For the Love of Lugers

When I was a kid, I'd been permitted to carry my old Savage Model 99 on the bus to junior high a time or two. But the idea of taking a firearm to school had occurred to me previously--and no, there was nothing nefarious about my intentions.

The Luger pistol saw wide use around the world, even in Del Rio, Texas. Shown are Texas Rangers in 1907, including the famous Frank Hamer (black hat, standing) and Capt. John H. Rogers (seated and holding a Luger).

My dad had been a fan of the Luger pistol for years, and my interest followed. One Saturday afternoon with nothing much to do, I sat watching Dad taking a Luger apart and cleaning it. It didn't look too tough, so I asked him if he'd teach me. I think he was a little surprised at the request, though he quickly gave me a full demonstration on the field-stripping process. I memorized it and was soon handling the old pistol like a champ.

Some time later my sixth-grade teacher advised the class that he'd be expecting each student to participate in a "show and tell." After listening to the other students go on about various projects they might pursue, including how to butter toast and how to make homemade candles, I decided my best bet would be to propose a demonstration of the dismantling and reassembly of the Luger 9mm pistol.

I didn't get thrown out of school for that proposition, but I did receive a rather gloomy response to what I felt at the time would have been one of the more interesting exhibitions of show and tell.

My interest in the Luger has always been considerable, but I'm sure no expert when it comes to that fine old example of German craftsmanship. Though I learned about the workings of the Luger at that young age, my trigger time with one has been very limited. I still own Dad's old Luger, but it enjoys complete relaxation in my safe these days.

Some firearms enthusiasts and others often look upon the Luger pistol in an unkindly manner, obviously due to its German origins and extensive use by the Kaiser's men in World War I and later the Nazi regime. While the Luger was indeed one of the primary sidearms of these factions, its use around the world by not only European militaries and law enforcement agencies, but other elements as well, was quite extensive. Introduced in 1900 by DWM, the Luger was manufactured in many different variations by a number of different companies. Some experts have stated that the Colt Single Action Army and the Luger pistol are the two most collectable handguns in history, as well as the finest, most well-balanced of firearms. Both fit the shooter's hand very comfortably with almost ideal grip sizes and angles. Even wartime specimens of Luger pistols are made with extremely good steel and close tolerances.

One of the interesting variations of the Luger was the American Eagle, manufactured by DWM in the early 1900s. The first American Eagle variation was chambered in 7.65mm, or .30 Luger, caliber and targeted the U.S. military market, which was looking for a handgun to replace the venerable single-action Colt that had been in service for many years. The U.S. government purchased 1,000 American Eagles in 1901 and issued them to the Cavalry for testing. These pistols were rejected by the Cavalry for various reasons and were later sold as surplus guns. Another version was known as the 1900/06, also in .30 Luger, and was made for commercial sales in the United States. While the 1900 military versions consisted of only 1,000 pieces, 6,000 to 8,000 units of the 06 were made. Yet another version, the 1902/06, was made for U.S. sales in 9mm. All of the American Eagle pistols were marked with an American Eagle stamping on the top of the receiver, over the chamber. The American Eagle was also offered in a "fat barrel" version, which DWM manufactured for the U.S. market. These guns are now a rarity and bring premium prices from serious collectors.

As a longtime fan of Texas lawman Frank Hamer, I have for years enjoyed books and photographs referencing him. As a kid, one of my favorite books was I'm Frank Hamer, written by H. Gordon Frost and John H. Jenkins. The book outlines Hamer's career from his childhood to his early days with the Texas Rangers and through his escapades in pursuit of Bonnie and Clyde. This great work includes a number of fascinating photographs of Hamer and others, including lawmen, outlaws, Mexican bandits, and gangsters. One of my favorite photos of Hamer was taken in Del Rio, Texas, somewhere around 1907 and depicts Hamer and three other Rangers. Hamer had been hired into the Ranger Service by Captain John H. Rogers, who initially ordered Hamer to report to Sheffield, Texas. A short time later, then-Texas Governor S.W.T. Lanham detailed Capt. Rogers and his men, including Hamer, to Del Rio to address an ever-increasing bad situation involving various types of banditry.

During this time violent escapades were frequent, and Rogers's Rangers made quick work of sizeable numbers of border criminals. The great old photograph I liked so well featured Hamer and two of his Ranger companions sporting long guns. The fourth Ranger, seated, is holding a Luger pistol. My old friend, retired Texas Ranger H. Joaquin Jackson, advises me that the Luger bearer is Capt. Rogers, who apparently held the Luger pistol in high esteem. It is likely that Capt. Rogers's Luger was an American Eagle, though it's not certain. It would be fascinating to know if his Luger was chambered in .30 Luger or 9mm and how it performed during those border conflicts.

Regardless, Capt. Rogers was a well-armed man. The Luger was the first successful semiautomatic pistol, was innovative and durable, and would go on to become one of the most recognizable handguns in the world. Frank Hamer might have disagreed that the Luger was the best choice for border work, though. After all, his old Colt Single Action Army .45 that he named "Ol' Lucky" saw him through many years of violent law enforcement work, much of it on the volatile Mexican border. Yet the fact that the Luger saw action in Texas is intriguing.

If you ever have the chance to handle an old Luger, be sure to check for the American Eagle stamping. You never know, the old gal might have been a border rat at one time.

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