Originally featured in Points West in Summer 2012
Percussion trap, or “watermelon patch” gun
So many of our visitors are intrigued by this percussion trap gun that they often telephone or write to our firearms staff asking for a way to explain it to their friends back home. It dates back to a time and to locations when and where it was legal to defend personal property with lethal force. The gun could be placed in a watermelon patch, for example, and set up to shoot at anyone who stole into the patch at night to take melons illicitly.
This .41 caliber muzzle-loading gun is mounted on a round cast-iron frame with a heavy clock spring inside. Cords were attached to each of the four lugs, or triggers, on top of the frame and then stretched out in different directions. Once the gun was loaded, bumping into any one of the cords in the darkness caused the gun to rotate and fire in that direction. Farmers frequently loaded them with non-lethal charges, such as bacon rind and rock salt, in order to cause the potential thief a great deal of discomfort—but not imperil his life.
“Watermelon patch” gun, ca. 1860. Gift of Olin Corporation, Winchester Arms Collection. 1988.8.3209