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Ruel A. Macaraeg





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PostPosted: Sun 23 Apr, 2006 12:51 pm    Post subject: Historic weapons of Appalachian Hillbillies         Reply with quote

Does anyone know if or what particular guns and knives were used with regularity by "Hillbillies" in Appalachia in the late 1800s? I'm having trouble recognizing any patterns from the few photographs I've seen.
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Ken Rankin




Location: North Carolina
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PostPosted: Sun 23 Apr, 2006 2:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Not that I am aware of, and my own people lived in the hills of Kentucky for quite some time. I suppose that since a majority of the settlers in the Appalachians were of Celtic ancestory (Scots and Irish) that their weapons would reflect that, and since the area was isolated (some places even into the mid 20th century) that they'd lag behind the rest of the country, so I would not be surprised if some in the Mountains were still using flintlocks years later. I would think that they made their own knives and blades from whatever steel and iron they could get ahold of. Hillbillies is a bit of a derogatory term, mountain folk is better suited. They invented NASCAR, for God's sakes Laughing Out Loud

My maternal grandmother here in NC still uses alot of the old words, which come from the Gaelic spoken by our ancestors, and I find it to be a source of pride when I have to translate for her at Wal-mart Laughing Out Loud

Ken
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Dan Dickinson
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PostPosted: Sun 23 Apr, 2006 3:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hill folk used many different types of guns. Mostly though they were of older varieties, such as the "hog (muzzleloading) rifle" .
A good source of information on the hillfolk would be the Foxfire series edited by Eliot Wigginton, especially Book 5 which deals with riflemaking and balcksmithing.
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 23 Apr, 2006 4:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Speaking as one who lives reasonably close to the region (middle - East Tennessee foot hills region)..

*Sawed off shotgun
*"Arkansaw toothpick" (pretty close to Rondell dagger)
*Any club like weapon ( slat of hickory or a piece of pipe)
*"Kentucky Rifle" (long barrel sometimes riffled, 30 to 45 caliber...accuracy preferred over sheer foot-pounds impact)
*Bare fists (actually a dominant favorite in stories)

Having lived here for about 20 years (roughly half my life) and gathering stories from those whose roots go back well over 100 years in the area, I would say the above is fairly accurate. Several "old timers' at my gun club are pretty lethal with their "coach sotguns." Not all of these are that loosely choked (meaning cowboy shooting range may be pretty effective out to around 30 yards/meters....)

A number of "gentlemen" I have worked with who could be described as one or two generatons older than me. Several have told me stories about their "pappy" making extra money producing moonshine. I have seen remnants of one of the stills (operated inside a local hardware store before it closed down last year!.) I actually have had current day moonshine presented to me as a gift on two or three occasions. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) still has several incidents per year of agents that end up "permanently missing" in an area where I like to go fly fishing about 20 miles from my house. One has to learn not to ask too many questions or appear to interested.... Otherwise the locals are very kind "good ole boys" that will help you out .

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
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PostPosted: Sun 23 Apr, 2006 4:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Much of rural America lagged behind in technology and weapons upgrades but I would think it more a matter of when the last goodun came along.
I would be suprised if many held on to flintlocks any longer than it took for war to reach their area with percussion caps. Centerfire cartridge arms were probably a luxury saved for and dreamed of (by many) until the end of the 19th century.

The trail by that name is quite long. The specific mountain range not so much (in the grand sheme of things) but still traverses quite a distance. While communities were/are small, news of new ways travels to all but the most remote.

The further from the east coast, the longer news took to travel. Appalachia is pretty close to the east coast. Much of the southeast was settled by Irish, Scots and Welsh. Migration and expansion in the late 18th and early 19th century was already well west of the Mississippi river and the gulf ports filled in the communication gaps.

So, yes, there were some isolated pockets of civilization but most folk upgraded weapons when they could get access to them. Our great Civil War was likely the last of flintlocks for most. That said, there were still flintlocks being used at the start of that war and some had come from long dormant state militia armories. Many of those got converted to percussion, batches at a time.

Cheers

GC
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GG Osborne





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PostPosted: Sun 23 Apr, 2006 5:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As a native Tennessean, I'll be happy to throw in a "yankee nickle's" worth of comment. As late as the 1916 period the predominant ex-explosive weapon was a muzzleloading rifle and/or shotgun, for instance the regular "Jimtown" beef shoots of the period (Jimtown being Jamestown on the Cumberland plateau). The reason is simple, it was cheap. Powder and caps were plentiful and common. Centerfire arms ala Colt Peacemakers and Winchester repeating rifles could be had (see the documentation on the famous Hatfield - McCoy feud and mini-war), but were expensive in a time when there really was very little currency in circulation and most livelihoods were sustenance based. If you could afford such, it was certainly the weapon of choice. The big change came after WWI when the boys came back from using Springfields, etc. and the old mountain guns were just not good enough anymore, but in the late 19th and first two decades of the 20th, muzzleloaders for personal protection and hunting were the norm. Good quality knives, on the otherhand were fairly cheap and the everyday butcher's knife or Green River patterns were about 25 cents or so, well within the limits of an average person. I have an interesting story cited in "The Flowering of the Cumberland" regarding a longhunter whose companion had lost his knife and was returning to civilization. His companion laid his own knife between to stones and using a third, snapped the blade in half and offered his companion the choice of halves. Obviously, not a great temper! At any rate, folding knives and butcher knives were common, cheap, and easily obtained. Many examples I have seen were sharpened until the blade was a mere silver. Hope this helps.
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Jonathan Harton





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PostPosted: Sun 23 Apr, 2006 5:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm from the North Georgia mountains. Pretty much if it can be shot, we've got a few along with a bunch of sharp pointy things.
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Sun 23 Apr, 2006 7:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Get the book Guns and Gunmaking Tools of Southern Appalachia and look through the Foxfire series to find the appropriate volumes on the subject of gun and knifemaking. These folks pretty much did it all themselves, from forging the barrels to boring them to the correct caliber and rifling them, making the locks and stocks, breaking knives out of old saw blades, etc. The first book mentioned above also has a section on the Appalachian crossbow, which was used at least into the late 19th century. It's quite humbling to see the ingenuity of these folks.
-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Ken Rankin




Location: North Carolina
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PostPosted: Sun 23 Apr, 2006 7:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sean,

That reminded me of the Afghans fighting the Soviets in the '80s. Their gunsmiths were turning out machine guns using tools that would be considered inferior here.
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Ruel A. Macaraeg





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PostPosted: Sun 23 Apr, 2006 8:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the informed responses, friends. I recently submitted an article about arms and armor for publication, and wanted to test one of its assumptions -- that with the onset of Industrialization and the production of weapons moving increasingly away from local sites, weapons progressively lost their cultural distinctiveness. This appears to have been the case in all native populations that resisted Western colonialism, so I wondered it if was also the case among non-mainstream populations within the West as well. Since the paper's already submitted I won't be including the Appalacians, but I have been asked to lecture on the same topic so I'll probably add them in there.

Also, in a more personal vein, I wanted to know what kind of costume might be built around an antique pinfire-caplock percussion shotgun of mine, and the idea of throwing on some overalls and finding an Ellie Mae was an appealing option. Cool However, I'm still undecided on whether this particular gun is a good fit.

Here's a photo of the Hatfields. They seem better dressed than the stereotypical Hillbilly image of "Hee Haw" would suggest, and are armed with rifles (Winchesters?) and revolvers (Colts?). (I especially like the little boy on the right with his pistol!)

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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Mon 24 Apr, 2006 6:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's probably safe to assume that anyone living on a frontier will have the best arms they can afford, so I'm not surprised to see quality firearms in this photo. However, the manner in which they're displayed suggests that they are prized posessions.

By 1625, it seems that the average Virginia colonist had better-quality firearms than the average European musketeer (wheellock v. matchlock). Ditto for the colonial American rifle v. European muskets (that's comparing apples and oranges, I know, and the muskets had some significant advantages over the rifle). It's also worth noting that we're not talking just about firearms for hunting--there was open warfare between clans (as indicated by the photo) and between Appalachian miners and mine companies in the 20th century.

If I had to guess, I'd guess that Appalachia would prove to be at least a partial exception to your thesis. Poverty prevented folks from buying the arms they would have preferred, so local firearms production continued in some regions of the southern Appalachians long after those skills had died out elsewhere. I think you'd find that both flint and percussion lasted far longer there than anywhere in the U.S., not out of preference but out of necessity. I mean, some folks were using crossbows. The region is also famous for preserving early British language, music and folkways that long since died out in Britain. Up in our mountains you can still hear people singing about rieving on the Anglo-Scottish borders.

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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Ruel A. Macaraeg





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PostPosted: Mon 24 Apr, 2006 3:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
If I had to guess, I'd guess that Appalachia would prove to be at least a partial exception to your thesis. Poverty prevented folks from buying the arms they would have preferred, so local firearms production continued in some regions of the southern Appalachians long after those skills had died out elsewhere.


It might, but an important difference is that the Appalachians weren't in a state of asymmetrical warfare against an industrializing colonial power the way pre- and proto-industrial natives were, so the evolutionary pressure wasn't as high for them to acquire the best available -- ie. non-native -- weapons. I suspect that if this were the case, we'd have seen that happen (assuming they weren't immediately overwhelmed).

The Boer resistance against the British is the closest example I can think of where the latter scenerio occurred. They were initially successful due to mobility and logistics in the first war (and because they had larger, more organized, and wealthier populations), yet by the second war the Boers were struggling and ultimately failed to keep pace with British firepower.

In most other cases of 19thc. mainstream Western vs. isolated Western conflict, the isolates tended to offer ineffective resistance -- the Metis, Fenians, Bush Rangers, etc. all went down pretty quickly. But it is interesting to speculate on how the Appalachians might have fared at the turn of the century against US Regulars.
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Steve Grisetti




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PostPosted: Mon 24 Apr, 2006 5:46 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ruel A. Macaraeg wrote:
...Here's a photo of the Hatfields. They seem better dressed than the stereotypical Hillbilly image of "Hee Haw" would suggest, and are armed with rifles (Winchesters?) and revolvers (Colts?). (I especially like the little boy on the right with his pistol!)...
FWIW, The boy's shootin' iron looks to me like a Smith & Wesson top break ("Schofield").
"...dismount thy tuck, be yare in thy preparation, for thy assailant is quick, skilful, and deadly."
- Sir Toby Belch
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James King





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PostPosted: Sat 11 Nov, 2006 11:24 am    Post subject: I can't believe I missed this topic.         Reply with quote

I have lived entire life on the Southeast Kentucky/ East tennesse border, and know a little about the history and culture of the area.Early settlers were armed much the same as those in the other colonies, Muskets (fowlers,trade guns,and probably a few long land pattern brownbess's) and rifles of the Pennsylvania (kentucky)type.The rifles manufactured in the southern mountains were along the same line as the Penn. rifles (Many different schools of design) but much simpler ,simple or no patchbox, all iron fittings,no brass or carving,etc. but still just as effective as the "classic" penn. rifles.Flintlock hung aroud for a long time after the percussion cap was developed.After the civil war, the weapons in this area were much the SAME as anywere else, The barefoot , dirt poor "hillbilly" did and does, exist, is very much a stereotype exagerated at the turn of the century by northern newspapers(long story)The Hatfields and McCoys were fairly well off at the time of their feud .It is true that we were very isolated culturaly, that has never applied to fire arms.it is true that many HB's used very old fire arms, but most would find a way to acquire the best avaliable.Another point that has been brought is the ethnic make up of the Appaliachan(if you can spell it you not from here) people.The area is Mostly Scotts-Irish, with a lot of German, Welch, and sprinkle of English.The Scott-Irish and Gaelic/ Irish were and are entirely different people.


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