MEEKER, OKLAHOMA -- The trail of history runs into a lot of dead ends, cut-offs and shortcuts that get covered over until you can't see them any more.
But one day several years ago someone kicking through a creek bank near an old homestead north of Meeker, Oklahoma un-covered an item and maybe one of those forgotten trails. "This trail is very definite," says amateur historian Robert Hanson. "It's straight and it's not very long."
The item in question happens to be an old, rusty gun. Hanson bought it at a friend's yard sale so he could hang it on his wall at home. But the more he looked at it the more the thought it might be more than just decoration. That was 16 years ago. "I didn't have a clue what it was at the time," he says. "Now there is no doubt in my mind."
Back in 2001 we found Robert in the midst of his long research. He was already convinced that his gun, with the funny serial numbers on the stock, had to be Sam Colt's original 6-shooter, the model for every gun like it to come after. Hanson insists, "This being what I believe is the prototype, makes it the first, practical revolver in the history of firearms."
Follow the trail to 2012 and Hanson is still studying, but much of his research is now in book form. 'The Ghost of Sam Colt' is a careful chronicle of legendary gun maker Sam Colt and his friend Ben McColloch, who became a Confederate general.
Hanson believes Colt gave McColloch his prototype. The general died at the Battle of Pea Ridge in the Civil War. The gun, he theorizes, was stolen from his camp by another Confederate soldier, a member of the Stafford family who settled on the same homestead where the gun was later found. "My friend found it just digging around in a shallow ravine."
Hanson's gun never made it to his gun rack in the hall. He never intended to devote so much of his life to proving his claims. He never thought he'd write a book either. But those trails of history can lead to strange places. "The trail leads right there," says Hanson pointing to his old pistol. If only his gun could talk.