The Rifle of Which Mr Henry in St. Louis Built Twelve…

The Rifle of which Mr Henry in St. Louis built twelve …


Excerpt from: The Treasure in Silver-Lake,, and free PDF Karl May and Josiah Gregg

Josiah Gregg’s Commerce of the Prairies was most definitely among May’s sources. See Karl May & Josiah Gregg, free PDF from my website. […] long-term Karl May friend, Philip Colston, pointed out an obscure but very important passage where Josiah Gregg extols the virtues of Colt’s repeating rifle: “All I had to depend upon were my fire-arms, which could hardly fail to produce an impression in my favour; for, thanks to Mr. Colt’s invention, I carried thirty-six charges ready loaded, which I could easily fire at the rate of a dozen per minute. I do not believe that any band of those timorous savages of the western prairies would venture to approach even a single man, under such circumstances. According to an old story of the frontier, an Indian supposed that a white man fired both with his tomahawk and scalping knife, to account for the execution done by a brace of pistols, fifty-six shots discharged in quick succession would certainly overawe them as being the effect of some great medicine.”2

2 Text on pages 56 (Depart to Santa Fe) to 57 (Distances and Directions) of Ch 3, Vol 2 of Commerce of the Prairies , see Appendix of The Treasure in Silver-Lake.

Considering the shape of the Colt’s revolving cartridge chamber (round), and the fancy design of the mechanisms of some of the ‘revolving pistols’, and considering further that the term ‘revolver’, in the sense it is used today, was not in use at the time of Gregg’s adventures, the Colt 1839 Paterson carbine is the most likely model for Karl May’s fanciful 25-shot rifle designed by Mr Henry in St. Louis (Karl May calls his ‘Henry’ a Stutzen, which means carbine).

Some of the passages in Karl May’s Wild West stories are very reminiscent indeed of Gregg’s own remark: “…thanks to Mr. Colt’s invention, I carried thirty-six charges ready loaded…”

It is not a big step from seeing a revolving cylinder shape to envisaging a revolving ball shape, and since Old Shatterhand was bound to have the ‘most famous’ rifle in the West, it could not have been named after Colt, because Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company were far more famous for their pistols; however, Henry was by then the name that attracted all the attention in rifles. Nevertheless, this does not mean that Karl May did not know about Meriwether Lewis’ air rifle, which the

American explorer used on his expedition just as Old Shatterhand used his own ‘magic’ rifle—to enforce peace by demonstration of superior firepower. It is also possible that May had seen a picture of a Colt revolving rifle since it has certain undeniable commonalities with his magic rifle; however, his inspiration to create a rifle with spherical magazine may have come from images of the Colt pistols or the many other revolvers manufactured in the U.S. as well as Europe in emulation of the Colt.

Karl May experimented with a few ‘identities’ of his own ‘Henry’ rifle, so in The Shatters (refer Old Shatterhand, Genesis), for example, he wrote that ‘Jake Hawkins’ from St. Louis had built his ‘Henry’ rifle; or in Old Firehand, he wrote that his ‘Henry’ rifle held ‘twenty-five shots in the butt’, that being a design detail of the Spencer, as well as the Evans rifles, of which the latter held twenty-eight or thirty-four cartridges. Karl May also repeatedly mentioned soft covers that he folded over the rifle, or wrapped the rifle into, in addition to scabbard-like holders. In the short story he initially wrote as the conclusion to the Winnetou trilogy, but which subsequently was too long and became inserted into an Oriental multi-volume saga, he wrote that he folded a cover he himself had fashioned over the rifle. In the same story, two frontiersmen noticed that there was a silver plaque on the rifle with ‘Old Shatterhand’ engraved on it. See Savage To Saint, The Karl May Story, ‘The Rose Of Shiraz’. Because the name ‘Henry’ created an immediate association with the historical firearm of the same name, he also played on the reputation of it, and in a short story called A Devil’s Prank, he says that: “…the Henry rifle caused trepidation through the mere mention of the name,” which mirrors the anecdotal expression attributed to the Confederates who used to call it: “that damned Yankee rifle that they load on Sunday and shoot all week!”

But all the while he describes his ‘Henry’ rifle as a firearm with ‘a peculiar-looking magazine and/or firing mechanism’; in 1880/1, his ‘Henry’ rifle (as well as his revolvers) still had safety mechanisms that others could not fathom or operate, as described in what later became known as Through Wild Kurdistan: “I meant the ‘Henry’ rifle. It, as well as the revolvers, were fitted with a safety mechanism that the man was unable to operate […]” He requested a knife from the antagonist: “…so that I can open the hammer.” […] “I took [the knife], pushed the safety mechanism back with the aid of its tip, although I could have done so with the slightest pressure of my finger […]”—it is also in this story where the cartridges are described as ‘small things’ by the antagonist; and by 1885/86 at the latest, in the story The Last Ride, Karl May’s own image of Old Shatterhand’s unique, famous ‘magic’ rifle began to solidify when he made one of the antagonists belittle the ‘toy’ rifle and say: “That stranger must have had rats in his head. This rifle is nothing but a toy for boys who are learning to parade. One cannot load it; one cannot shoot with it at all. Here is the barrel and there the butt; in between sits a steel sphere with many holes. What is the sphere for? To take the cartridges by chance? One cannot turn it! Where is the hammer? The trigger won’t move. If the person were still alive I would invite him to fire a shot. He would be unable to do so, and would have to be ashamed!” By the time he wrote The Treasure In Silver-Lake, in 1891, he had refined the spherical magazine, lock, and firing mechanism, or rather, he had done so one year earlier already, in a story called Krueger Bei, where he gives a shooting demonstration and turns the sphere continually with his thumb, to advance it and line up the holes that contain the cartridges with the barrel—he repeats the demonstration in the Silver-Lake novel; but Mr Henry, the one who built Shatterhand’s famous ‘magic rifle’ only made an appearance in 1893 for the first time, in Winnetou I. Although the magic rifle carries a famous name, its design is unique and special, as befits so famous and accomplished a frontiersman as Old Shatterhand; and the rifle is the spiritual brother of Winnetou’s silver rifle, just as the two men are blood brothers.

More information about The Story Of Old Shatterhand’s ‘Magic’ Rifle is contained in the PDF on my website.

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