A Rock Springs Judge and His Guns

The following piece was submitted by the Sweetwater County Historical Museum.
A Rock Springs Judge and His Guns

David Griffiths Thomas wore many hats after moving to Rock Springs from Pittsburgh in 1878.

SWEETWATER COUNTY — Three classic antique handguns that belonged to a prominent Rock Springs pioneer were recently examined through the Sweetwater County Historical Museum’s Vintage Firearms Research Program.

David Griffiths Thomas was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1857 and came to Rock Springs as a young man in 1878, when he went to work for the Union Pacific Coal Company while he studied law on his own.

After becoming an attorney, he went on to a long and distinguished career, serving as Prosecuting Attorney of Uinta County, followed by service as County and Prosecuting Attorney of Sweetwater County, six years as State Coal Mine Inspector, a member of the last Wyoming territorial legislature, Superintendent of the U.P. coal mines in the Rock Springs District, Mayor of Rock Springs, and Justice of the Peace.

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Judge Thomas died in his Rock Springs home in 1935, age 77.

Museum staff identified the largest of Judge Thomas’s three handguns as a fully-engraved .45-caliber, double-action Colt Model 1878 revolver, manufactured late in 1884. Colt’s single-action Model 1873 Single Action Army, the standard American army issue at the time, had been a major success and the Model 1878 was one of Colt’s early attempts to break into the double-action market. (A single-action revolver must be manually cocked for each shot; double-actions are fired with a long trigger pull).

Colt produced just over 51,000 of the big pistols but production ceased in 1905. Next was a five-shot Iver Johnson Second Model Safety Hammerless, a double-action revolver with a bright nickeled finish in .38 Smith & Wesson. The Safety Hammerless was a highly popular, inexpensive pocket revolver that fired only in the double-action mode.

Judge Thomas’s Iver Johnson was manufactured around the turn of the 20th century. Modern shooters will take note of the revolver’s “trigger safety,” a feature today of many striker-fired semi-automatic pistols such as the Glock.

The third of Judge Thomas’s pistols was one of the most iconic and instantly-recognized of American frontier-era handguns, a two-barreled Remington Mode 95 derringer, manufactured from 1866 to 1935.

Museum staff identified the Thomas derringer as a Type II, also called a “Model 3,” made between 1888 and 1911. The Model 95 was a two-shot chambered for the .41 rimfire cartridge. A single-action break-open with a rotating firing pin, it was easily concealed in a vest or pants pocket.

A short video illustrating how the Model 95 functioned can be found on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-owZZ3quUs&t=4s.

Those with a vintage firearm (or firearms) who would like to learn more about are encouraged to contact the museum at (307) 872-6435 or via email at blustd@sweetwatercountywy.gov

There is no charge for the Museum’s Vintage Firearms Research Program.