View Full Version : Lewis and Clark's Airgun

02-15-2007, 01:45 PM

Lewis an Clark provide an interesting study in how to apply PSYOP to an unconventional operation. The November issue of American Rifleman theorizes that at least part of the reason "The Corps of Discovery" succeeded in, or even survived their mission, was because of the demonstrations of the 22 shot air rifle. In addition to demonstrating the rifle, they promised additional items in the future, and never allowed anyone but Corps members to inspect their boat or other equipment.

I think this is a practical demonstration of "cracking the whip" versus "using the whip" and how it leads to success in an operation.

All questions aside concerning the airgun's make and size, or where, when, and why Lewis acquired it, or what happened to it afterwards, the importance of its principal use remains paramount among them all, and is adequately documented in the journals. Apparently Lewis never used it for hunting, and only once considered it as a combat weapon. He may have had a more important use in mind from the outset, for he often exhibited it as part of the official council held with each native nation.

Formal councils were tightly scripted scenarios for political and cultural diplomacy. Timing was everything. First, the harangues: "My Children...." Then the Indians' responses: "My Fathers,..." and the white men writing down everything the speakers said, which must itself have been a powerful gesture, inspiring wonder mixed with dreat. Then some solemn Chief-making, confirmed with peace medals, "commissions," and other, more practical gifts. A brotherly smoke. A "Drop of Milk" (whiskey, that is), perhaps a song, or a dance to the accompaniment of Cruzatte's fiddle. Then a display of "Curiosities." A "portfire,"1 A compass arrow that always pointed in the same direction no matter which way the instrument was turned. Perhaps Clark's personal black slave, York, was brought front and center. Or maybe Lewis would demonstrate the "sagacity"2 of his big, handsome Newfoundland working dog, a giant among the typically small canines that infested many an Indian village.

Then the climax--a few shots from the air gun, which were certain to astonish the audience. With the gunstock reservoir pumped up in advance to avoid betraying any evidence that the weapon's power was man-made3 with no ramming of the ball into the barrel, no primer in the pan, no flash, no bang,4 no smoke; several bullets placed in a target without pause for reloading. Freeze for a few seconds to let the shock and awe sink in. Smile and bow, and smile again. Nod and salute the audience. Cast off, and sail away toward the sunset. It was pure theatre. A real barn-burner.

02-15-2007, 04:25 PM
What popped into my mind while reading your post was article 8 from Practical Application 102: The Battle Captains, from SWJ Blog: "rank is nothing, talent is everything". Those smart tactics employed by Lewis & Clark didn't come from on high.....

02-16-2007, 05:08 AM
Lewis and Clark may have used it as part of a "Medicine Show", but the Austrians used 13mm repeating airguns (illustrated in "Weapons" from the Diagram Group, and an example is on display in the Military Museum near the Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest) during the Napoleonic Wars as the standard arm of a Jaeger (recon) Bn. My understanding is that the airguns were too expensive to manufacture (and possibly maintain?) because of the precision, high pressure valves. Kind of like the way the matchlock superceded the crossbow by the mid-Fifteenth century despite the clear advantages of the crossbow (n.b. Machiavelli "On War"), it's cheaper.