Pass the Pepperbox Please

I had such fun in my last post with the Chicago Palm Pistol, I decided to introduce another small weapon today — the PEPPERBOX.

The four-shot, breech loading, version of this pistol is considered “a true gun of the Old West, used by gamblers, ladies of the evening, and as a hide-out gun for both outlaws and lawmen alike.”   

Named Pepperbox, or Pepperpot, because it resembles a household pepper grinder, this multi-shot revolver boasted three or more barrels grouped around a central axis. Though one enterprising gunmaker created a shotgun version, the pepperbox was most often a handheld firearm.     

The concept made an appearance as early as the fifteenth century, when several single-shot barrels were attached to a stock, then fired individually by lighting each one with a match. Talk about dangerous!   

Pepperboxes were manufactured in all ammunition systems: matchlock, wheellock, flintlock, percussion, pinfire, rimfire and centerfire. [I won’t go into how all those work–at least not in this post.] They were made with three, four, six, or seven barrels. The earliest ones were rotated by hand; the later versions worked much like a standard revolver, where each chamber rotated into position as the previous one was discharged.     

The invention of the percussion cap by Joshua Shaw, and the onset of the industrial revolution, allowed pepperbox revolvers to be mass-produced, making them more affordable than the early handmade guns previously only seen in the hands of the rich.   

Gilles Mariette, an arms manufacturer in Cheratte, Belgium, patented the ‘cluster revolver (pepperbox) with double action’ in 1837.  Pepperboxes were popular in North America from 1830 through the Civil War. The pepperbox experienced a kind of “revival” in the late 1800s as an easy-to-conceal pocket weapon. The French came up with the “Apache revolver,” which was popular among Paris street gangs and came fitted with a folding blade and knuckle-duster. [Those are knuckle-dusters on the left.]   

The Christian Sharps 4-barrel derringer was manufactured and used into the last half of the 19th century. This pistol had a sheath trigger that appeared when the hammer was cocked. Cartridges were loaded into this 4-shot gun by sliding the barrels forward. Thousands of these little guns were made between 1859 and 1874. After the war it became popular in the Old West among lawmen, outlaws and gamblers as its small size allowed it to be concealed in a waistcoat pocket. One thing to remember when giving a Pepperbox to your character: they aren’t accurate. In fact, Mark Twain was quoted as saying “the safest place to be when facing a Pepperbox wielding antagonist was standing directly in front of him.”


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17 thoughts on “Pass the Pepperbox Please”

  1. Am I allowed to say a gun is pretty? Based on looks, gotta say I like the Christian Sharps 4-barrel derringer. Bet ladies liked them too.

    Have a great weekend!


  2. Hi Tracy, That 4-shot Derringer has a lot of plot potential. I’ve been wondering about doing a lady outlaw…This would the perfect gun for those times she gets dressed up. Thanks for the info!

  3. I love these gun posts, Tracy.

    I think I frightened some poor sweet lady in a museum a few weeks ago by asking if I could HOLD a Windchester 73.

    I just itched to see how it felt in my hand, how heavy it was. I don’t see why she was such a brat about it. Calling security was a huge over reaction on her part.

    It’s not like I asked for bullets, c’mon!

  4. Cute…that was the word that came to mind when I saw these guns. I’m sure they were not cute when you were seeing one aimed at you.

  5. Hi Tracy, I am curious about the hand-turning of the barrel of the multi-barrel one. Wouldn’t that make the barrel VERY hot? Seems like a bad idea. But very sinister when facing it. And leave it to Mark Twain to have the last laugh.
    Wonderful blog. Thanks.

  6. Hi Tracy, terrific information. And I agree with Connie. I almost said, aaaaaaaw. I have heard what Mark Twain said about these small guns and have even read scenes in books where the shooter doesn’t garner too much fear in the target LOL. (Those were derringers,though. Pepperbox is a new term and gun for me today. Thanks!) oxoxox

  7. Tracy, I love these weapons posts you are doing, too. Don’t know why, but I’ve always had a fascination with guns ever since I was little–probably because I loved playing with my cap guns so much. LOL I worked in a western museum for a couple of years, and this was one of my favorite parts of the job, walking around and reading about the weapons, and actually getting to see them. Some of those buffalo guns were just huge! It had to be so unwieldy and bulky carrying them, but these little guns you’re talking about…they ARE cute! Thanks for a very interesting post!

  8. first i have to say i love your cover…sign me up to be touched by “love” or whoever that is on the front 🙂

    now on to the guns
    very interesting again
    oh my goodness–i cannot imagine the danger of lighting a gun with a match!
    i get nervous when my girls play with sparklers, lol
    also had to laugh about mark twain…he has such great commentary

    i grew up with guns and learned to shoot all of them…but i guess my parents put enough fear into me about them that they make me nervous to have around
    we had a man out at our place years ago and my dad brought me a handgun to keep in the house…now that i have young kids i couldn’t stand having it around and had to give it back
    now i just have 8 big dogs and pepper spray 🙂

    i’m quite certain though that “back in the day” i would have been one of those women packing heat…i always think someone’s out to get me 🙂

  9. Interesting post. I don’t think that 6 barrel would be all that easy to conceal. No matter where you put it, it would cause a bulge. It would be kind of hard to slip it into a garter on your thigh. The Sharps at the end of the post seems to lay more flat. It would slip into a vest pocket, garter, or purse much more easily.

    I have never liked having hand guns around the house. Most people don’t treat them with the respect they deserve. Went to a friend’s house once and got the scare of my life. She had a 22 pistol her husband had gotten her because he worked nights. She kept it, loaded I think, in the bottom drawer of a cabinet in her laundry room next to the kitchen. When I got to her house, her 2 year old was sitting on the floor, drawer open, playing with it and other things from the kitchen. Hiding it under the towels doesn’t help. I prefer dogs and a baseball bat any day.

    The only time I have ever wanted to carry a gun has been when hiking in an area where coydogs were a problem. Having been chased by a pack of dogs once in town, I had no real desire to repeat that out in the woods with no protection.

  10. Puff, puff, puff… Just ran in from work. Sorry I missed all the fun so far, but I’ll get caught up with y’all soon.

    Julie, the Sharps derringer is “pretty” to me, too. 😀

  11. Ooh, Mary, I’d love to handle an original sometime. I’ve had the advantage of a dear friend who is a collector of old west reproductions, so I’ve shot several of the most famous guns of the time.

  12. Tanya and Cheryl, thanks for dropping by. The small “pocket” pistols are cute. And Cheryl, the buffalo gun was a monster. I can’t imagine trying to shoot it from horseback as you see in old western movies.

  13. Tabitha, I’m glad you liked my cover. I love the art department at Kensington Books!

    Lighting one of several loaded barrels with a match? I went back and reread that part of my research. I couldn’t believe someone actually considered that a idea. I suppose if it was on a stationary surface, but still…

  14. Patricia, you’re right about the bulge, I think.

    To your point, respect and safety are primary when you have weapons in the house. Or anywhere for that matter. Guns and children don’t mix. Never had a loaded weapon around children. Keep the weapon and the ammunition in separate places. If you do that, having a self-defense weapon in the house is fine, in my opinion.

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