A Nurse with a Gun

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Khyber Pass Martini-Henri Pistol

The Kyber Pass is a place of legend, part mythical, part truth, and all shrouded in dangerous reality. It is a 33 mile route through the Hindu Kush mountain range, joining the northern frontier of Pakistan with Afghanistan. It has historically been the wildest of places. There is a flourishing arms industry in this corner of the world. The local craftsmen there are well known for crafting arms of war, from historical spears and arrows to modern day AK-47's, grenades, landmines and RPGs, smelted from bomb schrapnel and other scrap metal. In effect, they recycle the artifacts of war, for more war. Years ago, a younger Xavier traveled in this armpit of the world.

One of the most prolifically copied designs is that of the Martini-Henry rifle. It is a simple design, from the British Empire. The forgers even try to copy the original stampings from the Martini-Henry rifles, but they often screw that up, with backwards letters that resemble Cyrillic script. Most of these guns are rifles, and are relics of centuries of war.

Thus, when I spotted an unusual pistol at a gun show, I was intrigued. It was obviously a version of a Martini-Henry rifle, but whether it was an altered original, an altered forgery, or a brainchild of it's own design was debatable.

The action was that of a Martini-Henry, with the lever reformed to fit around a hand checkered wooden grip. Click to enlargeThe barrel was octagon in shape, with a brass sight, probably made from a coin, and a sling swivel underneath. The other sling swivel resided on the butt of the grip. This was a single shot pistol, no doubt made to be slung on a piece of rope or rawhide for carry over the rocky terrain of the area. It was like nothing I had seen before, at least on this side of the world. The story that I listened to as I purchased this pistol was that it had hung on a wall in the United States, observed by the seller for approximately 30 years. When that owner died, the seller purchased it from his widow for an undisclosed sum. He then kept it for approximately ten years. That would date the pistol to at least 1970, if the tale was to be believed. From my conversation, I saw no reason to dispute it. I purchased the Kyber Pass Pistol for $125.

The surface of the firearm is embellished with a series of small triangular shaped stampings, lined up around the border, hand stamped into the surface. Click to enlargeI recall seeing these types of markings on other metal work of the Kyber Pass region. There are no remnants of British markings, save for a "30" beside the extractor retaining screw on the left side. I highly suspect, due to the lack of British markings, and the lack of a sling swivel in the triggerguard, or even a hole to contain one, that this pistol was forged entirely at the Kyber Pass. The embellishments were probably added to decorate a sidearm for a chieftain of some mountain clan. It was possibly carried as a defensive sidearm concealed beneath a tribesman's cloak, but I suspect it was more likely a badge of authority in a region that respects no authority. It is, in effect, the ultimate suicide special, and an extreme curio and relic.

Forum thread on this pistol
More on Kyber Pass Martini-Henry rifles.

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5 Comments:

Blogger BobG said...

Makes you wish it could talk; I imagine it would have some interesting stories to tell.

10:20 AM  
Anonymous TD said...

So, uh... how's it shoot? :-)

5:29 PM  
Blogger Les Jones said...

Very cool. I knew about Khyber Pass Martinis, but that's the first pistol I've seen.

8:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have to ask; what was a younger Xavier doing in that particularly charming area of the world (if that question can be answered here)? Even if you were visiting the wonderful... um... Market? Bookstore? ... in Peshawar, you'd still need a pretty good reason to travel out the Pass.

9:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Xavier, I am wrting this to you from Afghanistan. I am here courtesy of Uncle Sam. Anyway, I am doing research on the Khyber Pass Martini's and came across your blog. Just to let you know, I have seen a few of those pistols myself at the Bazaar. Exactly as you describe, down to the little "rosettes" around the border. As you know the Martini "clones" are prolific here. Lots and lots of them. Can get them for about $50.Don;t know that I would ever shoot one though. A neat wall hanger though.

1:45 AM  

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