By Chris L. Adams
(Editor’s note: To mark the birthday of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Deuce Richardson provided this examination of weaponry used in Burroughs’ Apache novels, written by pulp aficionado Chris L. Adams. For more on his work visit https://www.chrisladamsbizarretales.com/about).
As will most when forced to fight for their way of life, the Apaches of The War Chief utilized any weapon to which they might lay hand. Some of these they fabricated, with especially skilled artisans becoming highly revered by the tribe. The Apaches ranged a broad swathe of the American West and portions of Mexico, and so various materials fell into their hands — materials they converted into bows, arrows, and war clubs, including the famous jawbone club. These weapons and tools, for centuries, they fabricated themselves from indigenous materials.
Both bone and woods were used to make arrow shafts. Nearly every locally sourced variety of tree was used to make bows, whether it was optimal or not for its intended use. Stone-headed tomahawks eventually arrived on the scene, but not until the Apache was introduced to these types of weapons by the Europeans where they were then adapted by the Apaches, employing materials the natives were accustomed from of old to utilize — flint for arrow heads and spear tips, stone for mortars, pestles, and stone-headed war clubs which gave way to stone-headed tomahawks with the introduction of the ax by the invaders from Europe.
It was the advent of Europeans who both taught, and enabled, the Apache to slay his fellow man with better efficiency with the modern weapons they brought with them. The European brought to bear his ax — and found that the Apache reciprocated in kind. He drew beads with his musket’s sights — only to later discover that the Apache was no simpleton, and that he could draw just as fine a bead with a captured rifle as could his nemesis — the pindah lickoyee, as they are called in The War Chief.
When Burroughs was writing his stories, especially the later ones, he had a rich repository of firearms with which to arm his friends and foes. Anything that existed up through 1950 would have been Ed’s to use if they fit the period in which his yarn was set.
And use them he did.
The German Luger was Erich von Harben’s pistol of choice in Lost Empire; General Thomson’s submachinegun (possibly the most famous SMG in the world) was Gunner Patrick’s “typewriter” in Tarzan Triumphant; and the British Enfield rifle was Korak’s go-to pow pow in Tarzan the Terrible.
That might be an interesting project — the compilation of a complete list of Ed’s chosen smoke wagons across all of his stories.
But Ed’s hand was more limited when it came to The War Chief. The novel mentions that our hero, Andy MacDuff, was an infant in 1863; that’s smack in the middle of the American Civil War. For the greatest part, we’re talking a pre-metallic cartridge era, with metallic cartridges only having seen development since the 1850s (in France and England) and whose widespread use was only on the horizon in the mid-1860s. Most of those ghastly wounds that occurred during the Civil War were handed out by musket balls, hand-crammed down barrels with loading rods; when they hit bone, it was like a wrecking ball hitting a building-— slow, heavy, concussive and nasty.
Shoz Dijiji. Adopted son of Geronimo, a war chief. Leap forward from that ghastly day in 1863 which saw Shoz’s folks gunned down; where an infant Andy slipped from the pages of the pindah lickoyee to land in the spoken word legends of the people. He’s a boy now. How old? I don’t know. Maybe 10. Maybe 12. But he’s at least 10, because the story describes that the Apaches of Shoz’s tribe are at this point armed with practically every arm used in the Civil War, and also examples of those that had come after — the foremost of these being the iconic Colt SAA (Single-Action Army) Model of 1873 a.k.a. The Six-Gun a.k.a. . . . The Peacemaker.
In Chapter Three, titled Yah-Ik-Tee, Burroughs carpet bombs his readers with a veritable plethora of firearm names, after Shoz runs off the mountain and into camp, having spotted some Mexican Cavalry on the approach. Below Shoz, the Shis-Inday, who had become drunken the night before, lay insentient from too much tizwin and lie asleep in the path of destruction. If they are not roused, the oncoming army will devastate the six tribes. Shoz is determined this will not happen. Barreling into the encampment, he awakens them with a cry of, “Soldiers!” The pinda lickoyee have come for them!
Here is where we are enlightened to the disparate types of arms with which the Shis-Inday, the Apaches, are armed. For although the militaries of the Mexican states and the United States have upgraded to rapid firing, metallic cartridge arms, the Apache, as always, utilizes what he has at his disposal.
The Mississippi Rifle
The Mississippi Rifle The so-called “Mississippi Yauger,” (Jaeger) or the Model 1841 Mississippi rifle, is the first arm mentioned where Burroughs lists some of Geronimo’s (and the other chiefs’) equipage.
The M1841 pre-dates the Civil War and is a percussion cap, muzzleload, musket. That’s right — against the lever guns and rolling blocks of the modern armies they were facing, some of our Shis-Inday are still fielding a rifle that takes about a minute to load.
Now, the Mississippi Rifle was a rifled musket, so it would have been pretty accurate. In fact, it was probably capable of greater accuracy than its typical user could have obtained utilizing its open sights. But it was still one that a powder charge must first be poured down the barrel, followed by a musket ball using the ram rod to shove it down the tube into place, and finally a percussion cap would be snapped in place; after that, it could be fired.
Paper cartridges (which combined the powder and ball in a paper wrapper which was disposed of upon loading) had been developed for these, but it’s doubtful the Apaches would have had any. Remember, we’re post-Civil War in this chapter. The rest of the world has by now moved on to metallic cartridges, and militaries are converting to rolling block, falling block or lever action, metallic cartridge based mechanisms; a Yauger (or “Jäger,” a German rifle designed for hunting on which the 1841 was based) is by now considered old hat.
But it still worked that day for the Shis-Inday. For that matter, it still works today. More likely the Apaches had a supply of black powder and lead balls, which are then loaded separately, one after the other. This takes time, because in black powder arms, a precise measure of powder is crucial. Too much and the arm might turn into a grenade; too little and the ball might not exit the barrel — you don’t want to be that guy when you’re facing an onslaught of Mexican Cavalry with a muzzle loader; so, keep your powder dry, and mind your grains when you do your pour.
The Spencer Carbine
Which brings us to the Spencer Carbine that Ed mentions. It’s rare for a quote to become associated with a particular firearm. Harry Callahan famously espoused the power of the .44 Magnum; General Patton called the US M1 Rifle Caliber .30 a.k.a. the M1 Garand,“the greatest battle implement ever devised.” That’s high praise.
And what, some might ask, has been said of the handy Spencer Carbine that echoes today? Knowing somewhat of its pertinent features might aid in an understanding.
The Spencer (developed in 1860 prior to the outbreak of the Civil War by Christopher Spencer) was a lever action, tubular magazine fed firearm that utilized metallic cartridges. I know what some might say: Why did our opposing forces bombard each other with cap-and- ball muskets when they could have employed these mechanized, death-dealing engines of destruction to do it more quickly and efficiently?
Suffice to say it was the very speed with which these handy rifles could be fired (also referred to as its Rate of Fire) which prevented them from being adopted wholesale by Uncle Sam.The military felt that the logistics of keeping these puppies fed would become an issue on the front lines where they foresaw troops expending rounds faster than they could be resupplied. These rifles/carbines had a 7-round tubular magazine running the length of the buttstock and accessed via a hatch in the butt plate. Utilizing a lever (similar to the Winchester Model 1873, a.k.a. the cowboy rifle with which we’re familiar) it could load a cartridge and fire it as rapidly as you could work the lever and squeeze the trigger.
An adage was mentioned earlier describing this (at the time) unique arm that came about after its introduction during the war, where it was said of the Spencer, “You can load it on Sunday and shoot it all week.”
It was dearly loved by the Union forces who were able to get their hands on one, and the Confederates who captured them adored them as well. The Shis-Inday would surely have equally appreciated the Spencer’s handy size and speedy action.
The Springfield Rifle
After their advent in 1777 as the official armory for the then fledgling United States, Springfield Armory came out with a new model practically every other year it seems. Sometimes the changes were minimal. For instance, one of the small changes between the Springfield Model 1862 and the Springfield 1863, IIRC, was simply a change to the barrel bands. Whatever works.
The Springfield models with which our Shis-Inday would have been armed are many. Many muskets and revolvers were converted to fire cartridges after the war. A few non-converted, muzzleloading Springfield muskets might have been captured and used; as with the Mississippi Yauger, these would have required a supply of black powder and musket balls.
Given that the year in which this chapter occurred was roughly about 1873, I doubt they had many breechloading trapdoor M1873s; they were just too new, leading me to feel it would be very unlikely that they would have any of these in any numbers. Sure, if Ed wanted an Apache living in the Sierra Madre mountains in 1873 to have the latest and greatest Springfield — which was made in Springfield, Massachusetts, only weeks prior in the same year — he could have contrived to have gotten it into his hands.
He didn’t do any such thing, however, but they did have Springfields, that’s a certainty. How do we know? Because Ed said so. Depending on make and model, the would have been .45, .50 or .58 caliber. Hard. Hitting. Slugs. These calibers don’t play around; these dismember people. When the army went away from the .50 caliber rifle cartridge in favor of the .45, those .50 caliber rifles were turned into buffalo guns and used by hunters. If it would take down a buffalo, it would certainly make a mess of a Mexican cavalryman.
The Peacemaker — Colt’s Single-action Army Model of 1873
It’s true that there were plenty of other revolvers that held six rounds prior to Colt’s Model 1873.
But this is most likely the one Ed is talking about when he says “six-shooter.” This is the iconic — and beautiful — single-action revolver that every cowboy wanted. No, it wasn’t the only side arm in the “cowboy days.” And it certainly wasn’t the cheapest. As is true today, Colts were expensive; they’ve always been pricy. One of these might have set a cowpoke back a month’s wage. So, certainly, some went, “the cheap route” and opted for something more economical. Admittedly, any six-shot revolver could be lumped into the six-shooter category, but when we’re talking six-shot revolvers in the American West, I doubt most conjure images of a Merwin & Bray.
The Mystery Revolver In Chapter V, On the War Trail, we find a scene where the Be-don-ko-he, Shoz Dijiji’s tribe, are stalking a Mexican wagon train filled with goods. Given that Shoz Dijiji is said to be 14, the year is 1877. This is crucial to solving a mystery I discovered in this chapter: With what six-shooter is the Mexican captain of the wagon train armed?
The captain is described as being wary; he constantly scans the desert horizon for signs of Apache, although they have been advised there isn’t an Apache within 300 miles. His wariness will do him no good; his compadres are not nearly vigilant enough, being overly complacent and dooming them all.
The scene which caused me to ponder — and then do some research–is the one where Shoz Dijiji comes into one-on-one conflict with said captain. Shoz is greased for war to make himself slippery to the grasp. He is armed with his fighting knife; the captain is armed with his revolver — a six gun. During the dust-up, the captain discharges his weapon, missing Shoz but deafening him, whereat Shoz immediately stabs the man in the back.
Convulsing, the captain’s hand clenches upon his six-shooter, and discharges it again — harmlessly into the ground. Shoz proceeds to eliminate this enemy of the people with his knife.
That convulsive shot is the mystery.
Having just fired his round and being stabbed the same instant, had he convulsed on the standard six-shooter of the day — say the Colt 1873 mentioned earlier — it would have resulted in exactly nothing. Why? Most revolvers in the world at this time, with the exception of some very rare examples from Europe, were single-action. To fire, the hammer must first be drawn back — cocked — as is the case with the Colt pictured. If a hand, stiffening convulsively from a grievous and agonizing wound, were to clench on the trigger of a single-action that had already been fired, it would accomplish nothing.
So… what was this revolver? Did a double-action revolver (one which can be fired by simply pulling the trigger, which forces the hammer back and releases it with the trigger pull) exist at this time, in the Year of our Lord 1877, which would have allowed a clenching grip to fire the gun spasmodically?
One possibility is the British Bulldog, invented in 1872. But would a Mexican in a wagon train be armed with one? Possible, granted; but not likely. Although they were copied by American manufacturers, this did not occur until the late 19th century — which would be too late to have placed one in our captain’s grip.
Another unlikely candidate is the Beaumont–Adams revolver (no relation that I know of). But, although a six-shooter, it was a cap-and-ball specimen — also unlikely in 1877 where metallic cartridges were prevalent.
Yet another is the French MAS Model of 1873, the first double-action center fire to be adopted by the French Army. But it’s an 11mm chambering — hardly a round to be easily found in the Mexican states in 1877, or indeed, at any time since.
There was also the 1872 Swiss revolver, a six-shot rim fire. It fired a 10.4mm cartridge and was made in small numbers (its numbers only total in the hundreds). Alas, this Swiss also is a highly unlikely candidate. They were made for the Swiss Army in small batch and not exported.
The Starr revolver was a black powder revolver, which would be possible, but doubtful. The same with the Tranter, the Deane and Adams, the Gasser (an 11.3mm of Austrian make that would boggle the mind how it had made it to Mexico and then in the hand of a lowly wagon train captain.)
So… what was this mystery smoke wagon? Did Ed mess up and write a scene that couldn’t have happened? Nah. Read on.
Enter the Colt Model 1877 “Lightning.” Yes, Colt, in the year 1877 — the same year that Shoz Dijiji wrestled with the captain of a Mexican wagon train —introduced it s Model 1877. The term “Lightning” was not a moniker of Colt’s choosing, but rather was applied by someone . . . somewhere. There was also the “Thunderer” and the “Rainmaker,” the name differing based on caliber (.41 Colt and .32 Colt, respectively).
Now, I submit that unusual measures must have taken place to put one of these in the hand of our poor captain. The same year it is manufactured in Hartford, Connecticut, one appears in the hands of a man fated to do honest battle with an Apache youth in the desert. It’s a stretch — but it’s the only realistic candidate out of the available options.
And if we don’t find one that is possible, it would mean the scene was impossible–an error on Ed’s part. I don’t think that’s the case. So, I posit that any other revolver than the “Lightning” is impractical, and that this 1877 Colt makes the scene work. There is zero chance that, at the same instant our captain gets stabbed in the back by Shoz and convulses in pain, that this man might have possibly ignored his suffering and drawn the hammer back on a single-action six gun and then fired a round. No, his hand convulsed in agony and fired a round from a .38 Long Colt “Lightning.” It’s the most plausible answer to be deduced.
One final mention: Burroughs never once mentions the Winchester Model 1873 lever action — another time-honored firearm that, together with the Model 1866 and others, helped tame the Wild West. The Apache were most certainly armed with these, as this photo attests. That’s Geronimo on the right holding a musket of some make. He appears to be holding a ram rod in his left hand. (Editor’s note: Geronimo’s rifle is a M1873 Trapdoor Springfield — 1879 revision. The rod is most likely the cleaning rod). Note that both warriors on the left are armed with Winchesters.
It is better to have less thunder in the mouth, and more lightning in the hand.