Wednesday, October 17, 2018

If the Need Arose


When I was a preteen, my father bought me a lever-action .22 rifle and taught me how to use it. I didn’t have much occasion to do so, but he believed I needed to know. Dad seemed to have a little of the Old West in his veins and wanted his women-folk to be capable of doing what was required if the need arose.

Now I write historical fiction about women just like that. Hmm.

I haven’t yet written about crack-shot Phoebe Ann Moses, but I do have two cats named Annie and Oakley. And I have an old Leanin’ Tree birthday card with an untitled Fred Fellows painting of an aproned woman standing on the wide prairie. She’s holding a bouquet of flowers in one hand and her horse’s reins in the other. A Henry rifle hangs off the saddle horn.

“Prairie Garden” by Fred Fellows
I’ve kept that birthday card for more than twenty years because of what the picture says about pioneer women of the plains and Old West: There wasn’t much they couldn’t handle if the need arose.

My childhood .22 vanished years ago, but I have Dad’s trusty shotgun which is great for scaring off coyotes. A distant double-barrel cousin of the old standby made a cameo appearance in one of my novellas about a young widow and her two small children.

But it’s a double-barrel of a different sort that has piqued my interest lately. One that is not quite so bulky and fits discreetly in the folds of a lady’s skirt—a compact Remington double derringer smaller than a woman’s hand.

Nederlands: Een 4de Generatie over-under Remington Derringer in .41 
randvuur Southpaw Dutch Wikipedia/commons
Concealed carry is nothing new, and Henry Deringer of Philadelphia offered his first single-shot, muzzle-loading, miniature power-packed pistol in 1852. Often called a pocket pistol, the popularity of the original Philadelphia Deringer eventually gave way to the double barrel .41 Rimfire Remington Model 95.
From The Look of the Old West by William Foster-Harris,
illustrated by Evelyn Curro, Skyhorse Publishing, 2007.
Remington wasn’t the only company to pilfer Henry’s label, and competitors added an “r” to the well-known name to keep ol' Henry at bay. However the Remington model quickly became synonymous with “derringer.”

Cold-eyed, nimble-fingered gamblers weren’t the only people in the Old West carrying a holdout or concealed weapon, and derringers showed up in the cuffs and vest pockets of men on both sides of the law.

They also showed up in the reticules, boots, and garters of ladies bearing equally contrasting reputations.

With its signature hook handle, the derringer had a fairly accurate range of between fifteen and twenty feet. Up close, it could do serious damage.

One could be had for about eight dollars, ten if the owner wanted to fancy things up with a pearl or ivory stock or engraving.

Western film buffs easily identify the snappy little weapon that was scattered across screens and pages of Western lore, becoming one of the most widely recognized American handguns.

James West, the fictional Secret Service agent in Hollywood’s The Wild Wild West sported a Remington double derringer as a sleeve gun (or dismantled inside the hollow heels of his boots), and Miss Kitty Russell from television’s Gun Smoke had no qualms about drawing a well-concealed derringer if necessary.

The Remington derringer also fit nicely into the hands of my character Elizabeth (Betsy) Parker in An Unexpected Redemption. In fact, she had two Remingtons: one with bullets and one with keys. But that’s a story for another time.

As a woman on her own, Betsy had good reason to be proactive regarding her safety, but she didn’t hesitate to use it in defense of others:
She dashed down the narrow stairway, counting the steps so she didn’t tumble off at the bottom, and ran into her room, where she threw open her trunk. After tossing clothing onto the floor, she opened the secret compartment, loaded her Remington derringer, and slipped it into her skirt pocket.
It was no Winchester rifle, nor would it hold a candle to Garrett’s Colt, but in a tight spot, the double-barreled derringer could be the difference between dead or alive.
However, the derringer, left casually in a desk drawer, almost marked that very difference in Betsy:
The mantle clock’s ticking drowned out his future brother-in-law’s voice as Garrett planned a discreet exit. But a thud from upstairs and breaking glass sent him running from the room.
Lamp-oil fumes met him on the landing.
He kicked in Betsy’s door. With a hungry rush, flames followed the path of spilled oil and leaped up the window curtains. Garrett jerked them off the wall, yanked the quilt from the bed, and smothered the fire. Water from the basin and pitcher soaked the smoking mound, and he stomped it into submission. Only then did he sense he was not alone.
Betsy stood in the corner near the door, eyes wide, hands gripping a man’s arm clamped across her throat.
Garrett slapped his right hip—and found nothing. His gun and holster were in his room.
A double-barrel derringer pressed into Betsy’s right temple, held steady by the hand of Anthony Rochester. He laughed. “Unprepared, are you, cowboy?”
Garrett’s hands balled into fists and he took a step forward.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Elizabeth’s Remington is closer to her pretty curls than you are to me.”
Thank goodness, many a woman has been capable of doing what was required when the need arose.

Wife and mother of professional rodeo bullfighters, Davalynn Spencer writes Western romance. She is a Publisher's Weekly bestselling author and winner of the Will Rogers Medallion for Inspirational Western Fiction. Connect with her at

Desperate to redeem her reputation and independence, runaway Betsy Parker returns home to face her toughest critics—the people she grew up with, a rugged lawman who threatens to steal her heart, and the one person unwilling to forgive her.


  1. Wow that was certainly exciting! Great history, too! Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Paula. Glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Loved this! Just visited the Texas Ranger Museum in Waco, TX and was fascinated by the antique hand guns. Some are pure works of art. I once asked Stephen Bly who was an antique weapons' expert, for help with selecting a gun for a female character who was going to be on her own in Deadwood at a time when no lady should have been alone. I'd selected something I thought would work. Steve was very gracious when he corrected my choice and then teased me that the real thing for Mattie would have been a double-barreled shotgun. He said, "Of course, if she has to fire it, the recoil will knock her into Wyoming ... but it'd definitely do the trick." I can still hear him laughing as he said it, even though he's been in heaven many years. Again, thank you for an informative post!

    1. Thank you, Stephanie. Steven Bly was definitely the right source for you. I wrote to him and his wife, Janet, many moons ago, and they were very encouraging to me as a young author.

      My old shotgun has a pretty good kick that taught me the first time I used it that if I didn't butt it up against my shoulder before I pulled the trigger, it would dislocate that shoulder for me free of charge! I can imagine Steven's laughter at considering your character with a double-barrel.

      Thanks for reading.