Monday, December 5, 2011

Guns of the Fathers

A few weeks ago I visited the owner of a place that is today called Talley Hollow on Cane Creek. In 1884, it was called the Conder Farm. The log home where the massacre happened once stood in this hollow.(See note 1.) Today there is only a graveyard to remind the casual visitor of the bloody past. That is, unless you look around carefully. And that is just what the current owner's grandfather did. Foundation stones, bits of pottery, and other discarded items are hidden by the dirt and foliage of over a hundred twenty seven years. No surprise really, the home had been burned to the ground before 1895. But one item surprised me the most; a muzzle loading rifle.

The four foot long handmade gun was found inside the hollow portion of an old tree. It is a magnificent piece. The stock was obviously hand made with a couple pieces missing, like the stock plate and the ramrod. But it was still in pretty good shape. The action had been replaced. It had likely been made as a flintlock originally, and then had a cap lock action added. Notice the double trigger? It is a kind of safety. One is use to set the trigger relase first so that when the second is pulled it will fire more easily. By the way, it still works.

The barrel is octagonal and had a set of initials [GTM] stamped on the top about halfway between the action and the muzzle. The initials didn't photograph well. In all, it is a wonderful piece to look at and hold. The gun was certainly from the right period.(see note 2.) Although it would have been 20+ years old by 1884, and perhaps much more, that is not a problem considering the remoteness of Lewis County and its relative poverty at the time. I would have been surprised to find the latest models of firearms anyway. The big question is, did its presence have anything to do with the massacre? Of course, we will never know. Unless some journal turns up describing how someone left their gun there, I see no way to know for sure. But it certainly stirs the imagination. This is one of the reasons I love to study history in the first place.

1. A hollow is a narrow valley. It was common to build homes in these natural feature. It created natural divisions between neighbors. Cane Creek has dozens of hollows along both sides in the upper portion of its east fork where the massacre took place. They often were named for who lived there. The Talleys have lived in this hollow since 1884, and nearby before that.

2. When I visited, the person who introduced me was a gun expert. He pointed out many of the observations I have made here. He also noticed that the gun had something still in the barrel. On a later visit he was able to extract what was inside and found that the gun was still loaded.


Amy said...

A loaded gun stashed in a hollow tree at Talley Hollow on Cane Creek? What a cool discovery!

BruceCrow said...

It was great fun to hold the gun. Tom Talley pulled it out of the tree maybe 80 years ago or more. It has been passed down in the family ever since. I wish I could say it was loaded when he found it. But all I can say for sure was that it was loaded when I held it.

Clark said...

Do the initials on the gun match a name to any of those known to have been holding Clawson and Standing?

The idea that a flintlock was new in 1864 strikes me as an anacronism, though. Flintlocks were already obsolete by the beginning of the Civil War.

BruceCrow said...

Clawson and Standing were in Georgia in 1879. The missionaries in this case were Gibbs, Berry, Jones and Thompson. And no, there is no match for the known names of men who attacked them. At any rate, the initials likely belong to the gun maker not to its owner.

I recognize the anacronism of the flintlock, although the gun had been converted to a cap lock at some point. The action on it right now is a slight misfit for the gunstock, a clear indication of it having been retrofitted.

Chris said...

How cool is archeology! Keep looking, and don't throw away even little scraps of things! document them!

Kevin said...

Very cool discovery, Bruce.