Been Made During the Last
Dueling Pistols Were Once the
Pride and Protection of
Derringers and "Pepper-Boxes-Progress
of the Revolver Toward-Crack
Shots of the Present.
The speaker was a local dealer in firearms. He led the New York News reporter into a part of his establishment that seemed to be set apart for pistols and revolvers of all sizes and styles.
Some of the pistols were of a pattern popular many years ago. For instance, there was the derringer that one hardly ever sees in use nowadays, and near them were a few old "pepper boxes" and an exhibit of long single-barreled dueling pistols. These showed somewhat in contrast with the modern target pistols, the heavy army revolver, and the bright nickel-plated toys that are so popular with the general public, and that manage to do a good deal of mischief, as the police can tell you.
"We have on hand," said the dealer, "specimens that will show the changes in the style of shooting irons for the past forty years, and they have been not a few, I assure you.
"Some forty years ago," continued the gun-maker, "men were very much given to meeting on the dueling field, and in those days of 'pistols and coffee,' and all that, makers of shooting arms used to be called upon to turn out some very fancy and expensive work. There was many a southern gentleman in those days who valued his case of dueling pistols above his favorite saddle horse, which was not strange, since his life sometimes depended upon the trueness of his weapon. His pistols were made for him, and he never haggled over the price."
Here the dealer opened a case near at hand and took out a pair of old-time dueling pistols. They were single-barreled and the barrel of each was a foot long, the bore being about half an inch in diameter. The whole of the weapons, barrels, stocks, and looks, were carefully engraved by hand. On the stock of each was a horn projecting so that it would separate the thumb from the rest of the hand and keep the pistol from jumping up when held. Altogether the pistols were formidable. In the case that held them was a circle of steel used for cutting patches for the round ball used, and there were also bullet moulds, a powder flask, and caps, making up a full dueling outfit.
That outfit cost a good deal of money when it was made, but it would not sell very high now," said the gunmaker, "except as a curiosity. Still some of the young sports have their case of dueling pistols as their fathers had. But that is more a fad than anything else. Many of them keep the outfits that their fathers left them as heirlooms, and pretty curious affairs they are too. But when dueling declined, why these pistols had to go out of fashion too. You see they are too long and unwieldy to carry about, and a smaller and more compact instrument had to be devised. In target shooting the dueling pistol held its popularity for some time, but it had to give way to more modern instruments.
The gun dealer again produced a weapon that had its time of great popularity. It was a short, ugly looking instrument, with two barrels, one alongside of the other, on the plan of a double barreled shot-gun. It was a flint-lock, too, of an old make. The flash pans were on top of the barrels, which were of bronze, and the whole of the weapon was carefully engraved.
"That is the style of the old derringer," said the gun dealer, "but it is not at all the best style. There were others that were better and more popular. Perhaps the single-barreled derringer was the most in vogue of any, and a very deadly weapon it was. It shared honors with the bowie knife at the time when gambling ran so high on the Mississippi river steamboats, and many a wicked fight it figured in, too. Later they brought out double-barreled derringers with one barrel on top of the other, and in one way and another the derringer held its own up to and during the war in spite of the introduction of the revolver and the enterprise with which it was used. One very wicked form of a derringer came out during the war. It was a three-barreled weapon, with the barrels arranged vertically one above the other. A bowie knife could be slid out beyond the muzzles when required. So if a man was cornered with his gun empty he was still sure of having a substantial knife in his hand.
"The improved revolver in the end drove the derringer out of the field, and now but very few of them are made, the demand for them being from places remote from New York. Yet, in its time, in the dare of desperate hand to hand encounters, it was probably as good a weapon as could have been had.
"It is somewhat strange," continued the man of shooting-iron knowledge, "how slowly the revolver became popular, when you look at the revolvers we are making now. The reason for it wee that the gun-makers would turn out heavy, cast-iron affairs that were too clumsy to be carried about. Then, in the early days it was slow work loading the cylinders with powder and ball. Then the metal cartridge came and revolutionized the business. A number of first-class firms that are still in the business started to make light, efficient weapons and they succeeded. Since that time they have gone on improving, until they are turning out relvovers that are well nigh perfect. We are making the best revolvers in the world now, I think, whether of the heavy kind used in the army, or of the light pattern that can be carried in your hip pocket."
"What is the popular weapon among our New York crack shots in target work?" the gun dealer was asked.
"It is a long barreled target pistol, very much like the dueling pistol that was used before the war," was the reply.
"For a time after the war revolvers were generally used in target practice. But some how they were not exactly what was wanted. So some of the makers of firearms set to work and introduced a single-harreled weapon that speedily became popular. It was very like the old dueling pistol both in size end weight, but it was made to use a cartridge; the other did not. The weapons were found to be very accurate in the hands of a good shirt; the cartridges were comparatively cheap, and the whole weapon efficient and trust worthy.
"So with some improvements it has held its own, and is likely to with the experts. In fact, I am told that this style of pistol is likely to be found useful in the hunting fields. Of course, it can only be used on small game and by skilled shots, but men of that class take more pride in bringing down game with such a shooting iron than with a small cannon or s shot gun. It would be evidence of their cleverness
"Of course there are mighty few men skilled enough to kill a partridge with a weapon of this kind. But there are those who can do it, and the number is likely to increase. Of course, pot-hunters will not accept the innovation. They would as lieve steal up behind a partridge and knock its head off with a club, if it were possible, as to give it a fair chance for its life in the open, but gentlemen who hunt for recreation rather than for the pleasure of killing game, take a different view of the matter.
"Have we any very expert pistol shots now? Shots that would rank with those of dueling days?" the scribe made bold to ask.
"Have we and expert shots now?" repeated the gun dealer as though surprised by the inquiry. "Well, I should say we had! Why, young man, there are men in this very city who could give points to the professional duelists of forty years ago and not half try-using the same weapon too.
"You have heard of Frank II. Lord, haven't you?" continued the speaker warmly. 'Well he is what might be called a dead shot. I don't think he knows how to miss a mark be fires at. I don't believe there was anything going in the old days that could touch him at match shooting.
"You see, target-shooting now is not what it need to be. You've heard, haven't you, of the challenge once sent by a thin man to a very fat one, of the fat man's reply that such a match would be unfair because there was so much more of him to shoot at, and of the thin man's proposal that the fat man chalk upon his own large frame the angular outlines of the thin man, and that shots outside the chalk lines be not counted?"
Without making any reference to the chestnutty flavor of the story, the scribe admitted that he had heard it.
"Well," said the authority on guns and shooters, "that story reminds me of the way they practiced shooting before the war. Then the revolver experts used to shoot at the body of a man with a line drawn through the middle of his body, along a row of buttons, with the heart and eye clearly indicated. Any shot within the line was fatal; those outside didn't count. It was the thin man's idea of a duel over again. The experts nowadays use playing cards or the smallest of bull's eyes to shoot at.
"Pierre Lorillard, Jr., can take an ordinary dueling pistol and at the distance of twelve paces put twelve bullets in rapid succession inside of a four inch circle. That's what I call deadly shooting. Louis E. Livingston, of the Union club, is another crack. He takes the joker card and firing, in the old style prevalent when Burr killed Hamilton, knocks the ace completely out of it in six shots, standing at twelve paces. That, let me tell you is mighty fine shooting.
"George Bird is another crack shot; so is Major Pryor of the Twenty-second regiment; so is Eugene Higgins, son of the carpet man, and Edgar Wasserman, of Seligman Brothers, and J. N. Winslow, of the New York Yacht club, and half a hundred more. One of the tricks of these experts is to set up a playing card with the thin edge to the marksman, who stands twenty paces away. He then splits it with a single bullet. It is a difficult shot and I would like to see some of the old-time duelists attempt it.
"Target-shooting with pistols seems to be steadily growing in popularity," continued the gunmaker. "All the young club men practice it, and even the young women are making a fad of it. It's not a bad one, either. It's good exhilarating exercise, and when burglars are about it's a good thing to know how to handle a pistol."