Guns of Pop Culture: “The Alamo” & the Nock Gun

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The story of the Alamo is fascinating for a number of reasons. 

One of the most interesting is that it’s where two American folk heroes died. Neither man was from the Texas territories but seemingly died to establish the state.

The real-life Alamo

Those men were Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett. In real life, these were complicated characters, but numerous films have taken on their legend and their death at the Alamo.

Today, we are looking at The Alamo, a film produced in 1960 starring John Wayne, Richard Widmark, and Laurence Harvey. 

Wayne plays Crockett, complete with a ridiculous Coon skin cap, Widmark plays bowie, complete with a massive knife, and Harvey plays Colonel Travis, complete with a Colonel’s attitude. 

Today we are going to focus on Bowie, specifically Bowie’s weapon. If you’ve never seen it, well, you are missing out.

Jim Bowie carries a massive Nock gun which he uses to great effect throughout the film. 

Jim Bowie with his Nock gun (left)
Jim Bowie with his Nock gun (left)

However, Bowie’s massive Nock gun is a complete work of fiction. Well, kind of. It is fiction that Bowie carried a Nock gun, but the Nock gun certainly existed. 

This movie is a 1960 dramatization of events, and it’s very heavily biased toward the Texans. The movie certainly wasn’t trying to be a historical drama. 

The Nock Gun 

Volley guns are firearms with multiple barrels designed to be fired at the same time. They were somewhat uncommon but known.

The frequent problems included a lack of maneuverability, slow reload times, and a high weight cost. 

Nock gun sold at Rock Island Auction
Nock gun sold at Rock Island Auction

British engineer James Wilson designed the gun in 1779 for military forces. It was a man-portable volley gun complete with seven .52 caliber barrels. This muzzle-loading firearm had relatively short barrels for the time period at only 20 inches each. 

The reduced length was probably an attempt the keep the weight controllable, and at 12 to 13 pounds, it wasn’t absurdly heavy. 

Nock gun sold by International Military Antiques
Nock gun sold by International Military Antiques

He showed it to the British military, thinking it could be a useful infantry weapon, but they disagreed. They saw its usefulness for sailors fighting belligerents at sea. 

The idea was that the gun could be used to clear the decks of a ship and cause general mayhem. Sailors would carry the gun in the ‘tops’ and rigging where troops could fire a volley of shots at an enemy deck sitting below them. 

The British military purchased the weapons, and Henry Nock received the production contract, and that’s how the Nock gun became the Nock gun.

Muzzle flash from the Nock Gun
Muzzle flash from the Nock gun in The Alamo

However, the gun was not successful. The massive recoil and tendency to set sails on fire ensured it wouldn’t be used for long. 

Here’s a breakdown of the gun and its history from one of our favorite historical firearm YouTubers, Jonathan, at Royal Armouries:

In the Film 

I didn’t expect much from the film, but I was surprised at how fun it was.

There are tons of great practical effects and explosions mixed with awesome stunt work. Men fall off buildings, and one scene even shows a building collapsing and a man rides the collapse. 

It’s full of extras, and the Mexican Army seems massive as they march toward the Alamo. The battle scenes are loud and smoke-filled. It’s great entertainment. 

And we see Bowie wielding the Nock gun well.

He fires it a few times throughout the film, and we see a great bit of muzzle flash and smoke, but Bowie must eat his spinach. We see zero recoil. The gun’s stout recoil reportedly dislocated arms, but Hollywood magic works well. 

In one scene nearing a night raid to disable a massive cannon, Bowie fires and kills an entire fire team. This prompts a comical response from the young Smith, “Gol-lee what a gun!” 

Much like the entire movie, the Nock gun and its use are highly dramatized. In The Alamo, the Nock gun is a great character gun, a hero gun that stands out and has its own personality.

While the movie and the weapon itself might not be accurate, it’s fun to see anyway. 

Henry Sturgess sighting the Nock gun in front of Abraham Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer
Henry Sturgess sighting the Nock gun in front of Abraham Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer

You can also see the Nock gun in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer, but it’s not a star of the show like in The Alamo

What did you think of The Alamo? Give us your thoughts in the comments below. For more Guns of Pop Culture, head to our Fun Category!



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