[Today’s post was made possible by JTF Awesome Team Member, Propper]
Weapon Trivia Wednesday: The WestWorld LeMat
Mike the Mook
Someone asked us what kind of revolver Ed Harris’ “Man in Black” character was packing in HBO’s new series WestWorld.
In the first episode we caught a glimpse of the grip and trigger, and thought it was a LeMat. When we saw details in the second episode we confirmed it, but with a twist. It was obviously a version converted to fire .38 Colt, something we hadn’t seen in our lifelong study of arms of the American West.
The original LeMat revolver was a 9-shot cap & ball black powder revolver chambered in .42 caliber with a second single shot smooth bore barrel in .60 caliber (roughly the same as a modern 20 Gauge shotgun in dimension). The purpose of this secondary barrel was said to aid in foraging for game. But it was referred to as a grapeshot barrel, which by our reading means it was intended more as a personal defense arm.
It took its name from Jean Alexandre LeMat of New Orleans. The first prototypes and first hundred revolvers were made in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by John Krider in 1859. As the war between the states escalated, LeMat had to have the pistol manufactured in Europe as the North would not supply arms to the South and the South had no manufacturing facilities capable of producing the LeMat.
A few thousand were made in Liege, Belgium, and Paris, France. Some of these revolvers made it to the Confederates, but most were seized or sunk with the ships bearing them by the Union Blockade.
It is estimated that 2,000 downsized “Baby LeMats” were produced in .32 caliber with a .55 caliber (or 28 Gauge) grapeshot barrel.
As most revolvers of the day used either a .44″ or .36″ diameter ball, shooters had to cast their own bullets. Later versions of the cap & ball LeMat were updated for this change. Almost none of these made it through the Union blockade.
Major Generals Braxton Bragg, J. E. B. Stuart, Richard H. Anderson, and Major Henry Wirz carried LeMats, as did Colonel LeMat and his sponsor, General Beauregard.
When cartridge-firing firearms came into vogue, the LeMat was offered in 12mm Perrin or 11mm Chamelot-Delvigne, with a 24 gauge shot barrel. A carbine version was manufactured, too.
So now we go back to the WestWorld gun.
Most certainly it is a black powder conversion as opposed to one of the later cartridge LeMats. Based on the ammunition and head stamps from the show (.38 Short Colt), we have something of an enigma.
The spare cylinder and act of removing the cylinder reveal this to be a conversion, as the pinfire variants used a loading gate at the 4 to 5 o’clock position on the rear.
For those not familiar with .38 Short Colt, it is the parent cartridge to the .38 Long Colt which was the parent to the .38 Special and later the .357 Magnum. Everything but the case length is identical on these cartridges, which means that they can be fired out of your Colt Python or S&W 586.
But why would you want to? We are looking at a 93 to 125 grain bullet moving at less than 800 feet per second with 160-180 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle.
Let’s go back to the LeMat cylinder. You have a 9-shot cylinder with thin walls. There’s not a whole lot of room for a rimmed cartridge, so the chambers and barrel were probably sleeved to a caliber insert. Since .38 Short Colt was designed for use in Colt cap & ball black powder conversion revolvers, we suspect the maker had access to the same tooling and used that cartridge instead of the .38 Long Colt or .38 Special.
However, the more interesting part of the conversion is the 20 Gauge shotgun barrel. The original shotgun barrel on a LeMat was threaded on and then locked by a latch. This would appear to be a more difficult part of the conversion for loading purposes unless the shotgun barrel somehow comes off like the cylinder.
At any rate, the LeMat has long been a favorite of ours and reproductions are still made by Pietta. We think a cartridge version like the one Harris uses with a 20 Gauge barrel might make for a very cool AOW. (Yeah they could go rifled 410, like the old Johnny Ringo television program from the early 1960’s, but why bother? It’s a $5 tax stamp!).
If you are into firearms used in movies or want to see what rifle Al Pacino actually used in Heat, check out IMFDB.org. The Internet Movie Firearm Database has pictures and articles of every firearm ever used in a movie, TV show, video game, etc. and is maintained by bonafide gun nerds as well as actual film armorers and weapon prop masters. Sign up if you want to pitch in and help out or at least subscribe to their newsletter, authored by Yours Truly.
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About the Author: Mike “the Mook” Searson is a veteran writer who began his career in firearms at the Camp Pendleton School for Destructive Boys at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire life, writing about guns and knives for numerous publications and consulting with the film industry on weapons while at the same time working as gunsmith and ballistician. Though seemingly a surly curmudgeon shy a few chromosomes at first meeting, Searson is actually far less of a dick and at least a little smarter than most of the Mad Duo’s minions. He is rightfully considered to be not just good company, but actually fit for polite company as well (though he has never forgotten his roots as a rifleman trained to kill people and break things, and if you look closely you’ll see his knuckles are still quite scabbed over from dragging the ground). You can learn more about him on his website or follow him on Twitter, @MikeSearson.
The Mook doing his Boondock Saints thing (and accurately, perhaps not surprisingly).
More about Propper: Propper was founded in 1967 by William T. Propper, an entrepreneur with a passion for manufacturing. With hard work and a dedicated staff, Propper eventually landed its first government contract with the U.S. Navy, manufacturing caps known as “Dixie cups.” As the years marched on, they grew their business – and their reputation for quality.
Today, Propper continues to design and manufacture gear for tactical, law enforcement, public safety and military professionals that works right, right when it’s supposed to. Checkout our shenanigans with them at this year’s SHOT Show here. Follow ’em on Instagram, @wearpropper. They are also on Facebook.