Last week, RCFC member Bob Meroney added to his long list of Rotary speaker credits by presenting “Weapons of the Old West”.  Not only has he studied these handguns and knives, he has built replicas of many.  His talk was illustrated by several of his replicas as well as few videos of guns being fired.  A disclaimer - this review is sadly limited by the absence of these illustrations.
The first “personal” weapons Bob covered (circa 1250) were large and difficult to operate as they were scaled-down artillery pieces.  Bob’s talk focused on the “Old West” pieces starting with the pre-Civil War era pieces and ending with the first cartridge-bullet pistol (the 10 shot Lefaucheux Pinfire).
Firing mechanisms were introduced in the 1400’s.  A good way to follow the technology is to look at the evolution of firing mechanisms – the Match lock, wheel lock, snaphaunce, flint lock and later percussion systems (circa 1805).  An interesting (non-weapon) adaptation was the flint tinder lighter used for lighting candles.
Single shot weapons (Trapper pistol) evolved into multishot pistols. Captain Merriweather Lewis used the Girandoni Air Rifle to impress the many Natives Americans he encountered as he crossed the West in 1804-1806. This air gun (after exhaustive pumping) could fire 40 shots with little smoke and minimal sound.  Variations of multiple shot weapons subsequently used double barrels, twisting barrels and rotation mechanisms.
Gun-knives of various designs were used for close encounters and were used in the Wilkes South Sea expedition to explore the south Pacific, Antarctica, and west coast of North America.  Concealed carry became possible with miniaturization - some for ladies muffs and purses, but also including the weapon used by John Wilkes to assassinate Lincoln.
Colt revolvers became widely available in the mid 1800’s, and the 15 ¾ “ long, 4 ½ pound, 60 powder grain Walker Colt became  standard issue for the Texas Rangers in 1847.  Finally, we saw illustrations of the Bowie Knife and the “Arkansas toothpick”.  During the Q & A these were brandished by our speaker which led this writer to speculate on the relative safety of virtual presentations.