Was President Truman
a Pistol-Packer?

On The Road With POTUS and FLOTUS
19

Truman is believed to have been presented with an early S&W Chief Special
by a law enforcement association while he was President.

Fifty years after his passing, we find more indications Harry Truman was “One Of Us.”

Harry S Truman was president of the United States when I was born — and, yes, I am old. Reading history left me with a lot of respect for the man. From the firearms perspective, I can’t find any indication he ever supported any sort of “gun control,” which is more than can be said for the president he succeeded, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Indeed, HST was something of a Gun Guy. In 2017, it was written, “Harry S Truman was an avid hunter, shooter and firearms collector, but one firearm held a sweet spot in his heart. It was a London-made guild gun, a percussion 12-gauge side-by-side passed down from his father John Truman. According to Mr. Truman’s cousin, Fred, Truman’s dad fell from his horse onto the shotgun and thereby damaged the hammer. The shotgun is marked by George Goulcher; Goulcher was an expat Brit living in New York who made components used by gunsmiths unable to create their own parts.” This shotgun is on display today at the NRA Museum.

A captain of artillery in the U.S. Army during World War I, Truman saw combat in the Meuse-Argonne in 1918. Returning home as a member of the Reserve, he was allowed to keep the two .45s he had been issued, both Colts: a 1917 revolver and a 1911 semiautomatic pistol. According to Chris Eger, “Remaining in the Army Reserve until 1953, he eventually was promoted to colonel, even writing to Bess Truman of having to requalify with handguns while at summer training.” The .45 auto, donated by Truman himself in 1957, is displayed at the Truman Library.

This book by Matthew Algeo details the ex-President’s long road trip with his wife.
There was no Secret Service protection; perhaps Truman carried his snub-nose
.38 Special for protection.

Return to Private Life

Truman is remembered as a humble man, perhaps the last “ordinary guy” to become president of the United States. I recently read — and loved — the book Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo (Chicago Review Press, 2009). It begins as Truman and his wife turn over the presidency to Dwight D. Eisenhower, pack their things in a new Chrysler sedan and set off for a drive of many weeks throughout the USA. They were alone, with no pension but what he had from his Army service, and no Secret Service protection.

The two of them simply wanted to tour the country he had served, “as ordinary Americans.” The book is something of a time capsule with a slice of life in the early 1950s in the USA. It notes when a police chief discovered that the immediate past president — who had survived an assassination attempt by a pair of Puerto Rican separatists in 1950 — was staying at a motel in their community unprotected, he would dispatch multiple cops to make sure nothing happened to the former First Couple in his town.

Now, I seem to remember as a boy buying old copies of American Rifleman for a dime apiece at Bill Dunn’s Sporting Goods store and Stan Sprague’s gun shop, seeing pictures therein of Truman and later Eisenhower being presented with S&W Chief Specials by a large law enforcement organization. I asked in my blog, “Did he bring it along on his road trip?” The book is silent on this point but given that Truman was above all a pragmatic realist, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he did.

A Chief Special of the period would have been a “baby Chief.” Note round
front sight, short trigger guard, rectangular flat cylinder latch.

The Phones Have Ears

Well, this entry elicited the following fascinating comment from a reader, Jim Longley: “My late wife, Judith (Degener) Longley was a (cord board) telephone operator for NY Telephone Company at the end of the Truman administration and being very tall (5’11”) she was assigned to the Long Distance board because she could reach the top rows of jacks easily. She had the ‘honor’ of completing a call from then Governor Thomas E. Dewey (a Republican) to Truman on the occasion of his stunning defeat in the New Hampshire (Democrat) primary in March of 1952 and four years after Truman’s upset victory over Dewey in 1948.

Being a teenager, working an after school job to help support a sickly father, she fell prey to temptation and listened in to the call and many years later (we married in 1970) recounted some parts of the conversation to me and others. She told us Dewey was very solicitous and Truman grateful and the call was very polite from beginning to end. One thing she reiterated was when Dewey asked Truman what he intended to do after, Truman said he expected to travel around with Bess and see some of our great nation. And when Dewey asked if Truman would feel safe, Truman told him he expected he would have his ‘little Chief’ with him.

The overwhelming opinion amongst our social circle was this was a reference to Bess’ bulldog tendencies or something like that, but considering this information, and Dewey’s participation in various police organizations, it may have been an insider reference to that .38.”

Thanks, Jim. Given Truman nicknamed his wife “The Boss,” not “The Little Chief,” you may have provided a bit of history here, even if not yet rock-solid confirmed. At the time, it would have been against the law for HST to carry the gun in most of the country including his beloved Missouri, but rank does have its privileges….

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