107. Doorstop alarm-5 /4" overall/ Dr. W. R. Funderburg collection.
108. Doorstop alarm/ Governor Gordon Persons collection.
111. Gendarme alarm-7" overall/ Eddie Reider collection.
An unusual Belgian alarm gun marked LE GENDARME is in figure 111. This has in.back of the hammer a turntable with four arms. Three of the arms have cords tied to them. These cords are run out in different directions and secured. The fourth arm may be swung over the end of the hammer to hold it at full cock. This arm will be dislodged and the hammer tripped if an intruder runs foul of any cord and puts strain on it. Release of the hammer fires a 12 gauge center-fire shell. The barrel is held to the frame by a stout pin which when removed permits removal of the barrel for loading. The gun is fastened immovably, so no pull on the cords will move it.
If an intruder happens to be in the line of fire he may be hit by a charge from one of these alarm guns, but the alarm gun will not move around to take aim. Most trap guns, however, will do just that. At least, with the victim's unwilling co-operation they will point the barrels toward the intruder and fire when on the target.
Illustration 112 shows an English flintlock trap gun of a type well established and very unpopular a hundred and fifty years ago. Unpopular, that is, with the intended victims, poachers and grave robbers. The metal parts of such guns were all about on the same pattern, as were the two-piece wooden mounts. The wood casing afforded some protection against the weather, and in addition there was usually a metal cover over the lock, to keep the priming powder dry. In England the setting of these trap guns was forbidden by law in 1827, according to J. N. George in English Guns & Rifles.
The gun was set up on a wooden base which had a hole bored in it to receive a loosely fitted pin attached to the under part of the stock. The gun was left free to rotate, and could have the muzzle elevated or depressed slightly by means of a screw fastening. The gun was fired when the cocked hammer was released by a pull on the long rod under the stock. At the end of the rod there are three rings, from each of which a wire was run and attached to some stationary object close to the ground. Such a line was called a spring, and from that came „spring gun", the usual name in England for one of these trap or set guns. The three wires spread out to encompass a rather small arc of a circle. The tightening of a line when a poacher tripped on it would swing the gun on the target and then fire it. This particular mantrap gun has a safety, which is not commonly found on these pieces. The safety is of the simplest, being just a hook that may be turned to prevent the forward motion of the rod which acts as a trigger.
A rare book, Diary of a Resurrectionist 1811-1812, by James Blake Bailey, in the Medical Library of King's College, Newcastle upon Tyne, attests that spring guns were set in attempts to prevent grave robbers stealing bodies to sell to anatomists. To quote Mr. Bailey - „Besides watching, many other devices were tried to prevent the depredations of the resurrection-men; spring guns were set in many of the cemeteries but these were often rendered harmless. If the men intended going to a certain grave at night, late in the afternoon a woman, in deep mourning, would walk round the part of the cemetery in which the grave was situated, and contrive to detach the wires from the guns."
Many different designs of trap guns have been marketed. Some have sold widely. All are designed to fire at any marauder who disturbs a stretched cord, or bait. Usually only one cord or wire is used. Otherwise the various traps differ but slightly in manner of operation from the flint piece just described.
A fine early seventeenth century wheel lock trap gun, of which very few good examples exist, is shown in illustration 113. This German ambush gun was intended to guard the treasure room or to protect the home. A hole in the stock near the butt permitted fastening to a post or other base. The excellent lock is equipped with a set trigger. This trigger may be touched off either by a pull on a wire that runs through the stock, or by pressure on a rod that runs under the stock. This is a powerful piece, with a bore of about .75 caliber.
A French trap gun, commonly called a „chicken thief gun", is shown in figure 114. This is flintlock, all steel, marked REGNIER, and may be fastened by its clamp to any suitable support. It is not intended to have the freedom of movement of most trap guns, as it is pointed at the door or window to which the cord is attached and through which the thief is expected to try to make his entrance. Illustration 115 shows a similar but later all-metal „chicken thief gun". This uses pin-fire cartridges. Both guns have triggers that may be set to trip the hammers at the lightest touch. The set screw for the flint gun goes through the trigger guard, while that for the pin-fire goes through the bar under the barrel. An unusual feature of the pin-fire is that the stretched cord goes around a little wheel under the muzzle and up to the long bar, so the gun is discharged by the bar's being pulled down rather than out. It is clear that both of these guns could be used as conventional pocket pistols.
An all-brass gun that may be called a mantrap cannon is shown in figure 116. This uses a pin-fire cartridge of about .70 caliber, and is secured by a 21/2" wood screw, pointing at you in the illustration. The breech piece turns on a pivot for loading. The striker is attached directly to the mainspring. The striker may be held cocked by the short end of a pivoted arm until that arm is disturbed by strain on a cord attached to the long end of the arm. The gun is shown cocked, with the breech open.
The bronze percussion cap two-barrel trap gun in illustration 117 is shown as seen from above when the horseshoe frame is set on a horizontal base. The post in the center is hollow. Supposedly, it fits over a pin in the base so the gun may rotate. A pull on a cord attached to a rod running midway between the barrels will swing the barrels in line with the target and then release the cocked hammers. The illustration shows one hammer cocked, with the nipple not yet capped, but it is likely that both hammers would usually be cocked and both barrels fired together. This gun bears a partly obliterated name and date. I found no record of a patent. Of course, I could have missed it.
117. „Horse shoe" gun/ Eddie Reider collection.
118. Group Reuthe trap guns/ Eddie Reider collection.
It is not unusual to find names and dates, and sometimes „Patent applied for" or even „Patented" on odd firearms for which the inventor never succeeded in obtaining a patent. The remaining illustrations and descriptions in this chapter are of more-or-less successful trap guns for which United States patents were granted.
Each of the four different percussion cap trap pistols on plate 118 is marked F. REUTHE'S PATENT. The one at the bottom, with the spring compressed, is in before-firing position. The three others, with their barbs thrown wide, are in after-firing position. Each trap gun has two barrels firing together, one at either side of a tube into which the two-pronged barbed spring is forced back when the trap is set. These trap guns, made of iron, have barrels from 31/2" to 5" in length, with calibers from .28 to .50.
Large quantities of trap pistols were made in Hartford, Connecticut, under Mr. Reuthe's patent #17,297, of May 12, 1857. Some were marked with the place of manufacture and/or the patent date in addition to the maker's name.
Most of these harrowing devices, referred to in the patent papers as „Jaw Traps", or „Traps for Capturing and Destroying Wild Animals", were constructed with nipples at right angles to the barrels and were cocked by pulling down a heavy mainspring located under the barrels. The one at the top of the illustration has nipples in line with the barrels and is cocked by pulling back a heavy striker. The second from the top has a screwed-in pistol grip which may be replaced with the regulation ringed-end rod designed to fasten the piece to a tree or stake.
In operation, bait was fastened to „the peculiar sliding and expanding springs". These springs were pressed back into the tube between the barrels where they would engage the hammer when the latter was cocked. With the trap baited, the barrels loaded, the nipples capped, and the hammers cocked, „The victim seizes the bait and pulling it to devour it, the springs . . . slide forward . . . the hammers fall forcibly, . . . discharging the balls down the throat, at the same instant the springs expand in the animal's mouth the barbs and fangs hold him fast".
Mr. George Smith obtained patent #32,539 on June 11, 1861, for an invention he described as a „Combined Burglar-Alarm and Animal-Trap". The example shown in illustration 119 is all iron and has three muzzle-loading .34 caliber barrels bored side by side and parallel. Vents lead from the single nipple to all three barrels, so detonation of a cap fires the three charges in unison. Mr. Smith's patent drawing shows a single barrel gun, but Mr. Smith states, „a plurality of barrels may be used".
With the wood screw properly secured the barrels have a traverse of about 120°. As Mr. Smith points out, bait may be attached to the wire loop at the muzzle, if the device is used as an animal trap, or, if it is used as a burglar alarm, cords may be run from the loop to one or more doors or windows.
On June 28, 1859, John O. Couch and Henry S. North obtained patent #24,573 for an invention they described as a „GameShooter". Two of these percussion cap trap guns are shown in figures 120 and 121.
This product of Connecticut is said to have found favor in Australia, for trapping kangaroos. It is much like the Reuthe, illustration 118, in operation, except that it does not use the barbed springs. Bait was attached close in front of the muzzle by a short cord. The gun was suspended by a cord or chain running from a branch of a tree to the eye on the backstrap. The gun was pointed and fired when the unfortunate animal took the bait. The cylinder has six barrels, bored either parallel or spreading slightly apart at the muzzle. There is one nipple only. Fire from an exploded cap passes through the nipple and around an annular channel so all six barrels are discharged practically simultaneously. Either of the guns illustrated may be fired by pulling the trigger or by pulling the rod whose end protrudes at the muzzle. The small and scarce one has a conventional hammer. The larger one-the one much more frequently foundhas a large round sliding striker.
These North and Couch guns could of course be used as hand guns either for self-defense or murder, but any one who reads inventors' patent specifications will realize all inventors are convinced that hand guns will serve no purpose but self-defense.
Mr. George Pratt obtained patent #290,605 on December 18, 1883, for an invention he described as an „efficient fire-arm for protecting orchards and vineyards from the depredations of animals and thieves". This all-metal percussion cap device, illustration 122, has two 4" barrels of about .38 caliber which are fastened together so they converge slightly at the muzzle. The barrel assembly has an underneath stud to be slipped into a bearing on a platform base so the gun may rotate full circle.
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