Changes

Smith & Wesson changed the face of sixgunning forever in 1935 with the introduction of the original .357 Magnum. The first .357s produced had 8-3/4" barrels and examples were sent to Elmer Keith and J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI. Keith wrote his up in the American Rifleman and had the barrel cut back to 6-1/2" for easier handling. It was just about this time the FBI officially began to be armed and the .357 Magnum had the barrel cut back to 3-1/2", even with the ejector rod.

To my sixgunning eyes this is the most serious-looking revolver ever produced. The FBI also went for it in a big way with agents such as Hank Sloan and Jelly Bryce soon carrying 3-1/2" S&W .357 Magnums. Jelly Bryce received a lot of attention for his fast draw exploits with the new short-barrel .357 Magnum and was featured drawing and shooting in Life magazine in 1945. Many police departments followed suit with Smith & Wesson providing hundreds of 3-1/2" .357 Magnums to departments around the country.

Perhaps the most famous 3-1/2" Magnum was purchased in 1935 by an active-duty lieutenant in Hawaii. Six years later we were at war and the lieutenant was soon to be a general and was easily spotted by his troops as his symbol of leadership was a pair of ivory-stocked sixguns. One was a blued 3-1/2" Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum while the other was a fully engraved, nickel-plated Colt Single Action he had purchased in El Paso in 1916 before accompanying Black Jack Pershing into Mexico after Pancho Villa.

George S. Patton called the .357 Magnum his “killing gun,” however, there is no record of him ever using it in such a way. He did take out two of Villa’s officers with his .45 Colt in 1916.