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

herewith reproduced:--


"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

& Co."

"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

offended dignity,--

"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

arrest you."

"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

ran thus:--

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.


"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.