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Bludgeons, blackjacks and slungshot

Discussion in 'Non-Firearm Weapons' started by Bartholomew Roberts, Feb 6, 2012.

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  1. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

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    I'm reading "Gangs of New York" at the moment, and it seems that the most popular weapon from the 1830s through the early 1900s is some type of bludgeon/cudgel/blackjack, etc.

    These are some of the most commonly used weapons by the various criminals and they are often used even when firearms and knives are available. Further, it appears they remained popular over a long span of time when a lot of advancements were being made in firearms and continued to be carried and used even after relatively effective modern firearms were available.

    Based on what I've read, it appears that using bludgeons wasn't due to any mistaken belief that they weren't lethal. In a lot of cases, the attack appears to be to knock the victim unconscious first and then rob/murder him. So even when a lethal outcome was desired, they were often the weapon of choice.

    So this caused me to wonder two things?

    1. What was it about bludgeons/blackjacks/etc. that made them so useful/desirable as weapons throughout this period?

    2. When did that change and why?
     
  2. ThorinNNY

    ThorinNNY Member

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    Interesting thread, Batholomew. I saw the movie a long time ago.
    I wasn't aware there was a book by the same title. Who is the author and how long is it?
    As to the question of popularity,I think it might have been due to factors such as low cost, being easily attainable,and if you had to abandon them in a hurry you weren't out much money- or time and effort in the making of.
    I bet stones of all kinds, especially loose cobblestones were also used in assaults.
    You could probably sneak up on someone, bash them in the head with something without making a lot of noise- firearms not so quiet.
    Hmmm, I didn't like the movie enough to see it more than once, but perhaps the book is worth reading. Got me thinking. Thanks.
     
  3. ThorinNNY

    ThorinNNY Member

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    Were you referring to the book by Herbert Ashbury?
     
  4. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

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    Yes, the book by Herbert Ashbury is a history that was written in 1928. It apparently inspired the Scorsese film and they did a reprint of the book as a result. The film borrows some characters from the book; but aside from that and the time period/location, they aren't really alike.

    Interestingly enough, it seems that the nightstick/baton on the police side is the most common/popular weapon as well.
     
  5. JohnBT

    JohnBT Member

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    1. They work very well. They break bones and crack skulls with little effort.

    2. I have a couple of leather ones, one flat and one round, that belonged to my father. He got them after he became a state trooper after WWII. I think the agency finally outlawed them because you really couldn't hit somebody hard with one without doing some serious damage. But they certainly worked. Imagine trying to break up a bar fight or working a coal field strike or whatnot without using your sidearm and the participants are former front line combat vets. It evens the odds a little.

    John
     
  6. Owen Sparks

    Owen Sparks member

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    The vast majority of the police in New York at the time were Irish immigrants who brought with them the concept of a shillelagh as a less than lethal police weapon.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shillelagh_(club)

    These were made short to be easier to carry and use in tight quarters and were usually front heavy in order to make up for the shortness by adding mass on the striking end. Technically they are clubs rather than sticks. Before the 1960’s the typical police billy club was usually only about 12 to 14 inches long and turned out of a piece of hickory on a lathe with a leather lanyard. I sometimes see them at gun shows and really should add one to my collection.
     
  7. Bartholomew Roberts

    Bartholomew Roberts Moderator Emeritus

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    I guess what is puzzling me is that these fights involved pistols, knives, etc. as well and the participants often had those items; but it seems the most common way one started is one guy smashing another guy in the head with some form of blunt instrument.

    I considered it might be some cultural thing - that sticking a knife in someone's ribs might look like murder where smashing him in the head was more acceptable. But in a lot of these cases, they end up killing the guy anyway (often by stamping him to death while he is down from the first blow) and it seems well understood by everyone that these types of blows could be and often were fatal.

    So I'm guessing there is some advantage to the weapon that I'm not getting. I think ThorinNNY may have a point about access and ability to discard; but I don't think that is the driving force because the police are basically using the same tactics, even when they do have firearms available and don't need to discard.
     
  8. sidheshooter

    sidheshooter Member

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    The advantage to the typical black/slapjack, as I understand it, is that their spring construction packs a heck of a wallop for the relatively short length. Cops used to carry them a lot. I don't see them in the wild in my area because the language outlawing them (any type of weapon known as... slungshot, Blackjack, sap, etc) is pretty common in state weapons statutes.

    That said, sucker that I am for marrying the modern with the traditional, I dig this one by Draven:


    [​IMG]
     
  9. Carl Levitian

    Carl Levitian member

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    I imagine that between the fact that blunt force truma is more effective immediately, where it may take a person a while to bleed out, may have something to do with it. Add in that the club/sap is quiet, gives you more time to search the unconscious victims pockets after you've dropped him. Gunshots still attract attention, as do people screaming bloody murder because they have a knife in their ribs.

    When Robert Peel was setting up the very first civilian police department, he was puzzling over the choice of what to issue the policemen. He was thinking of short cutlass's r small swords, when one of his recruits, an ex Navy sailor made the suggestion of a Belaying pin. The sailor had taken part in several shop to ship actions, and he told Peel that given a choice, the run of the mill sailor would pick a belaying pin to use as a club because it was simple and effective in close quarters. When it broke bones or skull, it had an instant effect, where swords didn't.

    Robert went with a short club like a belaying pin, and the first police 'billy' club was born. It must have worked, the Bobby's have used it for over a century and a half.

    Carl.
     
  10. Owen Sparks

    Owen Sparks member

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    Peel's original police men were issued 20 inch wooden clubs.
    The blackjack or sap was developed to stun or knock out a criminal without making a visable surface wound. In the days before X-Rays, photography and autopsies the police could get away with this sort of thing. Now days the head is not taught as a target.
     
  11. conw

    conw Member

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    What Owen said, plus - an impact weapon is not noisy or expensive whereas a firearm is.
     
  12. Resist Evil

    Resist Evil Member

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    A retired city cop friend has said more than once that until his department turned into a "looking good is better than being good women's kaffeeklatsch" and withdrew the slapjack from the approved equipment list, it was an efficient attention-getter curbside. It was inexpensive, easy to carry in his duty pants that came with a slapjack pocket right from the clothes rack at the uniform store, was easily hidden next to the thigh if withdrawn from its pocket and fast to use.
     
  13. glistam

    glistam Member

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    I think it has to do with the speed with which it would stun or incapacitate the target, and the lack of noise overall. Blows to the head at the very least are going to ring someone's bell enough they will stagger for a moment. I don't think I have ever seen or heard of a person taking a solid blunt-force hit to the head and scream in pain like they would with a blade or even a bullet. Even if fully conscious from the hit, they get quiet, like "what just happened?"

    Plus there is blood spray. Getting bloody hands and clothing was practically a poetic symbol of murder, and left you covered in evidence of your deed. While blunt hits to the head can cause bleeding, it is slower and the soft covering used on blackjacks seems to offset this. Plus as they say with head trauma "First hit's free." No spray from the first hit.
     
  14. ThorinNNY

    ThorinNNY Member

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    Bartholomew
    Sounds like the book may be a worhtwhile read.Thanks.
     
  15. Carl Levitian

    Carl Levitian member

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    "Peel's original police men were issued 20 inch wooden clubs."


    Yeah, just like a belaying pin. A nice wood club. He had great advise.

    Carl.
     
  16. Gordon

    Gordon Member

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    "I don't think I have ever seen or heard of a person taking a solid blunt-force hit to the head and scream in pain like they would with a blade or even a bullet. Even if fully conscious from the hit, they get quiet, like "what just happened?"
    Course they do make some noise when hit in a nerve plexus!
    A flat sap to the head if done correctly gives a good stun with no depressed fractures or bloody contusions in 95% of cases. The 5% was the problem and then we had the far less effective mace and now the good tazer. A black jack or round knob cosh is far more likely to give a depressed fracture as it concentrates the blow with a lot of energy.
    A combination of mace and a flat sap was damned good from the 60s to the 80s, too good for some do gooders and the police commisioners!
     
  17. bikerdoc

    bikerdoc Moderator Staff Member

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    I was issued one in 73 when I went on the job. They were outlawed by statute some time in the mid 80's
     
  18. sidheshooter

    sidheshooter Member

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  19. Owen Sparks

    Owen Sparks member

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    Everyone needs to read the linked article in the post above ^

    Lead shot in a leather pouch can effectively knock someone out without much visable damage sort of like a punch with a boxing glove.
     
  20. lemaymiami

    lemaymiami Member

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    I carried and used several different blackjacks, slappers, etc. I still have two of them (one at my front door concealed by a thin plastic bag...). Yes, they're effective at close quarters - but they have several serious drawbacks...

    Like a knife -you have to get entirely too close, and if you hit someone with one you may not like the very angry response....

    The most serious drawback is that they're all too often lethal... that's why most police outfits quit carrying them. When you put someone down with one... killing or permanently damaging them is a very real possibility (particularly when you're scared, your adrenaline levels are off the charts, etc.). If you don't hit your opponent hard enough to do serious injury... see item one, above.

    Yes, they're easy to conceal and deploy (particularly from ambush or in a surprise assault) but you're still employing a deadly weapon and you'll own whatever the consequences are. I quit carrying them entirely after a few bad experiences. In my case I didn't want to kill my opponent - just put them down so I never used one full force and the results (to put it mildly) were an enraged individual at close quarters. At the same time there was a very serious police misconduct situation in Dade county (the Miami area) where officers literally beat to death someone they were trying to arrest (weapons in that incident were Kel Lite flashlights made of machined aluminum) and ended up in bad trouble (and their first acquittal at trial resulted in our first annual MacDuffie riots -the victim was named Arthur MacDuffie). As a result police departments were forced to deal with the truth of the matter - that head strikes with baton, slapper, flashlight, etc... were in fact deadly force. If nothing else, most agencies lawyers jerked them up short and pointed out that those kind of acts were indefensible unless you were clearly justified in killing... So it was back to the drawing boards, with a re-examination of impact weapons and the training, tactics, etc. for their actual carry and use. All of this was around 1980 and most departments today are miles ahead of where they were then...
     
  21. JohnBT

    JohnBT Member

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    I love his description of his 'buffalo book place holder'

    http://andysgunthoughts.wordpress.com/sale-buffalo-page-holders/

    "Perfect for holding your pages open in bible class during high winds.
    ... is half filled with lead shot to hold your book down in the nastiest of storms. The shot can be evenly distributed along the entire length or with a quick shake dropped into one end."

    He makes saps, too. There's also a link to his leather shop page.
     
  22. Deltaboy

    Deltaboy Member

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    Most of the old LEO's I grew up around love them and said when used on the body and never the head unless it was life or death; the slap or blackjack was the most effective tool you had besides the cuffs and gun.
     
  23. Wolfebyte

    Wolfebyte Member

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    I was issued one in the early 80's while working the jail.. I didn't get to keep it when I left there, but I remember many a night slapping the desk with it to get a feel for it. I did notice that it had been sewn up many times around the lead payload.. No telling how long it had been in use before I came along.

    Never used it on an inmate around the head/face area. I will admit to a couple of deep tissue hits on some combative inmates.. thigh, upper arm... :evil:

    The jail I transferred to allowed us to carry a night stick (20 inch) only. Retention was by a leather strap.
     
  24. Deltaboy

    Deltaboy Member

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    Slap to the shoulder, elbow, hip, thigh, knee cap or sternum gets attention and control.
     
  25. ThorinNNY

    ThorinNNY Member

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    Just wondering if the gangs ever used lead pipe to bash folks with. Not as sophisticated as a sap, but I think lead pipe has been used for plumbing since the days of the Roman Empire, so discarded lead pipe was probably available during the time period your`e talking about.
     
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