By Gerald Hausman
Bokeelia, FL, USA
The gun that felled Bin Laden, a repeating HK416, is traceable, historically speaking, to an American man in 1830. Not a man, merely a boy. A boy with a dream. The boy's name was Samuel Colt and he was only sixteen when he carved his first model revolver out of wood. Eight years later Colt's patented firearms were being manufactured. Colt's earliest model was a .36 caliber, five-chambered revolving pistol with an octagonal barrel and a concealed trigger that dropped down when the gun was cocked. This was our first repeating firearm and the repercussions of that gun are still being felt in the world today.
But back in the 19th century, there was only one problem with Colt's invention. According to historian S.C. Gwynne, no one wanted it.
It took years for it to catch on and then it was purchased only in limited orders by, of all things, the Texas navy. The first order was for 180 five-shot pistols. Then the Texas army ordered another 40. And that was it for quite a while.
I'm intrigued by this because, as it happens, I own a Colt single action army revolver made in 1878. It's a humdinger of a gun if you like guns. Listed as a 44/40, it's about the same kind of warhorse pistol you see in western films. My own gun is an inheritance from my wife's family. They were cattle ranchers in northern New Mexico in 1880. In fact, it was their ranch that was later purchased by Mabel Dodge Lujan, the high-roller society matron who later traded the ranch for the manuscript of D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. She got the book; he got the cowboy log palace that was the "Old Wright Ranch" built by my wife's homesteading, cattle ranching family. Lawrence named the place Kiowa Ranch, and it's there today, in Questa, north of Taos, if you should wish to see it.
But I am getting away from the gun. Three notches are carved in the wooden handle of this family firearm. I was told by my wife's father that the notches are the real thing. One notch for each of three cattle rustlers.
Sometimes I take the Colt out of its glass case and hold it a while, musing about the places it has been, the people it silenced. It was present, for instance when the local sheriff's horse was painted green on St Patrick's Day. It missed the Taos Rebellion but a member of my wife's family was there - in fact this Cavalry colonel fired a cannonball into the church and stopped the fighting. One cannonball. I've held that round orb of iron in my hands and wondered about it too.
But all these musings aside - and as much as I like the heft of an historic Colt in my hand - I shudder with the bald eagles here on this island where we live every time pistols are fired in our agricultural neighborhood. Guns go off, once or twice a day, and from every point of the compass. Ever since the new gun and ammo shop opened up a couple months ago.
Major and Mrs. Elihu Wright, Indian Territory, 1882
I wouldn't want to go back to the days of sinew-backed bows and iron-tipped arrows, but I also don't like our pine woods ringing with pistol fire.
I believe I may end up a harmless yet loud-voiced curmudgeon. Or as Jack Kerouac said, referring to the fact he was neither hippie nor beatnik, "... just a bippy in the middle."
(For more on such matters, see my stories “Talking Adobe,” “Bimini Blue” and “Snail” in The American Storybag.)
Gerald Hausman - Author & Storyteller
Gerald Hausman's profile at Stay Thirsty Publishing
Gerald Hausman, author and storyteller, calls himself a native of the world. He is the author of 70 books, some of which have been made into films, many of which have been translated into foreign languages. His latest book, The American Storybag, was released by Stay Thirsty Press in October, 2010.