On Nov. 20, 1929, Jim Letts borrowed a .41 caliber revolver from a deputy in the Umatilla County sheriff’s office in Pendleton and, in front of four women, the deputy and a reporter, shot himself in the side. Those in attendance laughed when Letts pulled the trigger.
After shooting himself, Letts coolly passed the gun back to the deputy, then took out his pocket knife and pried the bullet free. But there was no parlor trick involved — Letts, you see, was only giving his sales pitch. Shooting himself, sometimes multiple times a day, was how he made his living selling bullet-proof vests.
“I’ve shot myself more than 4,000 times in the past five years,” he bragged.”
The vest he wore for his demonstrations was made from laminated steel plates, and would stop everything from BBs to a .45 caliber bullet. Letts traveled throughout the country marketing his wares to law enforcement, and though heavy-caliber bullets dented the protective steel plates slightly, the vest could withstand multiple shots in the same spot.
“Of course the police and sheriff’s departments are my customers, so I always go to them to demonstrate,” Letts said.
Shooting himself caused a slight stinging sensation, he said, and there was the chance that an impact in the right spot could crack a rib, but in general he was fearless in demonstrating the stopping power of vest for all types of pistols.
Letts also carried gas bombs and other weaponry, “The proper equipment,” he said, “for a good lively defensive war.”