The southern mountain shot pouches shown on this page were copied from Jim Webb’s book Sketches of Hunting Pouches, Powder Horns, and Accoutrements of Southern Appalachia. I made the first, heart shaped, shot pouches pictured here exactly as shown on pages 18-19; approximately 7.5″wide x 7.5″ high, using 3-4oz vegetable tanned cowhide and linen thread.This shot pouch design consists of a one piece back and flap with a front panel attached via a 1″ gusset that goes around the entire pouch and attaches to the strap.
The shot pouch is assembled such that the flesh sides are stitched together without a welt, and the bag is not turned. This results in the gusset folding inward. It is an unusual arrangement, but that is how the original was constructed. I used an iron buckle on the strap to allow for seasonal adjustment. The leather was stained with vinegar and iron. The strap is about 60″ and can be shortened as much as necessary just by punching new holes for the buckle.
The attached powder horn is based on several original powder horns from Southwest Virginia. It is about 13″ around the outside curve with a 2 1/2″ base plug. It is hand scraped and filed with a turned walnut base plug attached using hand forged nails. A turned walnut stopper finishes the horn. The horn is dyed yellow with aquafortis and appropriately aged.
Below is a heart shaped pouch with a slightly different horn. This horn has an applied turned collar instead of integral rings and is based on the horn on pages 228-229 in Jay Hopkins book Bone Tipped and Banded Horns. It is about 12 1/2″ around the outside curve with a 2 1/4″ base plug.
Below is another heart shaped bag with a very plain horn that is much more typical of what you would find in the southern mountains. Linen cord and chain is used to attach all the accouterments much as it would have in the period.
Small Two Piece Shot Pouch (For Sale)
This shot pouch is shown on pages 16-17 of Jim Webb’s book. It is a very simple two piece (back with flap, and front) pouch flat sewn along the bottom and up the sides with a brass button holding the flap closed. It is little under 7″ wide x 6″ high. That is pretty small. It is basically just large enough for a few balls and some patches. I imagine it being carried with a squirrel rifle and paired it with a very small banded screw-tip horn. The horn is about 10.5 ” around the outside curve (staple to stopper) with a base plug a little under 2.25″ diameter. I figure it might hold 10 shots worth of powder for a small caliber rifle. The outfit is perfect for a day of hunting.
The pouch body and strap are made from 3-4 oz vegetable tanned cowhide. An iron buckle is used for strap adjustment. The leather is stained with vinegar and iron for a blue-black color and finished with mink oil and black shoe polish.
The outfit above is for sale for $375 plus $20 shipping and any applicable VA sales tax.
I try to make all my recreated shot pouches and horns look used. That means adding wrinkles, puckers, perhaps some cracks, and a bit of dirt and oil. I leave normal blemishes in the leather that add some character.
Pricing for items like the ones shown above is as follows:
Tin Powder Measure, Whipped Brush and Pick set (as shown with Bag #11) – $50
Priority shipping and insurance on a single item is $15. Shipping on an outfit is $20. I will collect VA Sales Tax for items shipping to VA residents.
If you would like something similar to what is shown on this page, or even something completely different, use the Contact form to send me an e-mail. See FAQ for more information on purchasing custom work. The availability of any particular horn design depends on the availability of an appropriate unfinished horn in my inventory.
Applied tip powder horns, as the name implies, have turned horn, antler, or bone tips that either screw onto or are pinned to the powder horn body. These are professionally made horns that had turned butt plugs as well, and sometimes turned horn bands. Screw-tip powder horns were made as early as the French and Indian War in Philadelphia and spread west into Pennsylvania and south into Virginia and North Carolina. The best supported explanation for the purpose of screw-tip powder horns, as presented by Art DeCamp, is that the turned screw-tips (and other applied tips ) allowed for the mass production of powder horns where each step of the manufacturing process could be handled by one person. Turned horn bands and turned wood base plugs served the same purpose. By turning all these parts, a fancy powder horn could be made quickly by professional horners.
I performed all the steps myself for the screw-tip powder horns displayed below. Each is an example of a Virginia screw-tip powder horn. The single turned band is the defining feature of a Virginia powder horn. The shape of the base plug is characteristic of powder horns from the middle portion of the Valley of Virginia. As with most southern screw-tip powder horns, the screw-tips on the powder horns below have an internal thread. The powder horn bodies have an external thread. Both these horns have turned walnut stoppers. Both screw-tips are dyed to match the base plugs and stoppers The band on Horn #5 below is also dyed horn. The base plug on Horn #5 is maple stained with aqua fortis. The base plug on Horn #6 is walnut. Both powder horns are stained with aqua fortis and aged.
I will make any banded, screw-tip powder horn, with a turned base plug like the ones shown here for $200 plus shipping. See FAQ for more information on ordering custom work.
Below is another kind of applied tip powder horn. This one is based on an early Virginia horn documented in Jay Hopkins book; Bone Tipped & Banded Horns, Vol 1; pp. 138-9. This horn has a pinned turned antler tip. The butt plug and stopper are turned curly maple. The wood, horn, and antler were stained with aqua fortis (iron nitrate). The butt plug and tip were pinned with steel (iron on the original) wire pins.
I will make a similar pinned tip horn with a turned base plug for $175 plus shipping. See FAQ for more information on ordering custom work.
If I can make a powder horn for you, use the Contact form to send me an e-mail. The availability of any particular horn design depends on the availability of an appropriate unfinished horn in my inventory.
Shown here is an outfit that I made for myself consisting of an early Virginia shot pouch and a Virginia banded, screw-tip powder horn. Most of the shot pouches made these days are relatively complicated affairs using designs from the early to middle 19th century. If you want a shot pouch that is proper for the 18th century, take a close look at this shot pouch and powder horn. I put together an outfit that I felt would be proper for 1775 on the Virginia frontier.
There are very few examples of shot pouches from the 18th century. So, I was fortunate to be able to study an original early Virginia shot pouch that matches the size and construction of another published (Clash of Empires exhibition catalog, p. 30) pouch known to date to the period of the French and Indian War. This original Virginia shot pouch was documented by Wallace Gusler in the December 2009 Muzzle Blasts(pp. 4-8).
The original one piece pouch is square at the bottom (although the corners look rounded due to use) and stitched up the sides with a very fine stitch very close to the edge. A divider that is open at the bottom serves as a welt between the front and the back of the bag. A pewter flap button is anchored to a stag horn button on the inside of the pouch. The stag horn button was covered by a round piece of leather that served to prevent the user’s hand from catching on the button. The flap extends approximately halfway down the front of the bag and has a slight beaver tail shape with a welted edge.
The original bag did not have a strap attached and was missing part of the leather at one attachment point. However, there was evidence of a strap stitched to one side and a button hole on the other side. Actually, it was just a rough cut hole through which two buttons might have been tied to each other. Wallace Gusler indicated in his article that he believed two linked buttons (as in a cufflink) connected the strap to the bag using the button hole. The hole on the original pouch went through the welt and front of the bag as the back was torn away at that spot. I believe, the button was originally placed on the inside of the back and eventually pulled through tearing the back. That is why I did not run the button hole all the way through all three layers of leather on my recreation of the pouch.
I have made a number of hunting pouches based on this original. I have generally maintained the size and shape but varied the construction (i.e. external vs. internal stitching), the type of strap (i.e. leather vs. woven) and the type of attachment (i.e. location and number of buttons) for the strap. The original pouch actually appears to have rounded corners due to wear, and I made several copies that way before I realized that it was an optical illusion. Even in this very close copy, I still rounded the corners slightly in order to give the bag a finished look.
Not having Russia leather (a thin, textured, red dyed leather commercially available in the 18th century for upholstery work) which was most likely used to create the original, I created my copy of the original using 3-4 oz (may use 2-3 oz) vegetable tanned cowhide which I stained using aqua fortis to give a dark brown color. I normally use vinegar and iron as a stain on my bags which usually gives more of a blue-black color. This bag is approximately the same size as the original at about 7″ square. Just like the original, this pouch has a center divider as the welt and is stitched up the sides. In Bag #10, I rolled and hemmed the edge of the flap instead of using a welted edge. I now make these bags using a welted flap just like the original. I maintained the same flap button attachment as the original with an internal horn button used as an anchor for the external pewter flap button. A leather cover is sewn over the internal button to prevent the hand from catching on it.
As for the strap, I attached it in a manner as close to the original as I could ascertain. One end of the strap is stitched to the right side (as worn on the right side), and the other end is attached to
the bag using a single small pewter button anchored to another small pewter button on the inside of the pouch. The strap may then be seasonally adjusted using buttonholes in the end of the strap. I usually only cut one set (strap and powder horn hangers) of button holes for the requested strap length, but more holes can be cut as required to adjust the strap.
The original pouch was decorated with stamped stars, some forming the initials of the owner. Consequently, I made a matching stamp to decorate my pouch. However, I decided to get a little fancier with a more refined design. I added diagonal lines reminiscent of English checkering patterns. On the bags shown below, I used the same stamp to create the owners initials and to do a Sun, Moon, and stars motif. In fact, I liked the Sun, Moon, and stars design so much, I used it on two bags, one of them is shown below.
I attached to the bag a Virginia single banded screw-tip horn that is similar to an original dated 1774. The horn is approximately 15″ around the outside curve with a 2 3/4″ base plug. The base plug and stopper are turned walnut with the base plug attached with wooden pegs. The screw-tip and band are horn. The screw-tip is dyed to match the walnut. Hand forged staples are installed in the the base plug and throat for the attachment of the hangers. The hangers are attached to the bag strap with buttons just as the strap is attached to the bag. This attachment method is purely conjecture on my part, but I think it makes sense to be able to adjust the hanger attachment location as the strap length is adjusted. The horn is dyed yellow with aqua fortis and appropriately aged.
I distress the leather on most of my pouches to give them a used appearance. That means adding wrinkles, scuffs and scratches as well as a coat of black shoe polish to simulate a little dirt and grime. I try not to overdue it so that the function of the bag is compromised. I don’t generally distress the leather to be used on a bag that is to be highly tooled.
You might think that this bag is too small at about 7″ square. I can assure you that it is not. Period documentation indicates that most longhunters carried hunting pouches of this size. They would just carry what they needed to shoot the gun. This generally meant a bullet mold, some bullets, patches, tow, and a wiper. A powder horn and powder measure with a vent pick and brush were generally hung from the strap.
In my bag, I keep some tow, a strip of pre-lubricated pillow ticking for shooting patches, five balls, two flints wrapped in leather, and a turn screw of a type typically used with muskets. A turn screw would not have normally been found in an original hunting pouch as a longhunter would most likely have used their knife to turn the screws on their gun. However, being a gunsmith, I just can’t bring myself to risk tearing up my screw heads like that. All that said, this bag is plenty big for the listed items. I hang a pan brush, vent pick, and powder measure from either the pouch strap or powder horn hanger. I made those from recycled tin plated steel from a cookie tin. I have attached small knife to the back of the pouch to use as a patch knife. The period longhunters would most likely have just carried a store bought butcher knife in their belt. This is certainly all you need for a day of hunting and more than you need to carry to the line when shooting at the range.
Shown below are four more pouch and horn outfits very similar to the bag shown above. They are of the same basic design with different tooling. The bottom two outfits have a different type of early Virginia horn. Horn #21 was made to the client’s specification and is not based on a particular original. They all have a welted flap just like the original, and I am currently making all these style bags that way.
You can obtain your very own pouch and horn outfit like the ones shown above for the following prices:
Plain Early Virginia Shot Pouch (as shown above but without tooling) – $185 plus shipping
Powder Horn Hangers for Early Virginia Shot Pouch – $20 (Option with a pouch order)
Decorative Tooling on Early Virginia Shot Pouch – $20 (Option with a pouch order)
Leather knife sheath for customer provided knife – $35 (Option with a pouch order – customer must provide knife)
Virginia Banded, Screw-tip Powder Horn – $200 plus shipping
Virginia applied tip Powder Horn – $175 plus shipping
Tin Powder Measure, Brush and Pick set – $50
Priority shipping and insurance on a single item is $15. Shipping on an outfit is $20. I will collect VA Sales Tax for items shipping to VA residents.
To order a pouch or horn like the ones shown above, or to discuss a different project, use the Contact form to send me an e-mail. See FAQ for more information on purchasing custom work. The availability of any particular horn design depends on the availability of an appropriate unfinished horn in my inventory.
The vast majority of original powder horns were as plain as they could be and still be functional. That means a flat pine (or other softwood) base plug and little or no carving of the throat; just enough work to contain powder and attach a strap. Many times a screw was used to attach a strap to the base plug. A grooved or simply reduced throat is enough to tie a strap around it. The two powder horns shown just below are based on an original southwest Virginia horn and are a little fancier than most with a turned base plug and carved rings at the throat. Even so, it is still much plainer than the carved and engraved horns from the French and Indian War. This horn could also be made with a turned and applied collar instead of the integral rings. The horn would dictate how it is approached.
Please note the raw linen cord used to attach the horn in the photo below. Cord was often found on southern outfits. The outfit show below is much more historically correct for a southern mountain rifle than many of the sophisticated shot pouches and powder horns being recreated today. Most of the original powder horns and shot pouches were very simple affairs, well worn and patched together. You will see horns completely covered in leather to patch a hole or holes rather than just throw it away. Even something as simple as a plain powder horn could not be easily replaced in the southern mountains and was highly valued.
I will make any plain powder horn with a flat base plug and simply carved throat and spout for $125 plus shipping. A horn like #7 with a turned base plug and either carved rings or an applied collar would cost $150 plus shipping
To order a powder horn or discuss any other project, use the Contact form to send me an e-mail. See FAQ for more information on ordering custom work. The availability of any particular horn design depends on the availability of an appropriate unfinished horn in my inventory.
In conjunction with some recent repair/restoration work, I have started working on an all handmade flintlock. That means one made of wrought iron in the same manner as an 18th century Virginia gun shop including making all the screws. I have completed a set of templates for the lock and have forged a blank for the tumbler. I have also made a tumbler mill from a large file that is used to mill the parallel sides on the tumbler. I will probably do the plate next.
I had to use my last tumbler blank for another project, so I will have to make another for myself; most likely with a newly made die. It is probably instructive to explain why I had to use the wrought iron blank on another project. I had been trying to make a replacement tumbler for a contemporary flintlock pistol using O-1 tool steel. I was forging a blank just like with wrought iron which involves hammering out what looks like a large lopsided nail. Then I was machining the blank on a lathe and filing the profile and notches. The problem was that I had been running into forging cracks in these tumblers, and you don’t find them until you have machined each surface. I lost count of how many blanks I made. I almost finished two, only to self inflict some other injury at the end. That was two out of six or seven blanks that were free of forging cracks.
The problem was that the tool steel was being quenched by the colder anvil and hardened in spots. So, if you are working below the re-crystalization temperature, about 1500F (cherry red), you run the risk of cracking the tumbler on the side against the anvil. The more the blank was worked, the more likely to produce cracks. The two blanks that were free of forging cracks(or at least as far as I could tell) were ones that I worked the least. My blows just happened to be more efficient on those. I decided that it is just too much trouble to try to forge tumblers from tool steel.
Fortunately, I have plenty of third run 1.25″ round wrought iron bar that is just fine for lock parts. There are a few small inclusions, but not many. So, from now on, I will make all my lock parts and many tools, except the springs, from wrought iron or mild steel and case harden them. That is period correct anyway.
Tools for Creating a Handmade Flintlock
Work is underway on the dies to forge all the lock parts as finished as possible. The effort to make the dies has two purposes; to explore period lock production and more efficiently produce multiple locks. My intention is to make at lease two handmade flintlocks; one for a handmade flintlock rifle and one for a handmade flintlock pistol.
The documentation for the dies I intend to reproduce, come from two sources; articles in JHAT Vol I & Vol V written by Gary Brumfield, and subsequent research done by George Suiter. Gary was the second master of the gun shop in Colonial Williamsburg, and George is the current master. George has added dies and jigs to the lock production in the CW Gunshop since the JHAT articles were written.
Of particular interest is that the gun shop in Colonial Williamsburg has not been forge welding pans onto lock plates for some time. They are using a modified lock plate die and a fairly complex die to form the pan, pan bridle, and fence. They actually have dies for most of their parts as well as a drilling jig for the plate. The dies and jigs are based on documented tools and processes used by the lock makers of Birmingham, England.
A photo a the beginning of this article shows a tumbler mill copied from the JHAT I article and made from a 12″ bastard file. This design never worked very well for me or the CW Gunshop (according to Gary Brumfield); and come to find out, the actual 18th C tumbler mills were not made exactly like a file. The photo to the right shows an fancy 18th Century tumbler mill of, supposedly, the same design; a design documented in Diderot and some period German publications. I plan to make a mill based on the tool in the photo. It is really hard to see from the attached photo; but the “teeth” in the actual mills were perpendicular to the long axis of the mill, cut with a triangular file, and flat on top. That is why they worked better that our uninformed attempts to recreate them with a file. The CW Gunshop currently uses a copy of what is probably more of a 19th century English tumbler mill with rotary cutters. This is a more effective design that the tumbler mill shown.
Handmade Lock Project Progress
Steel has been purchased for all the lock dies, screw mills, and tumbler mill. The pieces have been cut to shape and are ready for the dies to be cut and the hardie posts to be welded. The chisels have been made are are being used to cut the dies. I have also made the drill bit, reamer, tap, and screw mills for the internal lock screws.
I should note that while I intend to make the flintlock using period tools and techniques, I don’t intend to make the tools entirely same way. As these tools were usually purchased by the gunsmith from England, I feel perfectly justified in making them however I like. That includes using a belt sander instead of an old stone grinding wheel, a drill press, and a metal lathe, if necessary. I will point out that they did have water powered grinding wheels, drill presses and metal lathes in the English shops. As I have no other alternatives, I will still use the forge, files, and chisels in the old way.
Here is a photo of the first handmade lock screw I made. I used the screw mills shown just after case hardening them. Also shown is the tap drill and tap that I made as well as a plate with a hole that I drilled and tapped with those tools. It took less than an hour to make the screw using a rod of 12L14 steel (the usual screw making stock and very similar in softness to wrought iron) that had been previously squared for the brace on one end and pointed on the other. I could have done a better job with the screw by pointing the rod with more care to make sure it was centered.
I had a job come up repairing an antique lock that allowed me the opportunity to make a couple more lock making tools on my list. I had to replace a cracked tumbler, so the time was right to make a tumbler die for forging a wrought iron tumbler blank. I made the die so that I ended up with a blank large enough to machine a tumbler for most any rifle size lock.
Since I had a couple hours at the forge to make the tumbler blank, I slipped in another little forging project; making a lantern stock chuck for screw stock. In the past, I hammered a square end directly on the screw stock, but that wobbled too much in the brace. I felt that a lantern stock chuck would be more stable, and it is.
I used the new tumbler die to forge a nearly perfect tumbler blank out of wrought iron. It took a little more time than I had thought, but I got a good result. Since I had not made a period tumbler mill yet, I turned the axles and the parallel tumbler faces on a lathe. I ended up with a roughly shaped disk that I quickly filed to shape to match the original tumbler. The finished tumbler is shown in the lock above.
This powder horn was made from a raw horn in a late colonial style. I scraped it down, carved and filed the spout in the traditional manner. The plain domed base plug was carved from pine and held in place with wooden pegs. I turned the stopper from a scrap piece of curly maple. The stopper was stained with aqua fortis, and the aqua fortis was used to age the horn giving it the golden yellow color. Just like with staining wood, you have to apply heat to the horn to activate the aqua fortis and get that nice yellow color. The spout was dyed with dark brown Rit dye. Walnut hulls would probably have been used originally and I intend to switch to natural dyes in the future. The schrimsaw is not a copy of anything in particular, but something to my liking using period motifs. The strap is from Shayna L. Matthews ( www.fiberwoodart.com ). I like her work quite a bit and have bought several straps from her.
If you are interested in a powder horn like this, use the Contact form to send me an e-mail. If you want me to make you a new horn similar to this one with YOUR name on it, it will cost you $375 (plus shipping and applicable sales tax). See FAQ for more information on purchasing custom work.
The longrifle shown here is an iron mounted chunk gun with stylistic elements found on guns from the Augusta/Rockbridge area of Virginia down into southwest Virginia. This rifle includes a four-piece iron patchbox and a faceted trigger guard and thimbles similar to a couple of rifles from Wallace Gusler’s step-toe group as documented in several Muzzle Blasts articles. Those antique rifles had mounts that were a little fancier than most iron mounted guns but they certainly didn’t have carving and engraving as does this longrifle. The carving on this rifle is based on a John Davidson rifle (shown elsewhere on this site) from Rockbridge County, Virginia. As it stands, this is most definitely a fantasy gun both in terms of its decoration as a chunk gun, and the mix of features from various rifles. In my defense, I was making this gun for myself. So, I made what suited me. Hopefully, you will also find it appealing.
The Technical Details
Fairly curly, slab cut, red maple
Chambers Late Ketland lock
46″, 45 caliber, 1 1/8″ straight custom barrel by Getz
All iron with hand forged butt piece, guard, and ramrod ferrule
Davis longrifle double set triggers modified to fit the guard
Pull / Drop / Cast-off:
13.25″ / 2.75″ / 0.25″
14 lbs 15 oz
Building a Fantasy Longrifle
Below are initial sketches that I did for this project. I do these sort of sketches for every project, but as you will see, the actual gun can turn out quite differently. I often change my mind about the details as I am working on the gun.
I wasn’t happy with how similar silver wire worked on Rifle #11. So, I decided to skip the silver wire on this gun and do some carving based on the John Davidson documented in the Antiques section of this site.
I also changed the butt piece heel extension and comb to three facets based on the work of John Davidson’s unidentified master. I also decided to use the touch plate release I used on #11. However, after problems with the touch plate release due to wood movement from changes in humidity, I decided to change the release mechanism and toe plate to a small push button release for better reliability.
The ramrod is made of hickory as are all my ramrods and scrapped to a taper with a forge welded sheet steel ferrule on the small end. The ferrule is threaded for a 10-32 screw. I can provide a hardened and tempered handmade wiper for the rifle for an extra $79.
As with all my guns, this rifle was stocked from a blank that I cut out on a bandsaw. After that, the only power tools I used on it were a hand drill and a drill press, mainly to drill screw, rivet, and pin holes. I used an 18th century brace and bits to help with the inletting of the lock and patchbox. All the other work was done with 18th and 19th century tools and techniques. Most of the work on the gun was done with planes, chisels, files, and scrapers. This included many antique tools and specialty tools made by me. The stock was final shaped and finished with scrapers. No sandpaper touched the wood. You can still see scraper and file marks in the finished product and there are the tell tale ripples in the stock indicative of being scraped. A more highly figured piece of wood would have had even more ripples.
I hand inlet the barrel and ramrod groove using chisels and planes, and hand drilled the ramrod hole. The trigger guard and butt piece were hand forged and assembled using rivets and forge brazing. The heel of the butt piece was filled with brass to make the joint as solid as possible. Then many hours of hand filing and polishing went in to getting these mounts to their final form. All the other mounts were hand cut from sheet and hand formed around mandrels I made expressly for the purpose. I made all the parts for the patchbox release mechanism and modified the Davis triggers to suit my taste and ensure perfect operation with the lock. As with all my locks, I hand filed and polished the lock plate, cock, and frizzen so that the lock would look as if it were a product of the 18th or 19th century. All the lock internals were polished on their wear surfaces and the sear and full cock notch were stoned for perfect operation with the set triggers. This particular lock also needed some modification of the sear and sear spring. Several days of work went into just finishing and tuning the lock.
My guns are more expensive than many other gunmakers because of all the hand work I put into them and the effort that I take to make sure everything works smoothly. I spent many days on this rifle just making sure that the lock, triggers, and patchbox release worked as well as they reasonably could. I also spend a lot of time with a scraper to make sure my lines and planes are straight and sharp and my curves smooth. I use traditional ferric nitrate (aqua fortis) stain which requires much, much more preparation than if you were using a modern non grain raising stain. I then apply many coats of my own oil based gunstock finish. I don’t use polyurethane or other synthetic finishes. Because of that, and the porosity of oil finishes, the last step in every gun is a good coat of Renaissance Wax on all surfaces. The only maintenance other than cleaning after shooting is to apply a coat of paste wax a couple times a year. The wax will effectively seal the stock against the weather.
Once I have finished all my scraping, polishing and finishing, then I go about destroying the work I have done in order to age the piece. I rust all the iron parts, sometimes several times. Apply a patina to the brass and silver and then paint the whole gun in a lamp black oil glaze to simulate a century or two of dirt and soot from the fireplace that I then scrub off judiciously to simulate many years of wear. A few dents, dings and some blood along the way doesn’t hurt the process.
I try to work in as workman like manner as I can, but I am picky about line and function. I will let some scraper marks and file marks and a few dents slide by as did the original gunmakers, but not functional or architectural problems. You do have to realize that anything done by hand is not going to be perfect. I try to get as close as I reasonably can, but you do have to let some things go as long as they are not going to affect function.
Speaking of function, all my barrel tenons are slotted to allow at least 1/32″ of travel around the pin in each direction. This is to allow for the normal expansion and contraction of the stock without stressing the barrel so much that the aim is affected.
Shown here is a previously unpublished John Davidson longrifle. It was made for a farmer in Rockbridge county Virginia and is still in the family. While the rifle is the victim of a very poor restoration job many years ago, there is still considerable artistic merit to the gun.
The longrifle is mostly intact. The original nose piece is missing as is the trigger guard. The guard on the rifle now does not belong by any stretch of the imagination. It was just stuck on there so there would be a guard. Missing wood in the forearm and around the lock and tang was replaced with body putty, but the thimbles appear to be original as does the lock plate with a period conversion from flint to percussion. The best part of the longrifle is the butt stock. It has a typical John Davidson patchbox with some great engraving, and some unique floral cheek side carving.
Rather than further describe the longrifle, I will let the photographs speak for themselves. I do have to beg your indulgence for any deficiencies in the photographs. They were, by necessity, taken at the owners house, outside, on a sunny, windy day, in the partial shade of a large tree. It is amazing they turned out as well as they did.
“From a flat bar of soft iron, hand forged into a gun barrel; laboriously bored and rifled with crude tools; fitted with a stock hewn from a maple tree in the neighboring forest; and supplied with a lock hammered to shape on the anvil; an unknown smith, in a shop long since silent, fashioned a rifle which changed the whole course of world history; made possible the settlement of a continent; and ultimately Freed our country of foreign domination.
Light in weight; graceful in line; economical in consumption of powder and lead; fatally precise; distinctly American; it sprang into immediate popularity; and for a hundred years was a model often slightly varied but never radically changed.
Legend regarding this rifle which have never been confirmed have drifted out of the dusty past; inaccuracies have passed for facts. Few writers have given more than a passing word to a weapon which deserves a lasting place in history, and it is a pleasure to present herewith the data collected during the past ten years and to dedicate this work to the KENTUCKY RIFLE.”
—- Capt. John G. Dillon, 1924, From his book The Kentucky Rifle
It is hard to beat John Dillon’s description of an Kentucky Rifle, the popular name for the American longrifle. This hints at the fact that there are a lot of names for basically the same thing. There is even some disagreement as to whether you spell it longrifle or long rifle. Generically, we refer to the American longrifle which includes all longrifles made in what would become the United States of America. We refer to longrifles made in specific States or regions by adding the State or region names such as in Pennsylvania longrifles or Southern longrifles; or even Kentucky longrifles, not to be confused with Kentucky Rifles. Remember that Kentucky Rifles is the popular name for all longrifles and is equivalent in use to American longrifles.
The Kentucky Rifle has been referred to in print since at least the third quarter of the 19th century. Some believe that the name came from the song “Hunters of Kentucky” by Samuel Woodworth recounting Andrew Jackson’s victory in the Battle of New Orleans in 1812. The song referred to “Kentucky rifles” carried by the riflemen from Kentucky who were prominent in that victory. However, the American longrifle was not just made in Kentucky, it was made in many states along the Eastern Seaboard, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia(West Virginia), Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Indiana, New York and New England. In fact, the first longrifles carried into Kentucky via the Great Wagon Road and the Wilderness Road were made in Pennsylvania and possibly Virginia. The manufacture and evolution of the American longrifle followed settlers down the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia into western Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina and then west along the Wilderness Road into Tennessee and Kentucky. In one British officer’s account of the effectiveness of the “over the mountains men” from Kentucky and Tennessee in the southern campaigns of the American Revolution of 1780 and 1781, he described their rifles as having been “chiefly made in Lancaster, and two or three neighboring towns in that vicinity, in Pennsylvania.”
The American longrifle originated in and about Lancaster, Pennsylvania in the second quarter of the 18th century and was made well into the second quarter of the 19th century. Martin Mylin, a German Swiss gunsmith, established a shop outside Lancaster in 1719, and is credited with making the first American longrifle about 1740. Eventually, the American longrifle gave way to more sophisticated, mass produced firearms starting with the Industrial Revolution in America around 1840. However, production of the American longrifle never completely ceased. Gunsmiths were making similar guns throughout the 19th century. Mostly, these were high end target rifles, but there were back country gunsmiths making longrifles for subsistence hunting in the Appalachians well into the 20th century. With the renewed interest in all things early American in the 1920’s and 30’s (the Colonial Revival period) as a result of the American sesquicentennial, there was a renewed interest in the Kentucky rifle. It was during this period that John Dillon wrote his book heralding an ever increasing interest in collecting, and recreating these uniquely American firearms.
But I still haven’t really told you what makes a gun an American longrifle. Well, they are long (usually five feet or more), graceful, slender, exceedingly accurate (by the standards of the day), muzzleloading (gunpowder and a round lead ball covered by a cloth patch were loaded from the muzzle(front) of the barrel), rifled (spiral grooves (furrows) were cut into the bore of the barrel to impart a stabilizing spin on the bullet thereby dramatically increasing accuracy), of relatively small caliber (average was around 50 caliber, decreasing into the 19th century), with either flintlock or percussion sidelock ignition systems, a full length wood stock, and usually a patchbox or grease hole on the lock side of the butt stock. The barrels were almost always octagon (“squared” in 18th century terminology) and tapered toward the muzzle and flared back out starting a few inches from the muzzle. This taper and flare (swamp) was generally very subtle giving way to straight tapered and then straight barrels in the mid 19th century. These guns were primarily mounted with brass fixtures (butt piece, toe plate, guard, side plate, thimbles and nose piece); but some, most notably in the South, had iron mounts; and, very rarely, there was a silver mounted gun. Many of these guns were decorated with baroque and rococo carving and engraving as well as inlays of silver and brass wire and sheet. Some of these rifles were extremely ornate and were one of the first truly American art forms. They are now recognized as a significant form of American decorative art and people collect them as such. This is what has driven the price of the best original flintlock American longrifles well into six figures.
The roots of the American longrifle are in the German rifles, or Jaegers, that were brought to this country by early German settlers and gunsmiths. Among other stylistic changes, the barrels of the Jaegers were lengthened, and the caliber reduced to produce the uniquely American longrifle which made more efficient use of powder and was very accurate at long range. The American longrifle developed to serve the needs of commercial hunters traveling to the frontier and beyond to harvest deer skins for export. These commercial hunters or “longhunters” have long been portrayed as pioneers and explorers of European origin such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. However, there is good reason to believe that as many as half of the early longrifles went to native American hunters who had been using European arms to harvest skins for export to Europe since the first contact with European traders in the 16th century.
There is lots more that I could write about the American longrifle, but the best way to learn about them is to look at them and handle them. On this site you will find photos of some of the better ones that I have made in my Portfolio as well as photos of original longrifles that I and others have owned in the Antique Longrifles Gallery. Look them over good, get some good books on the subject, and seek out original longrifles for study at museums, gun shows, and private owners.
The Kentucky Rifle by Capt. John Dillon
The Kentucky Rifle in its Golden Age by Joe Kindig Jr.
Rifles of Colonial America, Volume 1 & Volume 2by George Shumway
Recreating the American Longrifle by William Buchele, George Shumway, and Peter Alexander
The Gunsmith of Grenville County, Building the American Longrifle by Peter Alexander
The American Rifle: At the Battle at Kings Mountain by C.P. Russell, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington, D.C., 1941
Rifle Making in the Great Smoky Mountains by Arthur I. Kendall, U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Washington, D.C., 1941
Shown here is a an original signed Simon Lauck fowler. The distinctive signature S_____ Lauck is shown in the last photo. I had originally believed that this gun was mostly a restoration. However, after a careful and detailed examination of the disassembled gun under expert guidance, I have come to believe that this gun is mostly original and a good example of a product of the Simon Lauck shop.
At some some point this gun was shortened and apparently converted to percussion. Everything from the front thimble forward is a obvious restoration. The stock from the front thimble back appears to be original and unaltered except for the repair of a crack through the lock mortise. The lock appears to have been reconverted to flint, but I believe the lock plate is original to the gun because the lock screws fit the plate and the stock without any obvious modification. I believe that the gap along the bottom of the lock plate is due to the repair through that area. Some of the guard may be a replacement but it is hard to tell.
One important marking to mention is a very bold “LS” stamp on the bottom of the barrel at the breech. I have been told that a barrel with this marking was also observed on a gun from the Haymaker shop. It would seem that there was a barrel maker by the name of “LS” supplying the gun makers in Winchester around 1800. Some more research into this would certainly be in order.