The Derringer Pistol - America's Smallest Gun

On April 14th, 1865, John Wilkes Booth snuck up behind then U.S. president, Abraham Lincoln, and shot him in the back of the head. His deadly weapon of choice was a Derringer pistol. Since that terrible day, the small gun began to be known as the "hitman's special". Yet the Derringer pistol conjures up ideas of the "wild wild west" and the mystique of this little gun continues to this day. First produced by gunsmith Henry Deringer in 1852, the single-shot pistol became so popular that several companies rushed to reproduce it. They dubbed it the "derringer" adding an extra "r" to the famed gunsmith's name. It stuck. The Derringer line of pistols is still being made today by a host of companies but the original design remains basically the same.


Henry Deringer -

Henry Deringer was born to be a gunsmith. He had his start on October 26, 1786 in Easton, Pennsylvania. His father was a colonial gunsmith who was known for making Kentucky rifles. At the young age of fifteen years, Henry Deringer became an apprentice to a firearms maker located in Virginia. He eventually moved back to the Philadelphia area and started his own gunsmith business. He was so good at what he did that he was often contracted out by the U.S. government. He later became obsessed with making the perfect single-shot pistol which could be used as a conceal and carry gun. He was intrigued by the idea of the element of surprise in self defense. He saw the advantage of carrying a palm-sized hidden weapon which could be produced when needed. With this in mind, Deringer produced a small cap lock pocket pistol in 1852. The Deringer pistol became immediately popular. It was accurate at short range and easy to use. It was most commonly bored in .41 caliber and it was less than six inches long.


Uses -

The Derringer pistol most often served as a back-up weapon. It is still used in that capacity by some police departments today. Old west outlaws loved these hideaway guns, the element of surprise working in their favor. The Derringer was also called the "belly gun" because of its use in close proximity in old west fights. It's short barrel made it a convenient weapon when there was little distance between opponents.

It was also know as the gambler's gun. Gamblers, always on the lookout for those who cheated or wished to take their money would often keep a Derringer under their hat or in their belts for quick access. Lady gamblers, in particular, would surely have one hidden somewhere. The Derringer was also often referred to as the "lady's" gun. The fancy ladies of the old west would carry one in their drawstring purses or in their garter belts.


Television and Movies -

The Derringer pistol has been romanticized by both television and the big screen especially in westerns. How can anyone forget Yancy Derringer, the suave old west gambler who kept the small gun hidden under his hat (played by Jock Mahoney 1958-59). On the long-running western television series, Have Gun Will Travel, gun-for-hire Paladin carried a Derringer as a back-up gun. (Played by Richard Boone 1957-63). And in the 1965 to 1970 western series, The Wild, Wild West, secret agent James T. west carried a concealed Derringer up his shirt sleeve. When activated it popped out into his hand. (Played by Robert Conrad).

But it isn't in just the old television westerns that the demur pistol makes an appearance. In more modern TV, the Derringer was used by Grace Park as Sharon in Battlestar Galactica and by a security guard in Stargate SG1. It also showed up in the 1983 TV movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E, The Fifteen Years Later Affair.

Seeing a Derringer pistol used by characters in movies is also no surprise. Gene Hackman as John wields the small gun handily in the 1995 movie The Quick and the Dead. It was used by Brion James as Leon Kowalski in Blade Runner (1982), by Tcheky Karyo as Fouchet in Bad Boys (1995), and by Monica Bellucci as Persephone in The Matrix Reloaded (2003). Even the anime genre has featured a Derringer most notably by the character of Nina in Monster (2004-2005).


For more on gun history, please visit this Hub -

http://hubpages.com/_36otspfnata5l/hub/Blunderbuss---the-Thunder-Gun

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Comments 47 comments

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I am a fan of TV westerns and seen much of what you describe, but it is a nice summary. You have a lot of background that I did not know. good hub.


Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 6 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

A very detailed and informative update to the derringer Suziecat:)!!


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Thanks for stopping by Dahoglund. I like TV westerns myself.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Mentalist acer - thanks.


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 6 years ago from The Other Bangor

It's interesting that such a small gun would be so popular. Good hub.


loriamoore 6 years ago

They're cute, but I can't imagine them being very powerful. It would definitely have to be a gut-to-gut shot.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

Good morning, Suzie. I never know about The Derringer Pistol before. But it open my eyes about this gun and give me new information. I heard so many bad incident caused by the gun owner. I hope it not happen again and we can living peace. Thank you very much. I rate this one.

Prasetio


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Teresa - It was popular because it was so small and easily concealed. Thank you so much for commenting.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Loria - they are powerful enough but not very accurate. Thanks for stopping by, my friend.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Prasetio - I also hope we can all live in peace. Thanks for reading.


billyaustindillon profile image

billyaustindillon 6 years ago

Great history I had no clue - I was thinking John Derringer the outlaw - thank you for the history lesson.


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

Reminds me of those childhood westerns.


akirchner profile image

akirchner 6 years ago from Central Oregon

Definitely were part of my childhood, those westerns! Great info!


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Billy - Used by outlaws yes - thanks for stopping by.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Ethel - they don't make them like that any more.


carolina muscle profile image

carolina muscle 6 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

I love to shoot, but not those things.. the sensation of the barrel firing that close to your hand is jarring!

Great post!!!!


Jael Turner profile image

Jael Turner 6 years ago

My Dad, who was a gunsmith at one time, used to own a derringer which he let us shoot occasionally. Maybe that's why I feature this particular weapon in my Hubpages Western. jael


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Carolina - so true. I feel the same way about driving a small car with the motor in front. Thanks for commenting.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Jael - thanks for reading. I'll check out your Hub.


Seakay profile image

Seakay 6 years ago from Florida

Didn't Bat Masterson (played by Gene Berry?) also carry a derringer? A pearl handled derringer?

I just love the reruns of all the old westerns! Bonanza, Wagon Train with the cute scout .... and Barnaby, the teenager.. and Ward Bond... good grief, I'm OLD! (LOL)

Love the old west. Great hub Suziecat7! Thanks for the memories...


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Hi Seakay - I think you're right about Bat. I'm glad you enjoyed.


Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

What a great hub, I love history of America and all the way that events happen...I really love your writing and the videos, great hub thumb up my friend,


johnsams profile image

johnsams 6 years ago

Great hub you've got there, well written and informative. Cheers!


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

Suziecat - What an excellently researched document of derringer derring-do you have described. You have greatly enhanced my derringer education. Thank you. :)


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Darlene - I love history too. Thanks for your kind words.

Johnsams - Appreciate your comment.

Drbj - Thanks for commenting. It's always nice to learn things, isn't it? It's one of the many reasons I love hubbing.


habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Great historic info. We have a Derringer!


ReuVera profile image

ReuVera 6 years ago from USA

I am not into weapons, but this story surely got my attention! Thanks for amazing information.


valeriebelew profile image

valeriebelew 6 years ago from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA

Interesting, suziecat. I was not familier with those guns; maybe I should have one. LOL. Thanks for a good informative hub. (:v


lxxy profile image

lxxy 6 years ago from Beneath, Between, Beyond

Ahh, I love it when history is so throughly displayed. Thanks!


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Habee - they are pretty cool.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Reuvera - I'm not into weapons either but I do like the history behind them. Thanks for reading.


prey profile image

prey 6 years ago from places you should hope we never meet

suzie, fantastic hub!

These examples are great, learned much!

but must confess, I certainly must have one! What a great accessory for my purse :)

of course for my friend kimberly, as I can bite as self defense, quicker than any gun

great hub, cheers

ps-do you own a cat? 7 years old? ha


Mike l 6 years ago

Never heard of Hubs before, this is the second one I have looked at. Great job. Thanks


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 6 years ago from the short journey

What a neat little gun this was. The Hal Groat video was terrific too!


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Prey - They are quite spectacular. 7 cats lol.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 6 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Mike - You ought to join in the fun. Thanks for reading.


Dirk L. 5 years ago

Hello,

If you like to see more derringers, plse take a look on my website


Joey Bennett 5 years ago

Great example of good things coming in small packages. It is great to see guns that were used so long ago are still being utilized and appreciate today. Great hub!


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Dirk L and Joey - Thank you both for reading.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Very cool Suzie, the Deringer conjures up a lot of Western mystery to me. I had no idea it was the pistol used to shoot Lincoln, wicked.

Ben


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

Hi, I also didn't know it was the gun that shot Lincoln, fascinating history! And I love reading this sort of thing as it adds to my store of knowledge so when I am yelling at the tv when a quiz comes up with this question I will know the answer! lol thanks nell


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Thanks Ben and Nell. The Derringer is a mighty little pistol.


WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

Derringers are still being sold, and they come in calibers as large as .40 S&W, but that's a lot of recoil in so small a gun.

Great stuff Suzie.


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Thanks for reading, WillStarr.


rosemary 4 years ago

does any one know how much these guns cost. my da has bought one but doesn't know much bout it. thanks. btw his is a 32 cal


suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 4 years ago from Asheville, NC Author

Sorry, Rosemary, couldn't tell you.


platinumOwl4 profile image

platinumOwl4 3 years ago

Suziecat7, this is another fine article that peaks my interest. I recently purchase a titled Weaponry by Chuck Willis. The weapons of destruction are mind altering. look for an article soon.

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