Replica of Meriwether Lewis' gun, Heinz Museum, Pittsburgh, PA

Museum description of Lewis' gun exhibit

The frontier that we now think about as our western lands at one time existed in western Pennsylvania.   Early settlers were taking land from the then existing tribes in the area, and the French early explorers, making those long guns part of everyday households.

The rifle was made by smiths who worked hard to produce beautiful as well as workable instruments, and took a lot of pride in their product.   Today there are wonderfully crafted antiques still dating back to those days, and a steady stream of new well-made and collectible, but not very much used weaponry.

The Kentucky (or Pennsylvania) Long Rifle was the most accuratelong-range gun for several decades.The first documented appearance of rifling was in Germany around 1460.The flintlockwas developed in the early 1600′s. By the late 1600′s gunsmiths wereexperimenting with longer barrels than the forerunner Yaeger. But it took the opening up of a newcontinent to bring out the best.

Circa 1725 the forerunner of the KYlong rifles were being designed and built by German craftsman inPennsylvania. After the French and Indian War brought new lands to theattention of the frontiersmen, the uniquely American long-range rifleswere carried into the frontier (at that time Kentucky) by the longhunters, trappers and explorers. The actual name “Kentucky Longrifle”was first used in an 1812 song The Hunters of Kentucky.

A typical rifle was .50 caliber, made of curly maple, full stock andsported a 42 to 46 inch barrel. A crescent-shaped buttplate, patchboxand cheekpiece were also common and are helpful in identifying a KY/PAlong rifle.

When they were in the Revolutionary phase, early settlers in the area met yearly to drill so that their ‘well-regulated militia” would be able to defend the young country against any invasion.   In the beginnings, the country was still tottering, and foreign powers still were a threat to the existence of those hard won United States.

The second amendment to the Constitution established the right of households to keep and bear arms that were part of survival.   When the Revolutionary War had ended, the local militias were important to the early national security, and that amendment made it easier on the local powers to call on individuals to come to the assistance of the nation in case of attack.   It eased the financial burden of the locale, which had needed to provide arms to the individuals of the militia, who did not necessarily have a gun to defend the country with.

In writing about those early exercises, author Reynolds of “In French Creek Valley’ (1938) takes a jab at the abilities of the gun wielding settlers, noting that they were as afraid of their muskets as anyone they might be aiming at.  He also establishes the need for the settlers to take on the burden of supplying weaponry needed to make the country viable in the early years when arms were necessary, in defending the country.

Long guns displayed in Brookeville, PA antique gun display, September of 2012