Monday, June 9, 2014

Defending the Homestead

I have written a few posts on the matter of our family closing up the old homestead over in Minnesota. (Here and here and especially here) It is where our family got its start in America and we have always had an interest in the place.  So you can imagine my excitement when I got a call from my older brother.  He had gone out for one last look around, and had found something remarkable.

Up in the attic of the 1875 farm house he found a sealed off area.  As the house was slated for demolition this summer he had no qualms about knocking off a couple of boards for a peek inside. Along with some more mundane artifacts he discovered a firearm. He described it to me over the phone as being a "musket" or rife, with a large bore.  It looked old.

This got my imagination going.  To review the Family History - and making a few needed allowances for exaggeration - it seemed to me that he might have found a gun that could have:

A: come over with the family from Germany in 1859
B: could have been one of the weapons they had on hand for defense when they briefly fled the Sioux Uprising in August of 1862.
C: been a "take home" weapon from one of the several young men of that generation who served in the Union Army.

So, lets have a look see and try to solve the mystery of the Gun in the Attic.

Well for sure it is old.  This is a weapon that was fired with a percussion cap. That is, it was a muzzle loaded gun with the black powder being ignited when the hammer came down on a special explosive cap.  This was a style intermediate between the flint locks of the Revolutionary War and the more familiar cartridge firing guns of the modern era.  The innovations of the Civil War era pretty much made these obsolete.  Date of manufacture?  Could be anywhere from the 1820s to perhaps into the 1870s, but lets say 1850s or 1860s as most probable.

No, it was just the camera staring down the muzzle, not my nose.  What this shows is that it is a single barrel shotgun.  No weapon firing a solid slug this size could get away with having walls that thin.  At least not for very long.

The quality of the gun is "ok". Frugality is a dominant trait in my family.  No fancy design work but a little bit of silvering still hanging on. Condition of course is very poor, the stock will need to be glued together.  And the degree of rust is such that making it safe to fire again is simply out of the question. Now, as to details.  We do have a few:

Here is a bit of clumsy repair work.  There must have been a ramrod holder on the undersurface of the barrel.  It broke off, was crudely welded back on.  And then broke off for good.

This is a proof mark.  They are usually stamped on the bottom of the barrel and indicated successful firing at the factory.  This one is on the top for some reason.  The ELG over a small star indicates the barrel at least was made at Liege, Belgium.  This style of mark was in use from the early 1800s up to 1893.  Removing the barrel I did find a mark hidden underneath.  It is not all that helpful but may indicate the specific maker of this unit or a certain workshop within a larger factory.

And finally the stock of the gun.  It is of an unusual shape, one that my limited research to date suggests was more common in European made guns than in the US.

So, how do we put it all together?  I think we can dismiss the notion that one of the ancestral Boys in Blue brought this home.  Shotguns were occasionally used early in the war by cavalry who had nothing better, but a ridiculously long and heavy single shot weapon would be out of the question.

Liege was a major supplier of weaponry.  There are references both to complete weapons and to large lots of barrels being shipped to the US.  In the latter instance the weapons would be completed here, usually in New York state or St. Louis.  The European looking stock makes me lean towards it being a gun completed in Liege.

Now, there is no way to be sure whether this was a weapon brought over from Germany or one bought in some pioneer emporium on their arrival.  Both stories are cool.  But given the age of the weapon, the context in which it was found and the evidence of long hard use, I am inclined to think it was once loaded and pointed nervously out into the dark thickets as my pioneer forebears scampered off to Carver, Minnesota after hearing word that the town of New Ulm - less than fifty miles as the crow or the rumor flies - was under attack.


Geodkyt said...

Sounds reasonable. It's a pretty standard example of Ye Olde Barn Gun.

Weetabix said...

I don't know how this comes apart, but are there any marks on the underside of the tang? If the stock is easily removable, you might look under the tang. I think makers stamped there because it's protected from damage.

If you decide to have the stock repaired, I know a guy you could check with. I've seen many examples of his good work, and I think he probably fits in with your family's admirable tradition of frugality.

Tacitus2 said...

Spousal approval to hang on a wall somewhere discrete is pending. In person the thing looks so beat up that I think glue and clamps might suffice.* I have not removed the trigger mechanism yet, the screw involved is rusty and fragile looking. From what I can tell this sort of weapon was cheap and could have been european or a hybrid made from US and belgian parts.
Thanks for the thoughts.

*heroic tradition of frugality