Early Muzzle Loaders
AMONG the equipment of those hardy spirits who conquered the wilderness of the Eastern States three things stand out conspicuously as being most essential and they are the axe, the plow, and the rifle. With these three tools the forest was removed, the soil placed under cultivation and the owner of the land and his family were guarded against enemies and provided with food. Naturally to the axe and the plow specific duties were assigned, but to the rifle a wider range of usefulness was given and the importance of the weapon was therefore enhanced until it became the most prized article in the pioneer's equipment. Part of this regard for the rifle is also due, no doubt, to the fact that the arm served other than a strictly utilitarian purpose, for the settler was, in his way, a sportsman, as much so as is the wing shot, or the big game hunter of the present day.
The weapon of the early settler was of the flint-lock type; but that period when the flintlock held sway was long before my time and I do not care to go back so far. The arms of which I write were of a later type and of the percussion lock style. They represented perfection in muzzle-loading arms and embodied in them was all that was fine and desirable in earlier weapons, with the added improvement of the percussion-cap lock, which not only made the weapons much more convenient, but also more reliable than those of flint-lock type. They were, I think, distinctly American, being designed and made by the artisans of their day in scantily furnished backwoods workshops. They were the result of progressive design and invention, coming into use as soon as the desirability of the new cap-lock became evident, and passing only when the most conservative of the old school riflemen could no longer deny the superiority of the breech-loading weapons which replaced them. And that is not so far back as one might think, for it is not so many years ago that these arms were used for big game hunting in the mountains of the East and South, while for target shooting they have not yet passed entirely into disuse.
I have myself done considerable shooting with the muzzle-loading rifle and was strongly impressed with the accuracy of the arm. The muzzle-loaders with which I am acquainted were evolved from the flint-locks of earlier times and were in general lines and construction quite similar to those weapons; but they were more refined, more graceful, and I think in all ways more desirable. While they were usually heavy and long of barrel, they were lighter than the flint-lock guns, in fact, the stocks and fittings were more slender and dainty than those of the average repeating rifle of to-day. The arm shown in the illustration is a typical one. These rifles usually had the forearm running the entire length of the barrel, as shown and the butt stock was narrow, thin, and curving downward gracefully from the lock to butt-plate. The latter was of brass, or German silver, with long points, which were detrimental to quick shooting. 'But rapid handling of the rifle was not thought of in those days. The shooting of the early day riflemen was deliberate, aim carefully taken, and every shot made to count. The points of the butt plate were meant to hold the stock firmly to the shoulder of the shooter, but were more useful theoretically than in actual shooting. I have also seen them put to another use. Once at a shooting match where all the noted marksmen of the locality were assembled, a misunderstanding in regard to the shooting regulations brought on a heated argument between two of the riflemen and one of them, his anger getting the better of his judgment, suddenly drove the butt of his rifle into the ground and threw off his coat preparatory to settling the dispute by force. The pointed butt-plate held the rifle solidly in its vertical position without any other support. While not meant for that use, it served the same purpose as the spike which the Englishman fixes in the butt of his fishing rod.
Fur, News. Fur News, January 1916.
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