Sunday, December 27, 2015

Pocket Pistols

by Linda Farmer Harris

Now, before you gasp and think, "Oh, no, gun control..." just remember this is a research blog where we explore many topics to ensure our stories are as historically accurate as they are enjoyable to read.

That said, let's dig a little into what pistol our frontier heroine could slip in her pocket or reticule to protect herself against the villain or slithery things on the trail.

It's 1849 and our adventurous heroine must conceal carry. What's a girl to do? She may have yards and yards of clothing, but is it suitable for packing heat? She could wear a shoulder holstera bit unladylike, slip it in her pocket, or put it in her handbag. She could resort to a stocking gun that could be held in a holster in her stocking. If belts were in style, she could have a hand-tooled belt with a hidden derringer. Don't forget boot tops. Winter weather wasn't a deterrent because she could carry it in her muff.

Vintage Crochet Square Motif Reticule

The Ladies' Muff Protector - courtesy of

Pocket pistol is an American reference to any small pocket-sized handgun such as a derringer or small caliber revolver. It was common for men to conceal carry in a front or rear trousers pocket, waistband, or in an exterior coat pocket. Less caliber pistols are referred to as mouseguns.

Courtesy of Bond Arms, Inc.

Ladies traditionally preferred the .41 caliber Derringer. Philadelphia designer Henry Deringer (note single "r") was a famous 19th-century maker of small pocket pistols. His original Deringer was a black powder, single-shot, muzzleloading pistol. In total, approximately 15,000 Deringer pistols were manufactured. 
Sadly, the most famous Deringer was fired by John Wilkes Booth to assassinate Abraham Lincoln. The Deringer was popular in the South and in California during the era of the Gold Rush.

Soon gun makers worldwide imitated Deringer's pistol, and misspelled Henry's last name. With the double "r", it became an alternative generic term for any pocket pistol, or palm pistol. Therefore, a derringer is considered the smallest usable handgun of a given caliber.

Remington Vest-Pocket Pistol

Our heroine had to keep a cool head, have a snag free place to hide her pistol, and realize she had one shot and it was going to be up close and personal when she fired. 

Elizabeth Servaty Topperweins - courtesy of

Hopefully, you don't have feel completely dressed unless you are carrying a gun. But, if you were our 1849 heroine, where would you hide your pistol?


Linda "Lin" Farmer Harris

Lin and her husband, Jerry, live on a ranch in Chimney Rock, Colorado. She writes historical fiction for adults and children. Her novella The Lye Water Bride is included in the California Gold Rush Romance Collection (Barbour Publishing, 2016).

Turning Tidbits of History into Unforgettable Stories

Pattern for the Vintage Crochet Square Motif Reticule
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  1. Lin, Thanks for the interesting post! My heroine would probably carry her derringer in a pocket or her hand bag. Most of the heroines I write about haven't needed to carry a weapon, but a few have.

    I hope you had a nice Christmas!

    1. Hi Vicki, thank you. My heroine opted for a pouch sewn inside her pocket. She pulled it on her hero, but didn't have to fire it. We had a delightful, restful day - snowed in with over two feet of snow.

  2. That's a great photo of Elizabeth Servaty Topperweins. Such a tiny waist.

    1. Hi Anita, thanks for stopping by. Watching her shoot must have been really something to behold.

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