Wednesday, July 20, 2011


A gun, a gang, and a dance

The Apache pistol is a highly unusual weapon made in France starting in the late 1860s. Originally in pinfire and later in rimfire or center fire the Apache pistol is a unique combination gun that combines a pistol, knuckleduster, a folding dagger, and conceal ability all in one. The cylinder folded into the knuckleduster to make a formidable weapon that added the extra punch of the heavy cylinder, like having a roll of quarters in your hand when you punch.

Apache Revolver 2
(Update:  an astute viewer has brought to my attention that the Apache pistol was actually in the 7mm Lefaucheux pinfire cartridge, the caption is in error.)
The diminutive flip up dagger also appears on flintlock and percussion guns from much earlier times. Frankly, the blade would do about as much damage as a medium sized clasp knife and I suspect it had more to do with intimidation than damage. Both straight and wavy blades appear on these guns, depending on the model and manufacturer. They were made from the late 1860s and through the 1870s, although a later model may have escaped my attention.

These guns get their name from use by the famous Parisian gang, the Apaches. They were highly violent group that actually had chapters in other cities (especially Marseilles) and preyed on city dwellers and travelers starting in the middle 19th century and continuing on for many decades through the 1920s. The spoke a special slang called Jare, and wore distinctive flashy clothes to advertise that they were not to be trifled with. Many of them carried knives such as the famous folding Laguiole knife as a distinctive weapon with it’s bee shaped lock. Its locking blade ensured that the blade would stay rigid in a fight.
Apaches in Le Petit Journal
The name of the gang comes from reports of Native American Apache raiders printed in sensational French (and other) publications about these feared southwestern fighters. The name was taken by the Parisian gang to instill fear and to identify themselves as people to be feared and paid off rather than anger. As a side note, the word Apache was pronounced as “ah-PASH” rather than the U.S. pronunciation, “ah-PATCH-ee”. Both the gang and the gun were pronounced the same in France and both were synonymous with fear and violence.

The Parisian gang was well documented in the French press and in popular culture. They were celebrated by a special dance that celebrated violence, especially towards women in a dance called the Savate. Many gang members were also pimps along with being footpads, smugglers, and murderers.

Savate is also the name of a type of martial arts practiced by the French as a type of kick boxing and is a national sport. Additionally, the term savate can also be applied to the type of street fighting and criminal tricks used to subdue victims by the Apaches and other street gangs. Be very careful if a Parisian Apache asks, “Would you care to dance”? You have just been identified as a mark to other gang members and are about to be attacked.

Savat the Apache DanceYou might also look up a French film “Les Vampires” about an Apache street gang and their exploits, from 1915-16. It was released as ten serial episode that ran from a half hour to an hour each. It is available for free download at the Internet Archive: download site for Les Vampires

I’ve seen several and handled a couple of Apache pistols over the years, but the high price tag has kept it out of my collection. Nobody to my knowledge has made a modern working repro and the same for a non functioning version, although I don’t think it would be all that hard to fabricate a prop from existing parts of other prop guns.
Apache Revolver
For those of you who wish to dress like a turn of the century Apache, there is a clothing company that sells items made to look like that period and evoke the Apaches for costumers an LARPers. Stay tuned for part two of this article, which will focus in on using underworld elements in our investigator’s party and/or as PCs/NPCs and Steampunk.


  1. In the first photo is say "9mm pin fire" but that gun is a 7mm pin fire, not 9mm.

  2. You are quite correct, thanks for the observation!, I appreciate the correction.