Lincoln Log Cabin hosts historic firearms presentation


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July 21, 2005, 09:35 PM
Lincoln Log Cabin hosts historic firearms presentation
By HERB MEEKER, Staff Writer

Hunting 160 years ago in Illinois was more than a one-shot sport.

Many hunters had to be sure shots because they carried long rifles that required 15 to 30 seconds to reload measure out a small powder charge in a small cup, pour it down the barrel, place the bullet in a piece of cloth on top of the barrel and ram it down with the ramrod, replace the ramrod, charge the lock with powder, pull back the hammer and prepare to fire more than enough time for a deer or other game to disappear into the woods or prairie grass.

But there were some firearms that offered a second shot to hunters with swivel-barrels and over-and-under hammers. Some combined shotgun barrels with rifle barrels. With a twist and a pull back on the hammer, these guns were ready for another shot. But there was a drawback.

"The swivel guns were heavier and more expensive. You could get plum worn out carrying one," said Richard Hummel, who offered his insight on "Hunting and Firearms of the Illinois Frontier" during a pair of presentations Sunday in the auditorium at the Lincoln Log Cabin Visitor Center.

Hummel, who portrays Illinois hunter John Richmond as a volunteer at the Lincoln Log Cabin site, showed some of the flintlock or percussion cap hunting rifles of his collection. He also showed images of vintage hunting guns from the years before the Civil War, when repeating firearms were a staple of hunting during the late 1800s.

"There were guns of all varieties found on the frontier," said Hummel, who was dressed "in character" with a green hunting shirt and a powder horn and leather hunting bag by his side. "Guns at that time were used for personal protection and for protecting property."

He noted that Illinois offered bounties on wolf pelts or ears up to 1850 to help farmers protect livestock. Hunters were also gunning for deer and raccoon not for sport, but for security of the crops.

Rabbits were plentiful during the era, as well as wild turkeys and prairie chickens. So there were many targets for hunters, who were not limited to hunting seasons.

"They went out hunting all year round. But in the summer, they probably had to use the meat pretty quick due to the heat. Rabbits shot in the summer probably went to the stew pot that night," Hummel said.

A flintlock rifle collector, Hummel talked of the craftsmanship that went into these guns. Some scholars estimate as many as 19,000 gunsmiths either made or repaired guns during early years of America. And study estimates as many as 1,500 smiths worked in Illinois during the 1800s.

"Some were just repairmen just like car mechanics, but others produced some of these guns," Hummel said. "Basically, a gun starts out as a plank of wood. And you screw a barrel on top of it and add a lock and a trigger guard and then the butt plate. But that's like what they say about sculptors: They take a piece of stone and remove all that is not needed."

Many flintlock rifles had beautiful finishes such as curly maple designs or striped maple.

"Many of the guns from the North were made from walnut. There were some made from apple wood," Hummel said.

The age of gunsmiths and custom-made guns ended with the Civil War. The newer guns used machined parts requiring industrialized methods to arm the soldiers more quickly. There was a surplus of firearms sold to the public after the war, so many of the gunsmiths either concentrated on gun repair or sought other work.

"That war put these gun designs and the gunsmiths out of business. They were selling some guns for scrap prices after the war," Hummel said.

He wants to keep the tradition alive through his lectures and his gun collection.

"Hunting was a tradition from the frontier. There was more than farming going on here," Hummel said.

He doesn't want the memory of frontier hunting to disappear like a flash in the pan.

http://www.jg-tc.com/articles/2005/07/10/news/news0002.txt

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