of the ideal. The wood to metal fit and metal to metal fit of this revolver is, typical of other Uberti products, extremely precise. Polish and blue is flawless and the color case treatment reasonably attractive though far short of the early Colts and the current Doug Turnbull treatment. It is possible to fall into a Cimarron/Uberti single action with perfectly regulated sights. In the case of our sample Buntline, the revolver hit about five inches left and low at 25 yards. Bates applied some correction in the field by filing the rear sight notch to the right and later brought the revolver into near perfect register by using his homemade frame wrench to minimally tighten the barrel. A feature shared amongst the Uberti single actions is an over-tall front sight that allows filing to achieve the proper elevation with a given ammo type.

Our .45 Colt loading strategy is simple, straightforward and dull. The single goal is to produce ammunition that launches the available lead 250-260 grain lead bullets to the same velocity as the smokeless powder loads available through most of the 20th century or, somewhat faster than the current loads that show the influence of the Cowboy Action Shooting games.

Load Gun / Barrel Length Velocity (fps) Velocity Spread Group Size (inches)
260 Grain 454190 RNFP 7.5 Unique Cimarron Wyatt Earp Buntline / 10" 935 43 NA
260 Grain 454190 RNFP 7.5 Unique Ruger Vaquero / 4-3/4" 845 86 NA
253 Grain Meister Cast RNFP 7.5 Unique Cimarron Wyatt Earp Buntline / 10" 873 57 1.4" / 25 yds.
253 Grain Meister Cast RNFP 7.5 Unique (Fast) Uberti Pre-War / 4-3/4" 866 35 NA
Hornady .454 RNFP Swaged 5.5 TiteGroup Cimarron Wyatt Earp Buntline / 10" 816 29 1.5" / 25 yds.
Hornady .454 RNFP Swaged 5.5 TiteGroup (Fast) Uberti Pre-War / 4-3/4" 800 NA NA

Early on, with the sights still at factory register, Bates asked me to shoot a five-round, one handed group at 25 yards.  I selected a corner of the target board, guessed at elevation and produced a centered 3.7" spread. The trigger, after perceptible creep, broke at about 4.5 guessed-at pounds with the long barrel providing the expected training wheels function. Further off-hand shooting, even with the necessary bias in the sight picture, danced empty vegetable cans with gratifying regularity. The handling qualities and profile of the sight picture of these Cimarron/Uberti replicas is so close to the first generation Colts that there is virtually no difference in the sensation when firing them back to back. The chamber to barrel dimensions of the Ubertis usually provide a distinct accuracy advantage even with such second tier cartridges as the 32 through 44 WCFs. The .45 Colt is a gentle round notwithstanding the barrel whip apparent in the pictures.

Legend has it that, among the lawmen who received the Buntline Colts, only Earp kept his in the original form. The others allegedly whacked the barrel to ejector rod length for convenient holster carry. One of the early handloading manuals - one that I can't seem to find right now - used a chopped Second Generation Buntline to derive performance data.  Bates himself had Peacemaker Specialists swap his Second Gen. Buntline barrel for a 4 3/4-inch. Portability aside, whether the shooter is a casual plinker or sometimes varmint hunter, when down-range results outweigh convenience, the Buntlines definitely earn their place in the Sun.

Mike Cumpston


At 25 yards from the bench, our first serious effort at a group, after initial sight adjustment established that the Earp Buntline hit low and still a bit to the left.  The 1.4-inch group is fairly representative of the accuracy we were able to demonstrate and is quite good for a Single Action Army regardless of manufacture. The load is the Meister Round Nose Flat Point "Cowboy Action" Bullet over 7.5 grains of the current Alliant Unique.



An impromptu "Duelist" group from 25 yards before any sight regulation took place. The point of aim is as indicated on the picture.



Bates regulated the point of impact using a file and improvised barrel wrench.  Sight regulation of the Cimarron/ Uberti revolvers mimic the early Colts in this respect.  The point of aim is often only an approximation of the actual point of impact. Since direction of movement of the front sight is opposite of the point of impact shift, it is helpful if the revolver hits low and left.  It is frequently possible to adjust left windage by screwing the barrel in a bit while carefully filing the front sight raises the group.

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Click pictures for a larger version.


The Cimarron/ Uberti Earp Buntline came about at the end of the 1990s as a result of the successful film, "Tombstone."  Colt Buntlines of the Second Generation, were an offshoot of the "Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp as interpreted by Hugh O'Brian on the small screen. In the face of such legendary roots, the practicalities of these revolvers are often overlooked.



Printing the Legend.



Cimarron revolvers bear correct patent dates on the frame, the Cimarron address line appears on the top of the barrel as is the case with first generation Colts and Italian proof marks are hidden on the bottom of barrel or frame front. The Buntline and the "Model P" 32-20, by virtue of ideal chamber/throat dimensions, reliably produce groups in the one inch range from the bench at 25 yards. Out of the box, windage was close to ideal and filing the front sight raised the point of impact.



Bruce Fletcher, a Bates cousin, takes up a new and expensive hobby.



Cumpston learned to shoot with a Colt Buntline Scout. In spite of the obvious barrel rise, the .45 Colt in standard loadings is very gentle.  The Earp Buntline and other representatives of the original Colt  Single Action are definitely NOT SAFE with the high pressure loads currently in common use in the Ruger Blackhawks and custom revolvers.



This Cavalry model came with the front sight and address line cocked visibly to the right. The barrel is so tight that actual gunsmithing will be necessary to turn it enough to regulate the sights.



The Cimarron Model P has a spring plunger hand spring  power train replacing the potentially fragile and tedious to replace traditional leaf spring.  Some Ubertis also have round wire trigger/bolt springs which are usually more durable than the older flatware (picture right) The Model P uses the flat two-leafed spring but replacing it with the wire spring often lightens the trigger pull to a useful degree.



Original Colts, USFA Single Action Armies and some Ubertis have a removable firing pin bushing in the frame.  This is a desirable feature because the firing pin hole tends to enlarge and allow primer flow  to interfer with cycling.  Since the Buntline and other Cimarron Model Ps do not have a removable bushing, it is important to avoid uncushioned dry firing in order to prevent or at least delay wear to the firing pin hole.



While many modern Single actions have solid base cylinder/base pin bushings, the model P retains the removable one of the original Colt first and second generations. A replacement bushing can be quickly fitted to eliminate cylinder end float should it occur secondary to wear.  My 32 WCF came from the factory with perceptible end shake.  I removed it by lightly peening the tip of the bushing at the arrow.



There is now a bewildering array of variations in the Model P line.  The buntline is available in standard finish or the aged "Original" finish.  The bottom revolver is a variation on the old "Sheriff's Model"/"Storekeeper" differing from historical arms in that it has an ejector assembly.