47-year-old Christopher Bechtler, his two sons Augustus and Charles, and his nephew, who came to be called Christopher, Jr., emigrated to the US from the Duchy of Baden (a German principality) in 1829 (without a word of English among them, apparently) and immediately took out naturalization papers. They moved on quickly from Philadelphia, where German craftsmen were in healthy supply, and settled by the summer of 1830 in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, where there was just enough of a German community to serve as interpreters. And thereby we come to this bizarre image, from Lewis Winant’s classic Firearms Curiosa (published in five editions, all of which are textually identical as far as we know, from 1954 to 1961).
Of this pistol, Winant writes:
Some guns reveal at a glance their freakishness…. Illustration 237 is a reproduction of the frontispiece from the August, 1912, issue of Magazine of Antique Firearms. The caption for the frontispiece reads, “C. Bechtler’s Double Ender Pistol. A Southern made pistol of great rarity. Fisher collection.” An accompanying article by Dr. A. L. Fisher explains that the mainspring is the trigger guard and that this mainspring may be released by either trigger. Dr. Fisher notes that as the two hammers can not both be cocked at the same time, simultaneous murder and suicide can not be accomplished! The gun is some times known as the „Fore and Aft” and is assumed to have been made by Christopher Bechtler. Mr. Bechtler was a German gunsmith who settled in Rutherford, North Carolina, in 1829. Certainly a collector may need a second look to be sure his eyes have not deceived him, but not to decide that this is truly an oddity.
Here’s a forum post about what appears to be the same pistol, including a reprinted page from a 1955 Texas Gun Collector newsletter. The owner of that example, Harry B. Harmer of Philadelphia, thought he had the sole example (perhaps the same one Fisher described in 1912).
The gun quite caught our fancy. It’s the firearms version of the Pushmi-Pullyu, of which Hugh Lofting wrote:
Pushmi–pullyus are now extinct. That means, there aren’t any more. But long ago, when Doctor Dolittle was alive, there were some of them still left in the deepest jungles of Africa; and even then they were very, very scarce. They had no tail, but a head at each end, and sharp horns on each head. They were very shy and terribly hard to catch…. no matter which way you came towards him, he was always facing you.
Except, of course, the Pushmi-Pullyu was entirely fictional, and this pistol is entirely not. It’s two guns in one! It’s a New York Reload, 150 years before Jim Cirillo coined (or at least inspired) the term! It’s… an oddity. It’s the polar opposite of OSHA approved. We like it.
But Winant didn’t really have a handle on the maker of this gun that had the grips and barrels all confused. Well, in the 1950s, the well-respected Winant didn’t have the less-respected Intertubes. We do, which is why we know more about him than long-gone Winant (who passed away in 1963) ever did.
The Bechtler family were broadly skilled craftsmen, who were at one time or another (and often at the same time) clock and watch makers, jewelers, gold miners, operators of a private mint that struck millions of dollars worth of gold coins, beginning almost two decades before the US Mint struck a gold $1 piece. (The Constitution bans the States from striking coins, but is silent on whether citizens can; several private mints operated in the 19th Century, and the Bechtlers’ was perhaps the most trusted).
And, of course, they were gunsmiths. About the men:
The only first-hand description of the Bechtlers comes from the journal of George W. Featherstonhaugh. He describes in some detail the Bechtlers’ mining and gun-making enterprises and the transactions between Bechtler and the customers who brought gold to him for assaying and coining. Featherstonhaugh had doubts that the mining he saw at Bechtler’s farm was likely to be productive, but he was most impressed by Bechtler’s ingenuity and honesty.
During the 1830s and 40s, they seemed to be ess known for the quantity than the ingenuity of their designs, which brings us one step closer to the pushmi-pullyu at the top of the page.
Bechtler percussion pistol. The Bechtlers customarily appear to have marked their work “North Carolina” on the left and with the gunsmith’s name on the right.
The Bechtlers were also known throughout North Carolina and neighboring states for manufacturing rifles and pistols. The family manufactured guns prior to coming to America and continued that trade for many years after taking up residence in North Carolina.
The quality and reliability of the Bechtlers’ guns so impressed the visiting geologist Featherstonhaugh that he purchased a rifle from the family and asked Bechtler to inlay his name with native gold. Featherstonhaugh wrote that as gunsmiths, Bechtler and his sons are “preeminent in their ingenuity: they had invented various ingenious modes of firing rifles eight times in a minute. One with a chain for sixty caps, revolving by a catch of the trigger, and was exceedingly curious. Young Bechtler fired it off several times at a target placed at a distance of one hundred and sixty-five yards, and with great success.”
In 1837, the Bechtlers took on the training of a 14-year-old apprentice to learn “the art of a gun smith,” possibly in expectation that the opening of the federal Mint in Charlotte would lead to a decline in the coining business and a renewed concentration on their gun-making business.
This fine pisrol, c.1840, is attributed to Augustus Bechtler. Photo courtesy of North Carolina Museum of History
A wonderful site (especially for those with German-American connections), Immigrant Entrepreneurship, has a much more thorough bio of Christopher Bechtler, from which the following is excerpted:
On April 25, 1830, Bechtler purchased a tract of land in Rutherford County from John Bradley. Bechtler was not yet a citizen, so he could not hold title to the land. Instead, he conveyed the land to Martin Kibler, a German-American resident, to be held in trust for him until he became a citizen in July 1832. Rutherford County had a substantial number of German immigrants, and Bechtler frequently availed himself of their assistance as translators and witnesses of legal transactions. Bechtler never mastered the English language, although he could communicate tolerably well in broken English.
That is quite amazing, when you consider the Bechtlers’ success. No doubt his sons mastered English to a much greater degree, although after them we lose the trail of the family. Which is a pity, because if you’re on this site, you’re interested in the gun angle, and you wonder whether subsequent generations carried on with it.
Immigrant Entrepreneurship’s engaging bio is worth reading at length, but we’ll quote from it, about his and his sons’ gun manufacturing progress.
Bechtler did not aspire to be a mass market manufacturer. His products were high quality, finely crafted items, often custom made. The same vision guided his gunsmithing business, which evidently took place at his farm in the country. Known as a “first rate gunsmith” who produced “beautiful rifles and pistols” of innovative and sometimes curious design, Bechtler crafted repeating rifles capable of firing eight times a minute, and also made novelty items such as a “snuff box pistol,” a “walking stick rifle” and a twin-barrel pistol with the barrels facing in opposite directions. During his tour of Bechtler’s farm in 1837, Featherstonhaugh was so impressed with the firearms on display that he bought a rifle which Bechtler personally engraved with gold. Bechtler achieved local renown as a jeweler, watchmaker, and gunsmith, but the coining business he established would overshadow all of these other activities, becoming the most successful private mint in the eastern United States.
The Pushmi-Pullyu may, in fact, be that “twin-barrel pistol with the barrels facing in opposite directions” that is mentioned above. Or it may be this one, held in the Swedish Royal Armoury collection.
(sv) Slaglåsdubbelpistol, 1800-talets mitt, “Double-Ender” – Europeana.eu. (sv) Christopher Bechtler (Tillverkare, , ). Livrustkammaren. Public Domain
The Swedish text of the Europeana page from which we drew this titles it (our meatball translation) as a “Percussion double pistol, mid-1800s, “Double-Ender”, made by Christopher Bechtler. and says:
Double gun in the form of two barrels counterposed at a 135º angle, sharply turned, smooth-bore barrels of steel, triple rings at the muzzles. One barrel forming the grip for the other. Deep pitting on both sides. Underneath each barrel is a dual-purpose hammer/hammer spring, fastened with screws at the muzzles of the barrels. Priming cap nipples screwed into the touchhole in the barrels. Between the springs, a round trigger is suspended, and catches the springs when they’re under tension.
(Some Swede will probably correct us on many errors). This gun is fascinating, because it’s the same concept but a very different form (and we think, an earlier one) than the gun in the Winant book. The Winant gun, too, though, appears to be at a 135º angle; it just has much more conventional lockwork, apart from the shared spring and interlock feature Winant describes.
But the mystery of “A Southern made pistol of great rarity,” seems to have been resolved over the last sixty years, although who knows what new facts about Christopher Bechtler and his sons and their gun enterprise will come to light next? In any event, now the restless shade of Lewis Winant can find peace — on this question, at least.
Come to WeaponsMan for the gun pictures, stay for the laying of the ghosts!