His seven-shooter was popular but short-lived.
Stories and anecdotes about Old West gunplay almost always mention one of the big three manufacturers— Colt, Remington or Smith & Wesson. But largely forgotten are the hundreds of other firearms inventors and companies whose handguns made their mark on the frontier. The name Moore is among the latter.
In 1851 gunsmith Daniel Moore, who was born in New York City on April 26, 1813, started a firearms business in Brooklyn, where, according to one account, “he made powder flasks and cartridges and developed types of revolver improvements.” Before the Civil War, Moore was a captain in a crack militia unit called the Baxter Blues and lieutenant colonel of the 12th Regiment, New York State Militia. On November 30, 1861, he incorporated Moore’s Patent Fire Arms Company, described as a manufacturer of “all types of firearms. Also sabers, bayonets, projectiles and utensils for military, naval and other purposes.”
In 1861 Moore began manufacturing a seven-shot, single-action, .32-caliber rimfire “belt” revolver. Dubbed the Moore seven-shooter by collectors, the brass-framed revolver looks like a cross between a cap-and-ball Colt and the later Colt Single Action Army revolver. The barrel and cylinder of the Moore seven-shooter tilted to the right for easy loading and ejection of empty cartridge cases. The Moore was a bit smaller than the Colt Navy, and its .32-caliber rimfire cartridges were readily available. It was an instant hit as a backup gun during the Civil War and on the frontier, where cap-and-ball revolvers still dominated. Moore made some 5,000 of the seven-shooters all told, in barrel lengths of 4, 5 and 6 inches. All had an engraved frame in dozens of variations. Moore also produced a handful of .38- and .44-caliber rimfire six-shooters.
The seven-shooter’s shelf life was short-lived, however. Moore’s design had blatantly disregarded Smith & Wesson’s exclusive control of inventor Rollin White’s patent rights through 1869 to manufacture cartridge revolvers with bored-through chambers. Smith & Wesson, which was embroiled in patent-infringement lawsuits with other gun makers, won a judgment against Moore, who was forced to pay his competitor a royalty on each of the last 1,000 seven-shooters he made. He ultimately ceased production of the gun in 1863. Perhaps the most historic extant Moore seven-shooter is one with a 6-inch barrel taken from captured outlaw Cole Younger following the James-Younger Gang’s bank robbery attempt at Northfield, Minn., on September 7, 1876.
In Firearms of the American West, 1803– 1865, Louis Garavaglia and Charles Worman note, “Moore’s basic design was a forerunner of many later cartridge revolvers.” The authors suggest the gun “would have ranked among the most popular of all early cartridge revolvers, had it not been for his legal difficulties.” But the lawsuit seems to have honed and not dampened Moore’s inventive genius. In 1863 the gunsmith and his factory superintendent, David Williamson, designed a six-shot teat-fire revolver, with a spur trigger, engraved brass frame and 3 ¼-inch barrel, that fired a front-loading .32-caliber cartridge. The cartridge “teat,” which contained a primer to ignite the powder, protruded through a small hole in the back of each cylinder, so the pistol did not infringe on Smith & Wesson’s patents for “bored-through” chambers. According to Garavaglia and Worman, Moore’s teat-fire revolver was “the most popular of all the evasions of the Rollin White patent” and was “soon on its way to frontier dealers.” Though the special cartridge could be hard to find, Moore sold more than 30,000 of the six-shooters before production ended in 1870. Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms calls Moore’s teat-fire revolver “one of the most successful competitors to Smith & Wesson” and adds that the strong sales of these guns “was one reason for Colt’s purchase of the National Arms Company.”
One of Moore’s six-shooters boasts an intriguing tie to one of the most famous sagas of the 1800s. The gun is inscribed, PRESENTED TO HON. WM. F. STEARNS BY C.B. PHILLIPS. William French Stearns was a Civil War abolitionist who formed his own Union Army regiment during the Civil War. Stearns made his fortune in the mercantile business in Bombay, India, where he became close friends of Dr. David Livingstone. After Livingstone disappeared in Africa, and Henry Morton Stanley “presumed” to have found him in 1871, Stearns authenticated Livingstone’s handwriting on letters Stanley brought back with him. His testimony was instrumental in proving to skeptics worldwide that Stanley had indeed found the “lost” Livingstone alive and well.
Moore made even bigger headlines. No company claimed exclusive patents on early single-shot cartridge pistols, so from 1860 to 1865 Moore manufactured a .41-caliber rimfire derringer, with an engraved brass frame, spur trigger and 2 ½-inch barrel. “The Moore is of importance to the collector,” explains Flayderman’s Guide, “as it was the first of the large-caliber metallic cartridge derringer pistols.” Indeed, the derringer proved so successful that after producing about 5,000 of them, Moore sold out to the National Arms Company, which made another 5,000 of the guns from 1865 until Colt bought out National in 1870. Colt produced 6,500 more of that model, and then produced 54,000 variations on the original design before ending production in 1910. Collectors own many of these Moore derringers, one of which Moore himself presented to Civil War Maj. Gen. Abner Doubleday, perhaps best remembered as the dubious “father” of baseball.
Moore sold some of the patents used in the popular Merwin & Hulbert cartridge revolvers and spent the rest of his life working as a patent lawyer. It turns out that his 1864 patents for the teat-fire revolver included one on its now classic “bird’s head grip,” a design dozens of gunsmiths had overtly incorporated into the butts of their revolvers over the years. Moore had ignored them. But, ironically, in 1875 he sued Smith & Wesson for infringing on the patent. In 1880, following a mistrial, Smith & Wesson opted to settle the lawsuit for $3,000 and avoid future tangles with Moore.
No known anecdotes describe an Old West gunman “going for his Moore seven-shooter” in a showdown. But when Daniel Moore died on March 21, 1901, a smile may have crossed his face as he recalled how he had settled the score with Smith & Wesson in 1880 and parlayed his creativity and business acumen to spar with other big names in the gun business.
Originally published in the August 2009 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.