The Wild West was a time of lawlessness and frontier justice where everyone had a gun…even if you couldn’t see it. While The Peacemaker and the Scattergun may have received all the press, the discrete Deringer and it’s offshoots were just as much a part of Wild West history.
Saloon girls and card sharps had to protect themselves, but couldn’t easily carry a sidearm, so they had to resort to smaller guns and creative means to hide those guns. There are several types of concealed firearms from the mundane to the down right strange.
This is the name for any small caliber pistol designed to be small and easily hidden on the body. The Deringer, named after Henry Deringer, is perhaps the most famous example of a Wild West pocket pistol. They were lightweight and either a discreet primary firearm or acted as a secondary.
Many cities had anti-gun ordinances, so people needed a way to conceal their weapons. They used to sew the pistols into the pocket of their coats, hence the name pocket pistol. These guns could also easily be slid into a garter belt or petticoat. They were often single or double shot pistols that fired .22-caliber bullets, but there were also small caliber revolvers and four-barreled guns with a rotating firing pin. Famous examples beyond Deringer include Colt National and John Marlin Victor’s XL’s.
The guns didn’t have much stopping power, but they worked for close quarters combat. It was rumored by Capt. Joseph Bourke that he knew a lawman that carried as many as 10 pocket pistols at one time.
The Spring Loaded Sleeve Apparatus
Many people have seen the Wild West movies where the card sharp moves and suddenly a gun or knife springs from inside his jacket and into his hand, ready for action. There were many designs of these spring loaded delivery mechanisms that fit on the arm and were released by a catch just inside the sleeve.
It became known in popular culture by the television show “Wild Wild West” and by the movie “Taxi Driver.” Despite is use in Hollywood, there are reports of its actual use in the Wild West to varying degrees of success. It’s origins may be connected to contraptions used by stage magicians
Just Plain Odd
James Bond isn’t the only one that used creatively disguised guns and weapons. Long before 007 had his Q, Wild West gunfighters were creating strange and unique concealed weapons.
Everyone has seen various versions of the cane sword, but there is also a gun version as well. The primary shaft of the cane acted as the barrel and the loading and trigger mechanism was hidden in the handle. They were outfitted to shoot either large caliber bullets or shotgun shells.
First developed in France in the mid-1800s, the 5-shot ring pistol was designed to fire either 5 mm bullets or small bb-sized musket balls. The rings were a little clunky, but definitely more concealable than a Deringer or one off its knock-off derringers. It fit around the finger and could be fired with a small switch trigger. It’s basically a very very compact revolver.
Anything that could fit a firing mechanism could have be used to hide a firearm in the Wild West. Pocket watches were standard equipment for most people in those days, so it was only a matter of time before it became a weapon. It fired 3 mm bullets with the winding arm acting as the barrel and the top of the watch as the trigger.
No man in the Wild West would be caught dead without his brass knuckles. They never knew when a fight was going to break out. In a fashion similar to the Swiss Army Knife, the Apache Pistol was a pair of brass knuckles outfitted with a knife and revolver pistol. They both folded into the brass knuckles for complete concealment.
While non of these fired bullets fast or really big enough to kill outright, many deaths were attributed to small caliber arms in the Wild West because of infection. A pocket pistol and the other weapons could kill a person just as easy as a Scattergun, it just took longer.
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