Heritage, 2011, Volume 1 Page: 31
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trary to popular belief, the most common firearm by far in
America was, and probably still is, the shotgun.
Early shotguns like the Spanish Escopeta and the British
Blunderbuss had single barrels, but in the late 18th century
the double barrel shotgun was perfected. This firearm had
two barrels arranged side by side with a separate lock for
each barrel so that they could be fired individually. This gave
the shooter the distinct advantage of an immediate second
shot without having to reload or reposition the gun.
Until the 1860s, shotguns were loaded from the muzzle
with powder and shot; the advent of the breech-loading
firearm meant that the shotgun could be loaded from the
rear using self-contained ammunition or shotgun shells.
Fixed ammunition allowed for the development of repeating
shotguns in the 1880s and semi-automatic shotguns by 1900.
Despite these advances, the double barrel shotgun is still in
use today, having survived for more than 200 years.
A double barrel percussion shotgun, with shortened barrels for use on
In the early 19th century, master gun makers in England
made the highest quality double barrel shotguns. Some of
these manufacturers, such as James Purdey & Sons of Lon-
don, are still in business today.
Initially a flintlock was used on shotguns, but by 1826
the percussion cap ignition was adopted for use by all Brit-
ish gunsmiths. The flintlock produced ignition by flint
striking steel, but the percussion cap produced ignition by
the hammer's impact on a copper cap filled with fulminate
of mercury. This advance allowed for a more efficient de-
sign of the gun and resulted in a sleek, lighter-weight weap-
on that was easier to handle and more reliable. The faster
ignition of the caplock made it easier to shoot birds on the
wing, and a new method of bird hunting was born, known
as wing shooting. It was then possible to hit a moving target
with a lightweight, well-balanced caplock shotgun.
At the Battle of San Jacinto in April 1836, Mirabeau
Lamar carried a shotgun made by Richard Hollis of Lon-
don, now on display at the Bob Bullock Texas State His-
tory Museum in Austin. Lamar paid more than $300 for
this firearm in 1834. The Richard Hollis shotgun pictured
below is nearly identical to Lamar's weapon and was once
owned by Captain William Ware, who also fought at San
Jacinto and founded Waresville (now Utopia), Texas in
1852. Richard Hollis made the most advanced guns of his
time, and those who owned his guns had the best available.
A double barrel, breech-loading shotgun.
Texas history is full of references to the use of shotguns.
These firearms not only provided food and protection for
civilians but were also used effectively by Texan fight-
ing forces. During the Sibley Expedition to capture New
Mexico for the Confederacy in 1862, the 4th, 5th, and 7th
Texas Mounted Volunteers referred to themselves as "The
Texas Mounted Shotguns." At the Battle of Val Verde,
New Mexico, in February 1862, Texas Cavalry captured
Captain Alexander McCrea's artillery, prompting General
Sibley to say that it was "the first time in military history
that cannons were captured by shotguns."
In addition to its use by fighting forces, the double bar-
reled shogun and the rifle were also the primary weap-
ons of choice for law officers and railroad and stagecoach
guards. The term riding shotgun referred to the guard that
rode next to the coach driver and carried a shotgun loaded
with buckshot for close-range defense. In a confrontation
with outlaws, peace-keeping officers on the frontier, including
sheriffs and Rangers, relied on the added firepower that a double
barrel shotgun provided.
On many occasions I am asked to identify old family
guns, and most often that firearm turns out to be a shot-
gun. Whether an inexpensive single barrel shotgun pur-
chased by families going west or an expensive English dou-
ble barrel shotgun, these firearms were the preferred weapon
of the people who pioneered and civilized this nation.
Tom Power, of Utopia, researches, collects, and sells antique
and historical firearms. All photos are courtesy of the author.
Volume 1 2011 1 TEXAS HERITAGE 31
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2011, Volume 1, periodical, 2011; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254220/m1/31/: accessed June 22, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.