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Lewis and Clark's air rifle
February 27, 2011 10:43 AM   Subscribe

National Firearms Museum credits "parlor trick" for American exploration success. Apparently the 1804-1806 Lewis and Clark expedition carried a single Girandoni air rifle, giving routine demonstrations to the awe and amazement of hostile tribes the entire way.

The 1779 design compressed air in the iron butt stock at 800 psi, charged with a bicycle-type pump requiring over 1500 strokes, and could fire over 20 balls of .46 caliber ammunition in less than a minute, achieving a velocity comparable to a modern .45 caliber pistol. Replicas are claimed to penetrate one inch of pine wood at 100 yards. More air gun history.
posted by Brian B. (46 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
That is tremendously impressive weapons technology for the 18th century. Curious it never took off.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:46 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm guessing that they were in serious danger of shooting someone's eye out, at least that's what Lewis' mother told me.
posted by tomswift at 10:57 AM on February 27, 2011 [17 favorites]


Nobody tell Ashley Cole.
posted by gene_machine at 10:58 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Moriarty's weapon of choice is the "air-rifle": a unique weapon constructed for the Professor by a blind German mechanic (one Mr. von Herder), and used by his employee Colonel Sebastian Moran. It closely resembled a cane, allowing for easy concealment, was capable of firing revolver bullets and made very little noise when fired, making it ideal for sniping. source
posted by warbaby at 10:59 AM on February 27, 2011 [6 favorites]


I read the Lewis and Clark journals a few years back, and do remember them talking about this.

I'm surprised that this is coming across as "news" just now, because Lewis and Clark were quite open with it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:00 AM on February 27, 2011


fascinating, great post. What other oddball forgotten tech lies out on the plains of history? Steam tanks? Wind batteries? Non-wheeled multilegged mechanical transport?
posted by mwhybark at 11:02 AM on February 27, 2011


I've been to the National Firearms Museum; their actual exhibit isn't quite as glib as the video suggests. Lewis and Clark did carry traditional muskets (along with balls and powder) along with the air rifle (of which I think there were two), but used the traditional ones as trading materials. They used the air rifle themselves to hunt food (and occasionally for other purposes, like scaring the natives; presumably its more prosaic uses didn't get recorded as regularly), because it doesn't require any consumable materials. You can keep using it almost forever -- until it wears out, anyway.

Periodically you might have some balls that need to be melted down and reshaped, if they hit a bone in your target, and you might lose a few here and there if you don't recover them (e.g. if you miss), but in general the air rifle is well-suited to an expedition of unknown duration.

What interests and surprises me is that the air rifle didn't become more popular, particularly on the frontier, for the reasons noted. Once you have one, unless you damage it, you're pretty much a self-contained shooting machine. Just a small amount of lead once in a while would be enough to keep someone supplied for food, in a frontier environment with abundant game. It really is a superior technology in many ways to powder-based arms, particularly since it offers a repeating ability that gunpowder arms wouldn't have (reliably and in a production arm) for almost a century. The L&C air rifle was quite ahead of its time in this regard, and I think large-caliber air rifles in general are sort of an interesting technological dead-end.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:04 AM on February 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


fascinating, great post. What other oddball forgotten tech lies out on the plains of history? Steam tanks? Wind batteries? Non-wheeled multilegged mechanical transport?

Someone get me Screw-On Head.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:07 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think the 1500 pumps probably had a lot to do with it's unpopularity. Especially given that the tank would probably leak and it would need to be recharged fairly frequenly.
posted by delmoi at 11:09 AM on February 27, 2011


The problem was that it required a few thousand pumps to charge, and would require constant topping up, as well as maintenance - the intricate arrangement of valves, seals and such were all made of leather and (at the time) very expensive exotic material like rubber, and needed lubrication and regular replacement. The reservoirs were hellaciously expensive to build, and impossible to repair without special tools and training, and the smallest dent could result in an irreparable pinhole leak.

OK for a very well funded expedition, less OK for a hardscrabble homesteader or infantryman.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:13 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think the 1500 pumps probably had a lot to do with it's unpopularity. Especially given that the tank would probably leak and it would need to be recharged fairly frequenly.

The Girandoni link briefly mentions the difficulty in supplying the air reservoirs and the pumps, all parts prone to malfunction it seems. Cost was probably high.
posted by Brian B. at 11:14 AM on February 27, 2011


This might qualify as an example of a tool that's no longer being used, per Kevin Kelly's challenge. Sure air rifles are still made but not for combat.
posted by delmoi at 11:22 AM on February 27, 2011


It isn't really forgotten technology. Airguns survive to this day, from the lowly loy-like Red Ryder BB gun at Walmart, to hunting/target guns costing hundreds, even thousands of dollars, in calibers from BB size up to and beyond .45 caliber. Many are still human powered, but some now rely on things like CO2 cartridges or charging via high pressure scuba tank.

I'm guessing a human powered gun would be vastly preferable for an expedition such as the one Lewis & Clark undertook. Chemical reaction powered guns need gunpowder. One would either have to carry lots of hermetically sealed gunpowder, or be able to brew up gunpowder from scratch. Either scenario makes manual pumping seem a lot more attractive, along with a relatively high rate of fire.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:34 AM on February 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


If I remember correctly, (a) Napoleon Bonaparate got a hate on for the Girandoni and banned it from Europe after he defeated Austria (the main military users), and (b) it was a lot more expensive than the competing black powder musket designs, and required more infrastructure (the pump carts) to support it in military use. The main advantage lay in high rate of fire and not shrouding the users with smoke, but up against superior numbers (with cheaper musketry) it represented a military dead end -- at the time.
posted by cstross at 11:37 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


It seems Crosman just announced a "revolutionary" .357 caliber air gun.
posted by Brian B. at 11:39 AM on February 27, 2011


Weapon listed in Inventory.

cool little presentation.

Interesting, In the Canon, Moran was taking pot shots at Holmes with an air rifle and was quite terrified of them. But the classic snipers lure did the trick.

I recall reading one incident involving the Lakota Sioux were it got quite heated, perhaps the air-rifle saved the day.

Nathaniel Hale Pryor
is of the clav clan. (grandfathers side)
posted by clavdivs at 11:51 AM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just noticed Mock's excellent post on big bore air guns after checking my tags.
posted by Brian B. at 11:57 AM on February 27, 2011


What makes a "hostile" tribe hostile?
When someone wanders in my backyard should I consider him hostile?
posted by Postroad at 12:56 PM on February 27, 2011


Curious it never took off

Size, complexity, and practicality, I would guess. A long-barrel air-rifle will probably have a better accuracy than an equivalent caliber pistol (provided it was an actual rifle, with rifling), but at the same muzzle energies it'd be unusable at longer ranges. And as people have mentioned, the complex valving and charging devices inherent in such a device is more expensive to manufacture and less reliable than gunpowder weapons (firing pin hitting a primer). Some people still swear by revolvers and bolt-action rifles since they don't even trust the gas-powered assemblies in automatics. Finally, size - compressors, tanks, and assorted paraphernalia are big. In fact, to overcome the limitations on power, they'd only have to get bigger and more unwieldy.

Which is to say, also as mentioned above, airguns are still alive and well, in the form of targetshooting and use with small ammunition (which requires less propulsion in the first place).
posted by Tikirific at 12:57 PM on February 27, 2011


What makes a "hostile" tribe hostile?
When someone wanders in my backyard should I consider him hostile?


Clearly not if they "peacefully demonstrate their superior weaponry."
posted by odinsdream at 1:02 PM on February 27, 2011


but at the same muzzle energies it'd be unusable at longer ranges

Huh? For this to be true you have to be assuming that the air rifle will be using a larger bullet (otherwise, given the same projectile, the same muzzle energy would imply the same effective range). It doesn't seem like there's really any reason why that is the case. I assume that the caliber of the Girandoni was chosen based on a range/effectiveness tradeoff; if they had wanted longer range they could have gone for a smaller projectile. But since most game are stalked and taken at relatively close range (<100 yds is what I've heard quoted for whitetail with modern rifles, I'd expect it to be shorter historically) maybe they went with something big and slow intentionally.

The charging (and leakage from the tank) do seem like they might have been major inhibitors to adoption, along with cost, which the repeating ability and ability to function far from supplies of gunpowder weren't enough to justify for most users.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:12 PM on February 27, 2011


Looking at the pouch with the spare reservoirs and tools I can't help thinking I could carry a lot of powder and shot instead. All of which would be a lot more reliable in the field.
posted by happyroach at 1:25 PM on February 27, 2011


Very interesting video. I love Lewis and Clark history. The Stephen Ambrose book that he mentions is a great book.

The video certainly gives a valid explanation for why they were never ambushed. And I am sure it is part of the answer. But I think the full answer is more complex - and I think Ambrose bears out a more complex answer in his book.

There were times during the expedition when all 38 of them were in close quarters with large groups of Indians. A face to face attack could have been over with hatchets before it even started, before anyone in the expedition could get to any gun. Also, no Indian group ever even tested them - attempted an ambush where the Indians had an easy escape route.

Clearly every Indian group that they encountered recognized that these men were extraordinarily powerful - and not just in weaponry, but in medicine and other technology. Indians groups even admired their tracking and hunting skills, and the Indians really knew hunting skills. Lewis and Clark never had to steal local food once, because these guys actually had the kentucky / tennessee / daniel boone style skills to live off land.

Another important issue is their fair dealings and respectful treatment of the Indians. They never insulted or stole from any indian chief. That is very rare among explorers, most explorers killed local chiefs. Lewis and Clark were not conquering anything (what was there to conquer, the US already owned the land) They were not there to take land away from the Indians. They were making maps and doing scientific studies of the area. They would often make rough maps as gifts for the Indians, giving the Indians the first maps of the area they ever had. And sometimes they shared other scientific information, like some local plant having a particular medical use.

No other explorers really behaved the way Lewis and Clark did. Another example is Sacagewa. Nearly all explorers had a local guide. The vast majority were in held as slaves in chains. Lewis and Clark's local guide became an advisor who was treated with respect. When they arrived in some area, and Sacagewa was the only one who could communicate with the Indians, she never talked trash behind their back.

Weapons are certainly part of the answer as to how that small group of explorers survived - but I think there is more to it. I think it is a complex mix of many reasons, and like Ambrose says, ultimately we will never really know how they did it.
posted by Flood at 1:35 PM on February 27, 2011 [12 favorites]


Huh? For this to be true you have to be assuming that the air rifle will be using a larger bullet...

Ah, I realize that sentence was unclear; I meant that with similar muzzle energies as .45 ACP (a pistol round fired from a pistol), it'd be equally unusable at range as a pistol. Which is to say, this goes back to size - you have the accuracy and range of a pistol on a platform that is as large as a rifle (well, slightly more accurate since you have more barrel to work with). You're right, to increase that range you can use a smaller round at higher velocity, but equivalent muzzle energy.

I'm no expert at hunting, but I understand that hunting deer is typically done with .30-06 or 00 buckshot (12 gauge), both of which are considerably bigger rounds than .45 ACP or .46 ball (as used with L&K's air rifle). I would think to propel these rounds at typical distances for hunting, you need a chemical propellant.
posted by Tikirific at 1:41 PM on February 27, 2011


Argh, also unclear. To propel the LARGER rounds at typical distances for hunting. My grammar is terrible today.
posted by Tikirific at 1:44 PM on February 27, 2011


This should be the very first thing they teach kids when they get to the "Lewis and Clark" chapter of their history books.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:45 PM on February 27, 2011


A lot of current airgun technology exists to get around gun restrictions in South American countries. There are a lot of hunting airguns used there, including shotguns and an interesting arrow-firing big game...rifle?.
posted by 445supermag at 1:47 PM on February 27, 2011


This is really interesting, but the "Perception of peace through superior firepower" thing kind of gives me the willies.
posted by TheCoug at 2:11 PM on February 27, 2011


Is anyone else getting a Chris Farley vibe from Phil in this video?
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 2:17 PM on February 27, 2011


This is really interesting, but the "Perception of peace through superior firepower" thing kind of gives me the willies.

It's an interesting anecdote wrapped up in a lot of heavy-handed political posturing.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:18 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


To appreciate the power and beauty which can be part of modern air rifles, you really need to take a look at the work of Gary Barnes at Barnes Pneumatic. Phenomenal stuff.
posted by Shadan7 at 2:40 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Related: Whatever happens, we have got / the Maxim Gun, and they have not.

Henry Stanley brought a Maxim Gun - an early form of machine gun - into darkest Africa with him on one of his expeditions, with great fanfare. However, taking a fickle prototype machine gun on a boddy, rough, filthy thousand-mile cross-continental jungle hike made about as much sense as bringing, say, a new MacBook Pro. The thing gummed up with great regularity and was much more useful for impressing the locals when it did work than actual fighting emergencies, when it usually wouldn't.
posted by bicyclefish at 2:56 PM on February 27, 2011


It's an interesting anecdote wrapped up in a lot of heavy-handed political posturing.

Gotta agree. The story is news to me and I actually can see how a gun like that could have bought L&C a little added respect.

However to me, the level of over-interpretation as to the significance of a single piece of technology is absurd. I have no idea how close L&C were to ever teetering on the brink of being slaughtered by any given band of natives. But to think that an ingenious Italian concoction of wood, steel and compressed air is what ultimatly saw the party through gives too little respect to the character of men and women involved on both sides of that equation.
posted by DavidandConquer at 3:22 PM on February 27, 2011


Actually, 30-06 is around .30 inch across, where a .45 round is closer to .45 of an inch - rifle bullets are generally narrower than pistol bullets, but they're longer and the cartridge packs a lot more powder. Modern assault rifles shoot smaller bullets still, .225 of an inch.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:34 PM on February 27, 2011


What ahistorical crap this video is.

to the awe and amazement of hostile tribes

This pisses me off. If the tribes were actually hostile, the expedition would have been a lot shorter. With a few exceptions the native peoples decided not only to allow the expedition to cross their lands but went out of their way to help the explorers. Without native food, moccasins and other clothing, native knowledge that was freely shared, and native groups telling one another "these guys are harmless, let them through," the Corps would never have made it.

Oh sure the expedition mixed it up with the Blackfeet and nearly with some Lakota, but the hundreds of peaceful exchanges are far more typical.

the level of over-interpretation as to the significance of a single piece of technology is absurd

Amen. If I remember right the rifle was not actually used very often for hunting. It was rather part of a dog-and-pony show the explorers would put on in native villages in what seems to have been a not-very-effective attempt to awe Indians who already knew a lot about Euroamerican technology. (Every Indian village along the route included individuals who had already met and traded with whites, on either the plains or the pacific coast.) Far from our vision of awestruck natives, the Indians along the route had been expecting the explorers or someone like them for decades.

So the explorers tried extra hard to get the surprised reaction that they had expected. They'd come out with the air rifle, the compass, even move around an iron object with a magnet hidden under a sheet of paper. One time Clark (I think) surreptitiously threw a piece a cannon fuse in an Indian campfire to try and convince them he was powerful.

The Stephen Ambrose book that he mentions is a great book.

No, it is plagiarized, hero-worshiping shit. Ambrose stole page after page from Jim Ronda (Lewis and Clark Among the Indians) and from James Logan Allen. And unlike those authors Ambrose understood nothing about the Indians so they come off as two-dimensional and superstitious.

Clearly every Indian group that they encountered recognized that these men were extraordinarily powerful

No, but they recognized them as representatives of a nation that was powerful.

They never insulted or stole from any indian chief.

They were generally fine diplomats, but did steal a canoe when they went back up the Columbia and could have avoided the fight with the Blackfeet with a bit better diplomacy.

That is very rare among explorers, most explorers killed local chiefs.

What?!

They would often make rough maps as gifts for the Indians, giving the Indians the first maps of the area they ever had.

No, the opposite, the Indians drew maps for the explorers. Time and time again the journals refer to some Indian sketching a map in the sand for the explorers. Keep in mind that L&C mostly stuck to the banks of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. Yet they came back with detailed maps of the country for miles on either side. All of the map details that could not have been seen from the river represent Indian knowledge collected in this way.

No other explorers really behaved the way Lewis and Clark did. Another example is Sacagewa. Nearly all explorers had a local guide. The vast majority were in held as slaves in chains. Lewis and Clark's local guide became an advisor who was treated with respect. When they arrived in some area, and Sacagewa was the only one who could communicate with the Indians, she never talked trash behind their back.


No explorer had chained guides. Sacagawea was not a guide, but the expedition did employ native guides such as Twisted Hair for some portions. Sacagawea helped translate with the Shoshoni but not otherwise that I recall. And we certainly have no idea what she said about the explorers to other natives.

Finally, Lewis and Clark are not particularly significant in American history. They failed in their mission to find a practical water route to the Pacific because no such route existed. In fact their route was either 1) already known (the Missouri River) or 2) a poor route (across the mountains). They did not make a strong came to the northwest, it was American settlement in the 1840s that did that. Their "scientific" contributions were mere 19th century cataloging. And Americans were surging west anyway.
posted by LarryC at 6:28 PM on February 27, 2011 [15 favorites]


Lot's of Lewis and Clark mis-information in this thread. LarryC corrects some of it, but it's probably good to know the history before commenting on it. One of the best current resources is the multi-volume Nebraska Editions of the Lewis and Clark Journals edited by Gary E. Moultan. Expensive, but considered to the be the most accurate editions ever published.
posted by jgaiser at 6:46 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you click on Jgaiser;s link you can read all of the journals. Keep in mind however that what he explorer's wrote is only one side of the story. For the native point-of-view see James Ronda's magnificent Lewis and Clark Among the Indians, which challenges readers to understand the expedition "from the bank, rather than from the boat."
posted by LarryC at 8:07 PM on February 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the link jgaiser. I used it to investigate my previous summary of the video against LarryC's quote: "If the tribes were actually hostile, the expedition would have been a lot shorter." Other than the faulty reasoning in that quote, it only took me a few minutes to permanently doubt it, I wasn't even looking forward to it.

....Clark, for example, used words like "vilenous [sic], hostile, and treacherous" to describe the Teton Sioux, who "ill treated us." [35].

...But buffalo and horse plains people like the Sioux and Assiniboins held a very different place in the explorers' mind. Those tribes were viewed as hostile, unreliable, and innately violent.

Most encounters were peaceful, but that's counting backwards and romanticizing the tension to the point of revisionism. The expedition never dropped their guard, and were keenly aware of their fame as white explorers, and they seemed to be promising trade on a scale that threatened inter-tribal patterns, all because they were bearing gifts. One passage made it very clear that the Shoshonis didn't want to accompany them on an early section of the journey for fear of being ambushed by three separate enemies, and they were the peaceful ones.

Finally, this quote from LarryC seems to be dead wrong: "It was rather part of a dog-and-pony show the explorers would put on in native villages in what seems to have been a not-very-effective attempt to awe Indians who already knew a lot about Euroamerican technology"

In fact, the video was correct that the air gun was mentioned dozens of times in their journals, and the common word to describe their awe and amazement was "astonished." As in, "after all was over our Capts. Shot the air Gun. they appeared to be astonished at the Site of it & the execution it would doe." Below are two more examples:

...and at one time there was about 37 of those people in Camp Capt Lewis fired his Air gun which astonished them in Such a manner that they were orderly and kept at a proper distance dureing the time they Continued with him—

....I also shot my air-gun which was so perfectly incomprehensible that they immediately denominated it the great medicine. the idea which the indians mean to convey by this appellation is something that eminates from or acts immediately by the influence or power of the great sperit; or that in which the power of god is manifest by it's incomprehensible power of action.

I don't doubt Larry's larger point of course, but I wasn't making it. The recorded facts seem to bear out the great impression the air gun had on those people. I can see how people who curate weapons and who understand how new weapons tip the balance of power can make the connections they made with very little problem.
posted by Brian B. at 9:13 PM on February 27, 2011


Actually, 30-06 is around .30 inch across, where a .45 round is closer to .45 of an inch - rifle bullets are generally narrower than pistol bullets, but they're longer and the cartridge packs a lot more powder. Modern assault rifles shoot smaller bullets still, .225 of an inch.

Yeah, I was referring to the length of the bullet and assumed it'd also be a more massive (weightier) bullet, but I looked up grains on the cartridges later and turns out .45 ACP actually comes in a lot of weights (including 200+ grain).

Still, the muzzle energies are of course much higher on rifle cartridges. Even the .223 has higher energies by a factor of 4 vs. pistol/the Girandoni.
posted by Tikirific at 9:48 PM on February 27, 2011


Brian: Sure Clark had a poor opinion of the Lakota who attempted to resist the penetration of the Americans. That is one tribe, out of the dozens the explorers met.

Most encounters were peaceful, but that's counting backwards and romanticizing the tension to the point of revisionism.

I don't quite understand what you mean there, but it seems to me that I am counting forwards. My larger point is that L&C were hardly wilderness explorers, there was no wilderness, they traveled along well-worn and sometimes populous native trade routes and dealt with Indians who were themselves well-traveled, connected to continental trading system, and well-informed about the historical changes happening on the continent.

Yes, the explorers said the Indians were amazed. Columbus wrote that the Indians called out that he was a god--though he did not understand the Indians language and had no interpreter on that first journey. Whit explorers were forever writing stuff like that. But how exactly did Lewis know that a given Indian was "much astonished" or whatever? Look at the native actions following one of these dog and pony shows. They usually turn to the sort of trade and diplomacy they would have with any other party of white traders. So where is the influence of the miraculous gun?

I have no doubt that the Indians were interested in and perhaps even impressed by this new technology. But the stereotypical view of the dusky natives standing dumbfounded by the awesome white man is both offensive and historically unsupported.
posted by LarryC at 11:38 PM on February 27, 2011


They usually turn to the sort of trade and diplomacy they would have with any other party of white traders. So where is the influence of the miraculous gun?

I have no doubt that the Indians were interested in and perhaps even impressed by this new technology. But the stereotypical view of the dusky natives standing dumbfounded by the awesome white man is both offensive and historically unsupported.


This, the 'native' astonished at meeting the 'white man', is one of the many parts of the Lewis and Clark narrative that I never really got. Europeans had been traveling throughout North America for a couple hundred years by this point. Even if the various indigenous peoples they met had not yet seen any bona fide 'Europeans', I'd be very surprised if any had not at least heard about them. The ways in which the journey of Lewis and Clark gets put to work to sell different ideologies is pretty interesting but always frustrates me from getting any real sense of what the hell it must have been like. They did make a big trip and met a lot of people but the narrative of it always seems like it's getting bent into a specific political tool. As a mental exercise, imagine taking the story of (say) Ernest Shackelton (Antartic Explorer) and turning it into a narrative supportive of England's right to own Antartica. (That's right, ignoring Amundsen). It's a weird thing, the story of Lewis and Clark - almost as though it does not matter that they actually made the trip, just how it's talked about afterwards.

Like in this video: 'The big guns subdued the simple people' and 'without these here guns, America would not exist' is pretty bald political-stumping and almost manages to overshadow the story of a very cool, interesting and innovative backwater in the history of weaponry.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:44 AM on February 28, 2011


It was rather part of a dog-and-pony show the explorers would put on in native villages in what seems to have been a not-very-effective attempt to awe Indians who already knew a lot about Euroamerican technology.

No. It was far in advance of anything they had seen from the Spanish, French or British - in modern terms, it would be like whipping out a mini-gun and pruning a few trees with it. It was within the realm of contemporary technology, but expensive and difficult to maintain, and all but unheard of outside Europe.

It would have impressed the hell out of Colonial garrisons, nevermind native communities.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:24 AM on February 28, 2011


There used to be offered for sale a fully auto BB gun that was powered by 1lb R12 Freon canisters.
posted by Daddy-O at 7:07 AM on February 28, 2011


In fact, the video was correct that the air gun was mentioned dozens of times in their journals, and the common word to describe their awe and amazement was "astonished." As in, "after all was over our Capts. Shot the air Gun. they appeared to be astonished at the Site of it & the execution it would doe."

In the first place -- isn't EVERYONE "astonished" when they see some really cool technology in action which they haven't ever seen before? "Astonished" doesn't necessarily mean "ooh, these people are far superior to us". It could simply mean, "....whoa. Dudes, come check out the thing this white guy's got -- what'll you see what it can do." Hell, I did that with my friend's Droid when he first got one and showed me it has a constellation-finder app that syncs to GPS.

In the second place -- the link in question was produced by the company that made the gun. I suspect they've puffed up the gun's importance just a tad.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:48 AM on February 28, 2011


happyroach : Looking at the pouch with the spare reservoirs and tools I can't help thinking I could carry a lot of powder and shot instead. All of which would be a lot more reliable in the field.

The reliability of firearms really was a bit of a gamble until the invention of the percussion cap around 1830, more than 20 years after the expedition. Add to that the ability to have an extremely high rate of fire and you can begin to see why the Girandoni started to make sense as a tool in the kit. Maybe not the only tool, but certainly an important one.
posted by quin at 9:06 AM on February 28, 2011


This, the 'native' astonished at meeting the 'white man', is one of the many parts of the Lewis and Clark narrative that I never really got. Europeans had been traveling throughout North America for a couple hundred years by this point. Even if the various indigenous peoples they met had not yet seen any bona fide 'Europeans', I'd be very surprised if any had not at least heard about them.

Exactly right. Every village on L&C's route had heard of white people, contained Euroamerican trade goods (which L&C noted in their journals) and was inhabited by at least a few individuals who had previously met white people while on trading journeys of their own, either to the plains of the coast. Furthermore they were aware of the historical process of white people coming westward and knew specifically what opportunities and dangers came with the process. Iroquois Indians involved in the fur trade had penetrated the Pacific Northwest at least a generation in advance of L&C and settled among the northwest tribes--think of the history lessons they would have provided!

Sorry to be so pedantic guys, but this is exactly my scholarly field and my wife is sick of hearing about it.
posted by LarryC at 9:22 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


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