Lily Mae backed into the corner of the saloon as the hulking villain lumbered toward her. “Got you,” he snarled. “Now hand over that deed to your father’s gold mine.”
“Not on your life!” Summoning her courage, she glared up at him. “I’m going to see you hang for what you did!”
He laughed, his belly shaking beneath his greasy vest. “You and what army? All I see between me and that gold is a purty little gal in a pink satin dress. And by the time I finish with her she’s not gonna look so purty. You’ve seen what I can do to a woman. Now give me that deed, or you’ll be beggin’ me for mercy!”
“All right. You win. I’ve got it right here in my stocking.” Lily Mae raised her skirt a few inches. “A gentleman would turn away.”
“Well, I ain’t no gentleman, honey. You got till the count of three. One…two…”
Lily Mae fumbled beneath her petticoats. Tucked into her lace garter was a tiny derringer with a barrel no bigger than her thumb. Drawing and cocking the pistol in one motion, she swung back to face her enemy.
“Reach for the sky, you mangy varmint,” she snarled, “or I’ll plug you right between the eyes!
No, this isn’t a scene from one of my books, although I did have fun writing it. I just wanted a dramatic way to introduce one of the most notorious and popular weapons in the history of the west.
In 1852 an American gunsmith named Henry Deringer invented a pistol so small that it could be easily concealed in a pocket, vest, boot, stocking or bodice. The original Deringer Pistol was less than six inches long. It used a cap lock mechanism to fire a single bullet from a barrel bored in calibers from .36 to .45, with .41 being the most common. Easy to handle and accurate at close range, the tiny gun was an instant success. Other gun manufacturers were swift to copy and improve on it (these copies were known generically as derringers, with an extra r) but Deringer’s original design remained popular for decades.
The gun was a favorite of women, who could hide it in their handbags or their clothes. Gamblers and card dealers often kept one up their sleeves. Even well known gunfighters, such as Wild Bill Hickock, used them as backup weapons. One Arizona lawman was known to have carried upward of a half dozen petite pistols on his person.
The scaled down size of these guns cost heavily in accuracy and range. Mark Twain, who carried a pocket model Smith & Wesson .22 on his western travels wrote, “It was grand. It only had one fault—you couldn’t hit anything with it.”
Sadly, the little weapon became the preferred choice of hit men, who could hide it while they stole up behind their target. The most famous hit carried out with a Deringer Pistol was the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth. Booth shot Lincoln in the back of the head at point blank range while the President was watching a play. This incident branded the Deringer as a “Hitman Special.” Sales of the Deringer and its derringer clones went through the roof. But Henry Deringer was troubled, knowing his weapon had been used to kill an American President. Shortly afterwards, in 1868, he stopped production of the Deringer Pistol. Other versions, however, continued to be made and are popular among shooters and gun collectors to this day.
This tough-looking gun moll is me, posing for a friend’s magazine article with an unloaded pistol I have no intention of firing. Good for a laugh, at least.
Do you know how to handle a gun? Would you carry one for protection, or do you want nothing to do with them? I’m looking forward to some interesting responses.
Don’t forget to check out COWBOY CHRISTMAS, with stories by Pam Crooks, Carol Finch and myself.
And don’t forget to enter our new Christmas contest!