In 1960’s The Alamo, Jim Bowie used a seven-barrel pepperbox rifle. Did such a gun exist? And did the real Bowie have one?

atm-logoIn 1960’s The Alamo, Jim Bowie used a seven-barrel pepperbox rifle. Did such a gun exist? And did the real Bowie have one?

Joe “Doc” Amason
Delano, California

You’re referring to the .52 caliber Nock gun. This seven-barreled flintlock smoothbore firearm, invented by James Wilson in 1779 and produced by Henry Nock, was intended for snipers in the rigging of ships to allow them to fire volleys onto the decks of enemy ships in close-quarter fighting.

Unlike a pepperbox, which is a multiple-barrel repeating firearm, a volley gun fires all the barrels simultaneously. The recoil of shooting seven barrels at once was enough to break a man’s shoulder. It could also set the sails on fire. In short, the Nock gun wasn’t a practical weapon for use in combat.

Richard Widmark’s Jim Bowie did use one, but that was pure Hollywood. The defenders of the Alamo relied on their long-barreled rifles to hold Antonio López de Santa Anna’s army at bay for 13 days. Bowie, sick and confined to his bed, could never have managed to fire the heavy Nock gun.

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Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone.

If you have a question, write:  Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu

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