A Formidable Weapon
In the summer and fall of 1875 circulars were scattered broadcast
over the country, and advertisements appeared in the weekly
editions of several leading papers of New York City and other large
towns, setting forth the rare merits of a weapon of destruction
called "Allan's New Low-Priced Seven-Shooter." As a specimen of
ingenious description, the more salient parts of the circular are
"In introducing this triumph of mechanical genius to the American
public, it is proper to say that it is not an entirely new article,
but that it has lately been improved in appearance, simplicity of
construction, and accuracy, having new points of excellence, making
it superior in many respects to those first made. The
manufacturers having improved facilities for making them cheaply
and rapidly, have reduced the price to one dollar and fifty cents;
and while the profits on a single one are necessarily small, this
price places them within the reach of all.
"We wish it distinctly understood that this is no cheap, good-for-
nothing 'pop-gun'; and while none can expect it to be 'silver-
mounted' for $1.50, they have a right to expect the worth of their
money, and in this new improved seven-shooter a want is supplied.
"Great care is taken in the adjustment of EACH, so that ALL are
equally good and reliable. In their production no trouble or
expense has been spared. An elaborate and complete set of
machinery and gauges has been made, by means of which all the parts
are produced exactly alike, thus insuring great uniformity in the
character of the work produced."
This remarkable implement, equally useful for peace or war, is
offered to an eager public at the low price of $1.50 each, or $13
per dozen. On the score of cheapness, the inventor greatly prefers
the mails to the express as a vehicle for the transport of his
wares. In fact, he declines to patronize the express companies at
all, unless a prepayment of twenty-five per cent, accompanies each
order as a guaranty of the "purchaser's good faith."
At first the enterprise succeeded even beyond the most sanguine
expectations of its projector, letters with the cash inclosed
pouring in by the hundred. For several months, however, after the
first publication of the advertisement, "this triumph of mechanical
genius," though "not an entirely new article," existed only in the
comprehensive brain of the gentleman who had the greatness to
discern in the imperfect work of predecessors the germs of ideal
perfection. Having no seven-shooters to send, he was compelled to
dishonor the requisitions of the expectant "traveler, sailor,
hunter, fisherman, etc." While careful to lay aside the
inclosures, he entirely forgot even to so far remember his patrons
as to make a record of their names.
In due time, however, the "factory" went into operation, and the
seven-shooters were actually produced. The mechanical "triumph,"
rudely made of a cheap metal composition, is a duplicate of a toy
long used by boys to the delight of each other, and to the
annoyance of their elders. The propulsive power resides in a steel
spring, which has force enough to send a bird-shot across a good-
sized room. The outfit would cost perhaps six or eight cents to
the manufacturer. A portion of the orders were now filled, the
greater part being still thrown unhonored into the waste-basket as
Curses both loud and deep began to be showered on the head of the
swindler. Complaints having reached the department, special agent
C. E. Henry started to hunt for "Wilcox & Co.," of Windsor, Ohio,
for such was the direction in the advertisements and on the
circular. Proceeding several miles from the nearest railroad, he
found the rural settlement where the factory was supposed to be
Guided by various inquiries, he finally drove up to the small farm-
house where the parents of Wilcox & Co. resided. On entering, the
officer said, "I am in search of Mr. Wilcox, of the firm of Wilcox
"I am your man," remarked a youth, perhaps twenty-two years of age,
whose countenance at once suggested acuteness and cunning. "What
will you have?"
"I would like to take a look about the arsenal and gun-factory
located here," replied the detective, leisurely surveying the
"The works are in Cleveland," answered the great inventor. "You
can see them by calling there."
"But where is the arsenal? I understand it was situated here."
"Your information is correct," replied the young man. "That is it,
across the road."
Casting his eye in the direction indicated, the officer saw a
rickety woodshed about seven feet by nine in size.
Observing the smile of amused incredulity that played upon the
features of his questioner, Wilcox reiterated, with an air of half
"That's it. We keep our seven-shooters there. But look here;
before this thing goes any further, I want to know who you are."
"Oh, certainly, sir," answered the stranger. "You will find
nothing about me that I care to keep concealed. I am a special
agent of the post-office department, and my business here is to
"Why, what have I done to warrant such a visit?" queried youthful
"I shall be happy to make that point clear to you," replied the
detective, "though I am afraid the enlightenment will come too late
to prove of much service to you. In using the mails for the
purpose of swindling, you have violated the laws of the country,
and must suffer the penalty."
"But where does the swindling come in?" expostulated Wilcox. "I
advertised a seven-shooter. I didn't say anything about a
revolver. It will shoot seven shot, or twice that number, if you
only put them in. If anybody is green enough to suppose I meant a
revolver, that's his lookout, not mine."
"We are not called upon to decide the point," said the special
agent. "The question is one for the court and the jury. But you
must go with me to Cleveland. So get ready."
Finding persuasion, argument, and remonstrance alike useless, the
great mechanical genius packed his satchel in preparation for the
journey. Once fairly on the road, he became communicative, and
explained the reasons which led him to embark in the enterprise.
"In the first place," said he, "I read Barnum's Life, and accepted
the doctrine that the American people like to be humbugged. I
planned the shooter myself, and, in wording the circular, aimed to
cover the points and keep within the law. I think I have
"I beg leave to differ," argued the special agent. "Aside from the
general falsity of the description, there are specific claims which
you cannot make good."
"I don't see the matter in that light," replied the champion of the
seven-shooter. "I say, 'Wherever introduced, they advertise
themselves.' Well, don't they? Whoever gets one will be apt to
tell his neighbors. Isn't that advertising itself? I also say,
'The sale of one opens the market for a dozen in any neighborhood;'
but observe, I don't claim that any more will be sold in that
neighborhood, even if the market is opened. So far as my guaranty
is concerned, I only warrant them to be as good after three years'
use as when first purchased. Will you, or will any court, call
that in question?"
"It is charged," said the officer, changing the subject, "that you
neglected to fill a good many orders. How do you explain that?"
"Why, to furnish the shooter and pay the postage cuts down the
profits terribly," was the unique and characteristic reply.
Orders began to arrive in response to the circular nearly five
months before the first shooter came from the hands of the
manufacturer; and as none of them were ever filled, or even
recorded, it is impossible to estimate how many dupes long watched
the mails in anxious expectancy, and perhaps attributed their
disappointment to dishonesty among the employees of the department.
Of course the papers which printed the advertisement would have
spurned the impostor and exposed the fraud, had they discovered the
facts. The most scrupulous and careful publishers are often
deceived in the character of advertisements that come through the
regular channels of business, and appear plausible on their face.
In fact, the religious journals are the favorite vehicles of the
swindlers. The solicitude felt by the newspapers, not only for
their own reputation, but for the interests of their patrons, was
illustrated in the correspondence found on the person of Wilcox.
An influential western journal had addressed him two notes which
GENTS: We receive frequent letters from subscribers, saying they
receive no answers to letters they send you containing money for
'7-Shooters.' How is it? Are you swindlers?"
Wilcox, though fully able to answer the conundrum, did not see fit
to do so; and hence, on the 3d of November, the same parties
deployed their forces to renew the charge.
"--, Nov. 3, 1875.
"WILCOX & CO.:
"We have written you once before, that our patrons complain to us
that you do not fill their cash orders, and will not answer their
letters of inquiry as to why you don't. We have received so many
such that we suspect there is something wrong, and, unless you
explain satisfactorily, we will have to expose you."
As the special agent arrived on the same day with the inquiry, the
young man had no opportunity to make the desired explanation.
Indeed it is doubtful if one so modest and reticent on matters of
personal merit, would have answered the question even if permitted
to take all winter to do it in.
The United States commissioner, while fully recognizing the
ingenuity of the circular, differed somewhat from its author in
interpreting its legal construction, and accordingly placed him
under a bond of fifteen hundred dollars to appear for trial.
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