ESCOPETA. The escopeta or escopeda was a light, inexpensive, .69 caliber musket or shotgun, with a 38½" barrel, popularized in the mid-seventeenth century by Spanish cavalry on the colonial frontier. This Spanish military weapon, designated as the standard shoulder arm for use by both regular light infantry and cavalry troops until the mid-eighteenth century, was considered too short and small of caliber for use against European infantry after that time. But when the mainline colonial regiments and militia in Mexico, Louisiana, and Florida were armed with 1752 and 1791 pattern regulation muskets, the mounted presidial forces and local militia units in Texas continued to use the escopeta, which was still considered acceptable for use against Indians as specified by the Royal Regulations of 1772. The escopeta was carried across the saddle bow in a soft leather sheath called a funda or ord. John C. Duval wrote that the escopeta was a "a short bell-mouth, bull-doggish looking musket, carrying a very heavy ball, which is `death by law' when it hits, but that is seldom, for they shoot with little accuracy. They are good for nothing except to make a noise."
The escopeta was by regulation, and to some degree in fact, replaced as the standard cavalry shoulder arm by the English-made .615 caliber Baker carbine after the Mexican war for independence in 1821. Nevertheless, it remained quite popular with mounted troops on the northern frontier. It was carried in great numbers by the troops of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna in Texas in 1836, although, according to Duval, "the Mexicans never place them on the shoulder, but hold them with both hands above their heads and fire at random, which accounts in a great measure for the little execution done by them." Duval, a survivor of the battle of Coleto, armed himself with an escopeta, which he described as "a short light `blunderbuss' used by the Mexican cavalry," as well as with his rifle. He claims to have loaded the escopeta with "forty `blue whistlers' and powder in proportion" in expectation of a cavalry charge against James W. Fannin's hollow infantry square at the battle of Coleto. On firing the gun, Duval went "heels over head" through the rank to his rear; so great was the recoil that he thought he had been shot by the enemy.
In fact, one reason that Texas forces were able to inflict such terrible casualties on their Mexican foes while themselves sustaining only light casualties-at the battle of Mier, for instance, the Texans killed and wounded an estimated 800 of the enemy while losing but thirty of their own-was the recoil of the escopeta. The Mexican soldier was a notoriously poor shot because he often closed his eyes and flinched while firing. This phenomenon was due to the fact that his cartridges contained twice as much powder as required in each charge, so that his weapon kicked brutally.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Handbook of Texas Online, Thomas W. Cutrer, "Escopeta," accessed February 28, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qve01.
Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.