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Firearms in the Appalachian Artifacts Collections

Eight selected firearms described by Student Curator Matt Heil

About This Guide

This guide was created during the Firearms Cataloguing Project of 2013. Student Curatorial Associate Matt Heil researched and described these firearms. Student Curatorial Associate Travis Rigg edited this guide. Necessary technical adjustments were done by Shadia Prater in 2015.

Colt M1855 Military Revolving Rifle 1970.3.43

1970.3.43 (Mason Collection)

Make/Model: Colt M1855 Military Revolving Rifle

Type: Revolving Rifle

Caliber: .56

Serial Number: 1751

Manufacturer: Colt’s Manufacturing Company, Hartford, CT. 

Condition:  Frame broken through top and bottom straps, with the bottom strap crudely reforged (or possibly re-welded at a later date).  Missing forestock, barrel bands (which would have secured the forestock to the barrel) and cleaning rod.  600 yard sight leaf broken off at hinge and missing.  Missing screws in frame.  Front sling swivel missing and rear sling swivel mangled.  Tack crudely hammered into grip strap.  Gun is partially disassembled – missing trigger, action springs and hammer screw.  Cylinder pin has been partially pulled leaving cylinder free to move end-to-end.  Stock is broken at wrist with a large chunk of stock wood missing.  Cleaning kit trap in buttstock is jammed open.  Manufacturer’s markings still visible on top strap and on left side of frame. 

Notes:  Although 1970.3.43 has no U.S. martial markings on it, it is known that many of the Colt Revolving Rifles issued and used during the Civil War were not so marked, so it is still entirely possible (though not definitively so) that this gun was one of several hundred issued to Kentucky (U.S.) cavalry regiments during the war.  Considering that it was one of several firearms picked up in Appalachian Kentucky by Silas Mason during his recruiting trips there, it is very likely that this gun was issued to a member of the 34th Kentucky Cavalry regiment, which guarded the Cumberland Gap through the latter half of the war.  The gun was perhaps then taken home by a returning member of that unit.  How it sustained its extensive damage is hard to say.  Considering its partially disassembled state it seems likely that an Appalachian gunsmith or tinkerer cut the frame with a saw in order to retrieve the cylinder – to what purpose is unknown – but then left it with the gun, perhaps after realizing that the .56 caliber, five shot cylinder would fit no other gun but another Colt Revolving Rifle – a relatively scarce gun even when they were in service.  It was most likely after this mutilation that many of the screws and springs were taken from the rifle to fix other guns, and 1970.3.43 was thrown away to await Mr. Mason’s attentions. 

Gallager Carbine 1970.3.44

1970.3.44 (Mason Collection)

Make/Model:  Gallager Carbine

Type: Percussion breechloading carbine

Caliber: .50, patent cartridge

Serial Number: On lock, lock missing

Manufacturer: Richardson & Overman, Philadelphia, PA.  17,728 manufactured to Federal contracts between 1861 and 1864, removed from service after 1865.

Condition: Missing lock, lock screws and sling bar and ring. Lock mortise drilled for multiple screws, as though for replacement locks. Stock is a replacement judging by lack of patchbox, although the buttplate still has the depression for the door of the patchbox.  Stock appears to have been made using a copying lathe. Rear sight and rear sight screw missing from barrel.  Screw in forend missing.   Operating lever broken.  Non-original iron strap hammer forged around barrel just in front of forend, and brazed in place.  Chip in stock above lock mortise and next to nipple bolster fixed with a different type of wood tacked into place.  Wormholes in wood.  Operating lever broken and action jammed from rust.         

Notes:  Gallager carbines were issued to the 4th, 6th, and 8th Kentucky (U.S.) Cavalry Regiments starting in 1862, and were almost immediately condemned by the men issued them because of its poor design and construction.  Several of the problems mentioned in action reports are present in 1970.3.44, mainly the broken triggerguard and missing rear sight.  It was known that Kentucky regiments issued this weapon threw them away.  A likely (but not definitive) history for 1970.3.44 could look something like this: After having its rear sight fall off and the operating lever break, the carbine was thrown away to be replaced by a musket picked up after a skirmish in Eastern Kentucky.  The broken carbine was then picked up by a local blacksmith or tinkerer who attempted to make it operable again, attempting to fit it with a different lock and a new buttstock.  Finally it was either thrown away where Silas Mason either picked it up or was given it on a recruiting mission for the college while in Eastern Kentucky.  The action screw head being on the left side of the frame indicates it was among the first 11,000 carbines of this type manufactured, which places 1970.3.44 among the lot of Gallager carbines that were issued to Kentucky and East Tennessee (U.S.) cavalry regiments.

“Chunk/Log Gun” Target Rifle 1970.3.45


Make/Model: “Chunk/Log Gun” Target Rifle

Type: Muzzleloading rifle

Caliber: Approximately .43 (Pentagonal bore)

Serial Number: None

Manufacturer: Lock marked “PSJ&CO” for Philip S. Justice & Company, of Philadelphia, but the gun is built in a style common to West Virginia and southwest Virginia, likely by a mountain gunsmith.

Condition: Missing hammer, ramrod, toeplate, front sight, stock key and stock key plate on right side,  and triggers and trigger plate. Extra stock key hole cut in stock and heavily worn. Inside of patchbox cover heavily verdigrised. Multiple cracks on stock, and cracks on front of poured pewter nosecap. Heavy damage and missing wood in front of and on top of back-action lock. Tang screw head damaged. Percussion nipple heavily worn. 39 small file marks on barrel just ahead of stock. Stock pins and brass furniture and accents all hang proud of stock, which, together with traces of dark, varnish-like finish around patchbox and action sideplate, leads to the inference that the stock has been heavily sanded at some point. Barrel is loose from stock.  

Notes:  This gun has all but one of the characteristics that generally make up a “chunk” or “log” gun. A chunk or log gun is a style of muzzleloading rifle that is typically very heavy with somewhat oversized stocks, with a caliber between .40 and .50, meant to be fired from a prone position in a target shooting competition.  The barrel is very heavy and causes the gun to balance well toward the muzzle.  The stock up to the front of the triggerguard is slightly oversized in the manner of chunk guns, and the caliber, roughly .43 (although it may once have been smaller, the bore is obviously very worn) is also in keeping with the general characteristics of a chunk gun.  Possibly this gun was built by a mountain gunsmith using commonly available parts (Justice, the lock maker, supplied components for the general gun trade), and, judging by the stock style, likely somewhere around the West Virginia/southwest Virginia/Kentucky border area, possibly in 1850s or ‘60s.  It appears to have been used very heavily, probably in local target shooting matches, before being cannibalized for parts and then discarded, whence Silas Mason discovered it and brought it back to Berea College.

U.S. Model 1842 Musket 1975.3.128

1975.3.128 (Mason Collection)

Make/Model: U.S. Model 1842 Musket

Type: Smoothbore percussion musket

Caliber: .69

Serial Number: Unserialized

Manufacturer:  Harpers Ferry Armory, lock marked “1851”, 106,629 produced at this arsenal (of 272,599 of this model produced total).

Condition:  A series of cracks through the wrist, tang and above the trigger.  Attempted repairs using 5 metal pins and a crude extension of the tang using a strip of metal and two nails.  Drop at heel of stock considerably more than original due to this.  Comb lowered somewhat from original contour – probably by user.  Bolt missing from lock and sideplate.  Barrel crudely cut down to 23.5” and not recrowned.  Front barrel band put back on after being cut down, currently secured with a modern brass screw.  Missing ramrod.  Stock dinged up from use.  Considerable erosion around nipple and bolster from years of being fired and all metal parts deeply patinated.  Markings still visible on all parts.  All metal furniture would originally have been polished bright, with no external finish.

Notes:  It is hard to say exactly how this musket came to Appalachia before being picked up by Silas Mason sometime in the 1890s or early 1900s, but it is possible to make some generalizations.  The M1842 musket saw service in large numbers on both sides during the Civil War and was used in every theater of the war – including Appalachia.  It is possible that this gun was used by a soldier from Appalachia and taken home after the war, or was simply left behind on a battlefield when a more modern alternative presented itself through capture or battlefield pick up, then picked up by a local civilian for use around the farm.  Whatever the case of its introduction to the region, it seems to have seen hard use thereafter.  Although it is possible that the barrel was cut down to its current length during its military service, it is more likely that this was done sometime during its civilian career, judging by the crudeness of the modification.  Such shortening was not an uncommon modification, particularly if the barrel had been damaged previously or in locales where a short barrel would be more convenient – such as the thick, scrubby woods of Eastern Kentucky.  It is possible that the cracks in the wrist are from the stouter recoil resulting from shortening the barrel, although it is equally possible that the gun was dropped sometime during its life.  It was then crudely repaired and perhaps saw continued use before being given away, although given the crudity of the repairs it seems likely that it was tossed away before it came into Silas Mason’s possession.

U.S. Model 1864 Springfield Joslyn Breechloading Rifle 1975.3.129

1975.3.129 (Mason Collection)

Make/Model: U.S. Model 1864 Springfield Joslyn Breechloading Rifle

Type: Breechloading Rifle

Caliber: .56-50 Spencer Rimfire

Serial Number: 1331

Manufacturer:  Springfield Arsenal, 3,007 manufactured in 1865.  Issued briefly to the 5th and 8th U.S. Veteran Volunteer Infantry Regiments at the close of the Civil War, but never used in combat. 

Condition:  Missing sling swivels and cleaning rod.  Stock chipped in front of lock and underneath breech.  Hairline crack extending from lock into wrist of stock (apparently normal for a Joslyn that has seen use).  Screw heads on and around breech are all lightly damaged from past disassembly.  Rear sight leaf frozen in lowest (100 yard) setting.  Patent dates and other markings on gun still legible.  Letters “A B” crudely carved into buttstock, three times on right, once on left.  Crack between lock and breech.  Lock and breech still in operating condition.  Breech still in original rimfire configuration (as opposed to post- Civil War conversions to centerfire for sale to France, see articles in file).  Bore pitted but rifling still visible.  

Notes:  Although this gun shows signs of usage (dimpling on hammer from striking firing pin, notably), it is hard to know how 1975.3.129 found its way to Appalachian Kentucky.  One of two scenarios is likely for its existence in the region before being given to Silas Mason sometime in the 1890s.  First is that an Appalachian Union veteran of the Civil War brought it home after mustering out of one of the two regiments equipped with Joslyns at the end of the war (see above).  The other scenario is that this gun was purchased surplus from one of several mail order companies operating post-Civil War, perhaps Schuyler, Hartley & Graham or Francis Bannerman, possibly by “AB”, for use as a hunting rifle.

Trade Shotgun with Belgian Barrels and Goulcher Locks 1978.13.36


Make/Model: Trade Shotgun

Type: Double-barrel, muzzleloading percussion shotgun

Caliber: 12 Gauge (approximately .73 caliber)

Serial Number: None

Manufacturer: Unknown.  Gun is of a style built to a common standard of cheap and commonly available parts for sale through mail order suppliers and local hardware stores (i.e. “the trade”) to people needing a simple, inexpensive gun for use around the farmstead. 

Condition: Missing hammer on right side.  Crack in wrist above lock on right side.  Remnants of sticker below right lock.  Missing barrel retaining key, has a thin wooden replacement. Missing key plate on left side of forestock.  Patent hooked breeches to allow barrels to be removed for maintenance.  Retains original ramrod, one end hand carved to accept cleaning patches.  Lock panels and trigger guard seem to be finished in the same oil as the stock itself, possibly boiled linseed oil, most likely to simplify maintenance.  Muzzles heavily worn and thin on outer muzzle walls.  Right percussion nipple heavily worn.  Some original finish (bluing?  Color case hardening?) left on locks, due to oil finish.  Engraving and manufacturer’s marks still easily visible on locks.   

Notes:  Gun is assembled from Belgian barrels (marked with Belgian black powder proofmarks and, presumably, the year of manufacture, 1883), and George Goulcher locks.  George Goulcher (and several Goulcher brothers) made and imported gun locks for the trade and which are always seen on simple, inexpensive guns such as 1978.13.36.  Although muzzleloaders had been largely supplanted by newer breechloading, cartridge firing guns by 1883, muzzleloaders were still popular amongst those with limited means who needed a simple, reliable gun for around the farm.  Considering the well-worn muzzles, missing parts and home-made modifications, it would seem this gun performed just such yeoman duty and helped put meat on the table for many years before being retired.  1978.13.36 is an excellent representative example of the simple farmers-type muzzleloading guns in service in rural Appalachia well into the 20th century.

William Moore & Co. Shotgun 1981.13.42


Make/Model: Shotgun

Type: Double barrel, muzzleloading percussion shotgun

Caliber: 12 gauge (approximately .73 caliber)

Serial Number: None

Manufacturer: Unknown.  Lock plates are marked “Moore London.”  1981.13.42 appears to be a variation on the style of William Moore & Co. shotgun built for export to the United States, probably sometime between 1854-1865.  British proofmarks would confirm that this is indeed such a piece rather than a cheaper Belgian copy, but it is not possible to remove the barrels without damaging the stock due to the iron nail in the retaining key.

Condition: Missing ramrod pipe and ramrod, retains silver solder used to secure ramrod pipe.  Tiny cracks in buttstock and in front of buttplate.  Breech tang cracked through at upper retaining screw, a second screw installed at some later date to secure the upper portion of the tang.  Barrel retaining wedge missing, replaced with square forged nail, left key plate broken.  Entire gun has been “scrubbed”, with only traces of original wood and metal finish remaining, particularly around buttplate and in the crevices of the hand-cut checkering at the wrist of the stock.  Brass furniture except for buttplate and trigger plate.  Hooked breeches to allow for easy removal of barrels for maintenance.   

Notes:  Although this gun bears some resemblance to 1978.13.36, it is most likely a much earlier piece, as indicated by the manufacturer entry, and for its time would most certainly have been meant for a person of far greater means than the much later trade shotgun previously listed.  This gun was likely bought sometime in the 1850s or 1860s, and used by a fairly well-to-do Appalachian gentleman.  Its generally good condition would seem to bear this out, as it would probably have been better cared for and used less strenuously than its trade shotgun cousin.  The scrubbing down which removed the finish from the wood and metal was almost certainly done by a later, 20th century collector in an attempt to “restore” it.

Squirrel Rifle 2005.7.3


Make/Model: Squirrel Rifle

Type:  Muzzleloading Rifle

Caliber: Approximately .31

Serial Number: None

Manufacturer: Unknown, likely a mountain gunsmith, possibly as late as the 1930s.

Condition: All metal parts except for the trigger guard appear to have been heavily polished. Large amounts of filler material at each corner where the buttstock meets the buttplate. Bore is heavily worn and rifling is indistinct. The ramrod has some slivers missing. Erosion around lock plate and top of barrel next to hammer suggests years of firing. A dovetail cut in the barrel just ahead of the breech has been filled in with a piece of metal. The triggerguard appears to be a replacement that is smaller than the original. Many of the pins holding the stock, nosecap and toeplate appear to be newer replacements made of copper. The stock appears to have been refinished, and the oil based finish applied to some of the metal as well. Grease hole (for lubing patches, part of the loading process) in stock has been filled in. Lockplate appears to have been sanded or filed. 

Notes:  This gun has very little in the way of identifiable characteristics.  Given its simplistic style and somewhat amateurish features (such as the oversized moldings around the lock, a rear sight dovetail cut too far back and then filled in, and brass parts cut and formed from brass sheet), this gun may have been put together by an enthusiast or gunsmith’s apprentice.  Longrifles such as this are usually identified and dated by their regional characteristics, of which this has none.  Given this lack of “school” and its simplified manufacture, 2005.7.3 may be from the early 1900s up to the 1930s.  Cartridge firing guns had long since supplanted muzzleloaders by the 1870s, but muzzleloaders stayed in use on farmsteads and amongst people of fewer means who needed a simple, reliable and low cost gun for use around the farm.