On October 26, 1881, shots rang out at the O.K. Corral. Within the first 30 seconds of the shootout, three members of the Clanton gang were killed. Men on both sides, including Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and Billy Clanton, would become legends in part because of what happened in Tombstone, Arizona. They were firing a legendary weapon, too. The Colt Single Action Army, held many names over the years. First came its clunky official title, “the New Model Army Metallic Cartridge Revolving Pistol” but soon it became known as the Frontier, the Equalizer, the Model P, and most famously, the Peacemaker. There was no peace that October day in Tombstone. But the shootout was one of many that cemented the reputation of this six-chamber gun that saw more than 20 years service with the United States Army and became the iconic revolver of the West thanks to John Moses Browning. John Moses Browning was the most prolific gun inventor the world has ever known, working in his father’s shop from the age of seven, where he was taught basic engineering and manufacturing principles, and encouraged to experiment with new concepts. There he developed his first rifle. He made his first firearm at the age 13 in his father’s gun shop and was awarded the first of his 128 firearm patents on October 7, 1879, at the age of 24.
Gunsmiths too were also evident in Carmarthen even as far back as the early 18th century, often passing down the secrets of their trade from father to son. William Thomas for example had a business in Priory Street in 1732, & Thomas Rees is recorded as being a gunsmith in 1771. Thomas Lewis however was unique and a man way ahead of his time, born in Bristol in 1810, his parents came to live in Carmarthen soon after and lived near the Carmarthen Gas Works when his father became the manager (as were generations of the family thereafter) Seeing for himself at a young age all the component parts of the various gas turbines his father showed him as he took him around the gas works he was mesmerised by all the moving parts and developed a keen interest in mechanics and in particular handguns, so much so that at the age of 15 in 1825 he was mentioned in the “Mechanics’ magazine and journal of science, arts, and manufactures” having designed a unique gunlock mechanism that was to change the concept and design of handguns (The gunlock (lock) of a firearm is the firing mechanism used to ignite the propellant. Lock, stock and barrel is an old figure of speech defining the totality of a firearm as the barrel through which the bullet is directed toward a target, the stock which provides a means of gripping the firearm, and the lock as all other essential parts)
Over 30 years later John Browning developed a similar method in the United States and the rest is history. What vast fame and fortune could have been won by Thomas Lewis had he patented his design and gone on to develop his ideas like John Browning and not died at the early age of 41 from illness. We will never know, except that here in St David’s cemetery lies buried a man that could have changed the course of world history had he lived.
In 1848 the local newspaper carried the following story … “On Wednesday last, as Richard Lewis, a little boy aged 8 years, son of Mr. Thomas Lewis, gun maker, in Lammas street, was firing off a pistol loaded with powder only, the recoil of the piece was so great that it struck him in the face, laying his cheek open from the mouth nearly to the ear, and exposing the jaw-bone. Instant assistance was rendered, and although the boy was seriously injured, and in great agony, yet it is apprehended no danger will supervene”
Needless to say Richard never succeeded his father in the gun making business, deciding to join the Royal Navy aged 18 in 1858 as an Ordinary Seaman on board the Flagship of the Mediterranean Fleet –HMS MARLBOROUGH. He is described as being 5ft 6 inches tall with brown hair and hazel eyes and not surprisingly “with a large scar on his left cheek and eye”, resulting from that terrible gunshot injury ten years earlier. He left the Royal Navy 1868 after a period of 10 years and died at his brother in laws house in Kidwelly in 1872. His body was returned to Carmarthen and he now lies buried with his father and other members of the family.
As for Thomas Lewis himself, the following obituary appeared on 17th October 1851…DIED. “On Saturday last, with perfect resignation to the Divine will, Mr Thomas Lewis, Gun maker of this town, eldest son of Mr. Lewis, Manager of the Carmarthen Gas Works, leaving a disconsolate widow and eight children to lament the loss of a good husband and father”
May they all rest in peace.