Kentucky Rifles How They Earned Their Name

Surprisingly, one of America's earliest triumphs in artistic and functional design, the "Kentucky rifle," was not invented or generally fashioned in Kentucky. The name was coined from a hearty stock of Americans who plied it.
Native Americans called Kentucky the "Dark and Bloody Ground" because of the unending wars between Iroquois and Cherokees for its possession. New worlders thought of the first wild west as a hunter's paradise. In 1752, a stalwart American Indian trader named John Findley, traveled the Ohio River documenting the valley's beauty and abundance. In 1769, a bold young explorer and skilled marksman, who was given an American-made flintlock rifle at the age of twelve, hired Findley and four other woodsmen to guide him through a wilderness country road between Kentucky and Tennessee which is now know as the "Cumberland Gap." In 1775,(Daniel) Boonesborough, Kentucky was established.

During the Revolution, demoralized English officers wrote home about a new type of American-made long-barreled "rifle" backwoodsmen used with astonishing skill. When the war was won, the new government paid debts to its officers by offering land grants in untamed land. Claiming their acreage, these adventurers brought their rifles to Kentucky with them.

Near the end of the lost War of 1812, American spirits were raised when five thousand Americans, including two-thousand frontiersmen with long barreled guns, under the command of General Andrew Jackson, defeated the British in the Battle of New Orleans. A popular song called "The Hunters of Kentucky or The Battle of New Orleans" (no doubt, written by a proud Kentuckian) forever named America's rifle.

"But Jackson he was wide awake, and wasn't scar'd at trifles, for well he knew what aim we take, with our Kentucky Rifles."

The Kentucky rifle was invented and predominantly made in Pennsylvania. A good shooter cost half a man's yearly wage. Most were used for hunting on a daily basis. They were handed down from generation to generation, and are often found in worn condition today. Antique dealers like myself call this "patina" and charge additional fare for it. Many of the early "flintlock" rifles were converted to the improved "percussion" system in the 1830's. This does not ruin the value of a Kentucky rifle. It is simply a chapter of its life.

Age, artistic beauty, and condition are the most important factors in gauging the value of the world's most sought-after firearm. A classic specimen is stocked in native American tiger stripe maple. (Dealers note* Tiger maple is almost never found in European furniture and thus is evidence of valuable American origin.) A rare colonial "transition era (1715-1775)" flintlock specimen in a plain grain of maple, walnut, cherry, or birch, can command a huge sum. Keep in mind, most plain-wood Kentucky rifles found today were made during the third generation "percussion era.(1825-1860)" These are generally, thousand dollar rifles, not five figure antiques.

A hinge door "patchbox" cut into the stock is the distinguishing feature of a Kentucky rifle. Most were made of brass and their decorative elements can often identify a gun's maker or geographic origin. Valuable "Golden age (1775-1825)" Kentucky rifles often have elaborate patchboxes and carved stocks.

Like paintings, a rare signed work(the maker's name or initials on the barrel or elsewhere) of a great gunsmith artist is an important document of history. Most Kentucky rifle makers, being humble Quakers, signed their work with their workmanship, not their name.

Seldom, do I suggest that a line of antique is a staple to an honorable antique collection. A good Kentucky rifle is one place where I make my stand. It is part of America herself.

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