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What does the 1911 Pistol mean to you?

By Luis Valdes


The Colt Model 1911 Government Model, a pistol stepped in American history. A gun born from the genius mind of John M. Browning when the West was still wild and America was still a “new nation” looking to take its place on the world stage. The fabled slab side is a gun with a lot of history. Used in the battlefields of WWI, WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. A gun used by outlaws and lawmen alike when we were in the Roaring 20s and when we were in the depths of the Great Depression.
The end result is the the 1911 Pistol means a lot of different things to different people. To me, the 1911 means one thing. It is the last pistol of the Horse Cavalry. It is the gun that bridged the era of the Cowboy and the Suburbanite.

It was a pistol built for the horse mounted cavalryman. A pistol capable of killing the enemy or his horse. It was a pistol built from the lessons of the Philippines and tested in the deserts of Mexico. The 1911 was first bloodied by combat when the US Army rode into Mexico on horseback.

Those horse mounted cavalrymen went into the Great War and fought a different battle with a different set of rules. But they went in with the same pistol made for the era of the Cowboy. And they used it with great success.

From there, the 1911 was cemented in place and it served a distinguished career. But for me, even after the famous battles of the Great War. The 1911 was and still is in my mind a pistol of the horse mounted soldier. And it served well in that role with the 26th Cavalry Regiment made up mostly of Philippine Scouts when the US still ruled the Philippines as a Colonial Territory and a trophy from the last war when Cowboys answered the called and charged the enemy while fighting from horseback.

The 26th Cavalry Regiment, consisting mostly of Philippine Scouts, was the last US cavalry regiment to engage in horse-mounted warfare. When Troop G encountered Japanese forces at the village of Morong on 16 January 1942, Lieutenant Edwin P. Ramsey ordered the last cavalry charge in American history.

Ramsey quickly signaled his men to deploy into forager formation. Then he raised his pistol and shouted, “Charge!” With troops firing their pistols, the galloping cavalry horses smashed into the surprised enemy soldiers, routing them.

And the 1911 was the pistol that took part of that charge.

During the retreat to Bataan, the 26th was heavily outnumbered by an infantry force supported by tanks. They drove off the surprised Japanese. Due to a shortage of food, they found it necessary to butcher their mounts and the regiment was converted to two squadrons, one a motorized rifle squadron, the other a mechanized squadron utilizing the remaining scout cars and Bren carriers. 

When the Philippines fell, they went into the jungle as guerrillas and continued to fight the Japanese until relived in 1945.
They still fought hard and never gave up the fight.
While the 1911 served in much greater roles. To me, the 1911 is still the last vestiges of the Wild West. It is the last tangible connection of an era when we were a horse culture and our worry was facing a charging foe on a mounted steed instead of rolling armor.

5 thoughts on “What does the 1911 Pistol mean to you?”

    • The ODA used the horses for transport. They did not fight from them despite what was shown in the movie. Regardless it was a Northern Alliance formation not a US Army formation. Our ODA was just along for air support. The 26th was a US Army Regiment of over 800 men not a twelve man detachment.

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  1. My reason for my affection for the 1911 was that it was the first military handgun fielded that was designed to be actually used in combat.

    Most military sidearms are designed to “be carried much and used little.” Take the Luger, for example, a competitor at the 1911 trials. It’s a lovely piece of machining, a marvel of design and execution. But it’s finicky, intolerant of dirt, and wasn’t used much in combat.

    The 1911 trials yielded us Browning’s design – a design that was meant to be shot in all manner of conditions, for thousands of rounds. And it was. It was also designed to be made much more cheaply than the competition – ie, the Luger. The Luger design is hideously expensive to make.

    Are there better sidearms today? Perhaps. Are there more cheaply manufactured sidearms today? Oh, yes, very much so. And this latter issue is what is often confused for ‘better’ by the gun-rag writers.

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  2. The 1911 is not the first pistol my wife shot … But it is the first pistol she shot, that she liked shooting, and led to us spending more time together doing something we both enjoy.

    For that, if nothing else, I owe Mr. Browning a debt of gratitude.

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