Those Tiny Guns


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.

deringer-2-old-jpeg1 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. derringer-rem

            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.

gun-mollThis 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.


cowboy-christmas 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!

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31 thoughts on “Those Tiny Guns”

  1. Interesting post, Elizabeth! Those little pistols are works of art.

    I remember the day long ago when my father let me fire his twelve-guage shotgun. He showed me how to hold the butt close against my shoulder, but the recoil would have knocked be flat if he hadn’t stood close for support. He has several hunting rifles and shotguns and I find them beautiful – he hand-carved the stocks on a couple of them – but I have no desire to own one.

  2. Actually I do know how to handle a gun an have a permit to do so.Years ago after leaving a violent marriage of 30 yrs,I took gun safety course to protect myself,my dad had left me 2 small pistols when he died an so I learned how to use one the right way,an got a permit to have it with me,that was years ago,thank God I never had to pull it out an gave it to my grown son later,but I would have if I had too!

  3. I have never handled at gun and I hope I never have to. No offence to those of you who have them. But I believe guns should be in the hands of proffesional law officers and people who hunt..

  4. Good morning, ladies (sorry, slept in, missed yoga, need coffee). Thanks for your divergent views, just what I was hoping for. Like you, Jennie, I was taught to shoot by my dad and plinked at tin cans as a kid. Grew up in a family of hunters, so I’m not uncomfortable around guns. Like you I admire the craft of a beautifully made weapon. But I don’t own a gun either, and have no desire to.

  5. I admire your courage, Vickie. Glad you never had to use that gun.

    Years ago, after an encounter with a creepy neighbor, a friend lent me a .22 pistol (this was before the days of permits). I kept it until my grandsons got big enough to possibly find it. Then I gave it back. Decided I would rather be robbed/raped/murdered than have those precious boys get hold of a gun.

  6. Kathleen, I sympathize with your views. We live in dangerous times, but a lot of people who carry guns probably shouldn’t. Knowing how to handle them safely and responsibly is a must.

  7. Hi Elizabeth — great blog today. Loved the pic of you “posing” with the gun. No, I don’t have a gun or know how to shoot one. But my hubby does and I want to learn. I didn’t know that about Abe Lincoln! Shot with a derringer? Great info!

  8. Thanks for dropping by, April, Charlene and Melinda. Shooting guns at targets can be a lot of fun (and the women on those TV crime shows are sooooooo…cool!). It never hurts to know how to safely handle a weapon.

  9. Hi Elizabeth!

    Although I don’t own a gun, I do know how to use one — I’m a member of Front Sight and have gone there to learn to shoot and actually I’m a pretty good shot.

    Interestingly, the definition of a weapon has been slowly changed to mean something that one uses offensively against another. And that’s not the definition of a weapon at all. They leave out part of the definition.

    Per definitions of the word — before the year 1990, a weapon is defined as something that one uses to DEFEND oneself and to use against another in one’s own defense.

    Interesting to me is how the definition has been changed to make it appear as if those who are pro 2nd Amendment are aggressive. Not so. One owns guns for defense of onself against an attacker be that attacker human or animal. Also, a weapon is used in order to procure food.

    I guess it might suit the agent provocatuer to change the definition to suit himself and not pay any attention to a God-given right called the right to LIFE — and the right to protect that life — every animal will try to protect itself — it’s a God-given instinct.

    I also find it fascinating that the shootings at Fort Hood — a terrible tragedy — only followed gun confication.

    My take on it.

    Great and timely post, Elizabeth.

    NOTE: I’m not entirely defenseless — I carry heavy grade mace with me everywhere.

  10. Love this article Elizabeth, and the deringer. Though it was only accurate up close and personal, it was–and is–a very popular weapon. And with a 41-caliber bullet, very effective as well.

    A few years ago a friend who collects guns, both reproduction old-west guns and modern, took me and two other writers through a training on handguns that showed us the weapons, how they worked, and what situation each one was best suited for; then we spent several hours on the shooting range experiencing how the guns felt when fired. It was a wonderful research experience and reinforced my belief that a gun used respectfully can be safe for the owner.

    I’m a gun-owner, shotguns so far, but I will eventually be a handgun owner–only after I take the training to use it properly and safely, though.

  11. Elizabeth, loved your blog. Before today I didn’t know how small derringers were. That’s pretty small. I also didn’t realize that Lincoln was shot with a small derringer. Very interesting.

    No, I don’t have a clue how to fire a weapon, and even less about loading one. To tell the truth I’m really afraid of their lethal power. I’m not against them though. I think in the right hands they’re necessary. I might change my mind so I’m not going to say I’ll never have one, but at the moment it’s not in the cards.

    Loved your story in COWBOY CHRISTMAS! You sure packed a lot in those few pages. Wow! It’s very well written and the story kept me glued to the pages. I’m glad Clay’s brother found redemption. And I’m glad there was a HEA. That’s what Christmas is about.

  12. One more comment to add — a town in Georgia — Kennisaw Georgia, made it a law that ALL people of the city HAD to have a firearm and had to be trained to use it.

    Guess what happened to their crime rate? It dropped to almost zero.

    The thing is, criminals by definition cannot follow laws and so only the honest citizen will disarm himself — thus, the more laws making it illegal — the more crime.

    Again, if you look in history — Russia, Germany, Turkey, China, Thialand — excuse spelling, Africa — there are other countries that I can’t remember so well — genocide has always followed gun confiscation. Always. Also, look at Australia — their crime rate is now soaring after making it illegal to own firearms.

    Actual real statistics of real places show that only when the average citizen is armed, do you have lowered crime rates. If you don’t believe it, put a sign in your yard that says, “GUN FREE ZONE.”

    Again, criminals will always have guns, they are,by definition, unable to follow laws. So when the average citizen cannot defend himself against the criminal, you then have high, high criminal rate.

    Another food for thought: From written records, one of the reasons why Japan didn’t invade the US proper in the 2nd WW was because the US citizen was so well armed.

    Something to think about.

  13. Hi Elizabeth, great picture of you! I do not own a gun or know how to use one. That said, I definitely think people have the right to own and use them if all done legally and properly. That said LOL I am not a hunter and don’t get that “sport” at all.

    I don’t think I knew until today that Booth used a deringer. And I never knew the double-r spelling. Thanks for a wonderful, informative post. oxoxoxox

  14. Wow, you really know your weapons, Tracy. What a great research source that training must have been.

    And thanks for stopping by, Linda. The Deringer used to shoot Lincoln was exactly like the one in the photo (in fact, the picture I used might have been of that very gun, not sure). And thanks for your kind words about COWBOY CHRISTMAS. Hope more readers are enjoying it as well.

    And thanks again for your enlightening and thoughtful comments, Karen. Don’t think I’ll put that sign in my yard…

  15. I can understand the theory about everyone having guns but there just seems to be so much anger out there any more. People seem to fly off the handle over nothing. I know of someone who just lost their son because he shot himself to death. I can’t help thinking that in many cases if guns weren’t available many deathes would be prevented. And automatic weapons are totally beyond me.

  16. Thanks, Tanya. I think “legally and properly” is the key here. If you want to learn more about the Deringer, there’s a great site where I got much of my info: (I think that’s what it’s called, or you can google it).

    As you pointed out, Jeanne, many tragedies have been caused by the misuse of guns. If only responsible people had guns, then there’d be no need, except for sport and hunting.
    It’s a heartbreaking paradox, and there are no easy answers.
    FWIW I’m in your camp when it comes to automatic weapons in the hands of private citizens. Why???

  17. Thanks, Tanya. I think “legally and properly” is the key here. If you want to learn more about the Deringer, there’s a great site where I got much of my info: deringerpistol. com (I think that’s what it’s called, or you can google it).

    As you pointed out, Jeanne, many tragedies have been caused by the misuse of guns. If only responsible people had guns, then there’d be no need, except for sport and hunting.
    It’s a heartbreaking paradox, and there are no easy answers.
    FWIW I’m in your camp when it comes to automatic weapons in the hands of private citizens. Why???

  18. Oops, if the previous comment appears twice its because I included a web link. Got a message that the comment was “awaiting moderation.” The second time I inserted an extra space so that wouldn’t happen. Sorry.

  19. Very interesting post. I do know how to handle a gun and have fired one for protection. Did not fire at somone but rather into the air to let someone know that I was in the area while camping in the mountains. My husband and I have taught hunter safety classes (I taught, my husband was there because many men balked at learning from a woman so they would ask him the questions, he would then ask what I thought, so I actually answered their questions.) If someone is going to be around guns they need to know how to use them.

  20. I have shot a riffel before. My father taught us how to shoot, he thought we all should at least know a little in case we ever needed to use a gun.

  21. Thanks for your comments, Ladies. Estella, I’m surprised at how many readers know how to shoot–and of course, you’d only carry a gun legally.

    Love the story of your teaching the hunter safety class, Connie. Can’t believe you had to have your husband there to answer questions. Men!

    Like you, Quilt Lady, lot of us seemed to have learned about guns from our dads. Brings back some sweet memories for me. Hoping the same for the rest of you.

  22. Interesting post. I am really torn about gun ownership. We have guns for hunting. No hand guns though. I will say that hiking in the woods up north there was a problem with wild dogs. Here there are bear and some wild dogs. A pistol won’t help much against a bear, but it would against the dogs. It is really the only reason I’d carry a pistol. I learned to shoot as a teen and was a pretty good shot with a rifle.
    I can see no reason for the assault guns and other high powered guns that people are allowed to own. They are not for hunting anything other than a human. From what I’ve seen there are too many gun owners who are not responsible enough to be carrying pistols and in some cases anything else. There have been too many instances of sheer stupidity when using a gun or just not storing it properly. We have the right to own guns, but that right entails a lot of responsibility. Just like driving a car, it is dangerous if you don’t take it seriously and know what you are doing.
    I don’t want to live in an armed camp with a Dirty Harry mind-set.

  23. Well said, Patricia. I was expecting some diverse viewpoints with this blog and we certainly got them.
    Gun laws are meant to put weapons only in the hands of responsible people, but we know that doesn’t always prevent tragedies. Too bad there are no easy answers. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  24. Hi Elizabeth. Fascinating post, thank you. The law is a little different in the UK so we can only get a gun licence under very strict circumstances (although living on a farm I do qualify). However, I researched English duelling pistols for my own novels (a bit earlier than yours, though) and I am amazed that anyone can hit anything with them! Of course, with the smaller pistol one can get a lot closer to the victim/target. I am always surprised how bloodthirsty “romantic novelists” can be when discussing these things (and I include myself in this!).

  25. Thanks for adding the UK perspective, Sarah. From what I’ve read, a lot of those old duels ended with both parties missing and walking away, honor satisfied.
    And yes, we are bloodthirsty little critters, aren’t we? But romance is about risk and danger, so I guess that includes guns. Enjoyed your comment. Please come back and visit again.

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