Book Review, “Tim Murphy, Rifleman”

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The rest of the title is “A Novel of Perry County, Pa. 1754-1840” by Roy “Rocky” F. Chandler and was published in 1993.

As a caveat, I should first mention I knew the author a little through my much more extensive personal contact with his brother Marine Lt. Col. Norman Chandler. I also have to note I am no expert on Rifleman Tim Murphy.

This is NOT an attempt to write an Historic Account of the Rifleman Tim Murphy, who most folks remember as the one often thought to be the Rifleman who shot British General Simon Fraser at the Battle of Saratoga. The author states clearly that he attempted to build a believable tale of Tim Murphy from what was known at the time the book was published, to fill in the unknown chronology of Murphy.

The tale begins with Murphy’s parents attempting to go back and harvest their corn crop, after they had fled to a fort during Indian Raids. This because it was thought better to risk harvesting the corn and not starving during the winter. A Seneca warrior and his small band had the same thing in mind. When the Seneca attempted to just scare off Murphy’s family, Murphy’s Father went for his smoothbore with wet powder in his priming plan and a young brave killed him. Murphy’s Mother fled, leaving her daughter and baby son (Murphy) behind. The head of the Seneca band did not want anyone killed, as the Iroquois were still on good terms with the British. To cover the attack, they sent the girl to the far west and took Murphy northward toward Huron lands. There a French Trader and his Huron wife took him in along with the presents of three knives and the smoothbore Murphy’s Father had used.

Murphy comes to the attention of Sir William Johnson and Johnson decides to try to “civilize” Murphy, teach him English and Murphy could then be a translator for the Huron for Johnson. Sir William offers Murphy’s adopted Father to have a “NON ”“ historic” character John Carraway take him on a long hunting trek and teach Murphy English and more woods craft. Carraway was originally a Frenchman who got into trouble with dueling in France and had earlier fled that country. He learned excellent English and came to America originally as a Tutor/Teacher for upper crust boys. His past caught up with him so by the time he met Murphy, he had been a noted Rifleman who fought for the British and worked for Sir William Johnson on the frontier. Carraway taught Murphy to shoot a rifle and noted Murphy’s eyesight was remarkably good.

When captive English settlers are returned by the NA’s after the French and Indian War, Murphy is a young man and decides to try to find out about his original family. It is suggested he meet another famous frontiersman Rob Shatto (I think another Non-Historic character) and Shatto becomes a Mentor for Murphy and teaches him frontier skills that Murphy would have learned had he remained with his Huron family. Shatto’s friend has a double barrel swivel rifle and that was how Murphy came to know about them and eventually had one made for himself. Shatto helps Murphy find his Mother and her new family, one of whom was “Dancer” the daughter of her new husband by his first marriage. Murphy falls for her and decides he wants a life like Rob Shatto has.

Murphy seeks some rifle matches, with others on the frontier, to make some money and get his stake. He runs into an unpopular but pretty good rifle shot, who Murphy suckers into a pretty steep bet, that Murphy won. This gets Murphy’s reputation as rifleman going.

When the AWI breaks out, Murphy wants to join up, but Rob Shatto suggests he not sign up and take no pay or food, so that way Murphy can leave if/when he wants. Murphy goes to Boston and furthers his reputation by some long distance shooting of British Soldiers. It was there he met another noted Rifleman Shep Laird from the Carolina’s. (I may be confusing this, but I think Shep Laird might have been a real person, though he may also have been a fictional character.) Murphy and Shep work together as a team during this sniping. However, Murphy is not happy with the Army and goes home after the Siege of Boston.

Years later, Daniel Morgan finds out about Murphy, after Morgan is released from Prison in Canada and returns to Patriot Service. So Shep Laird is sent to get Murphy for the Saratoga Campaign. Before that Battle, Murphy finds out his old mentor Carraway is now a British Major working with NA’s in a special hit and run unit. Murphy takes the risky chance to find and meet with Carraway. However, when Carraway declares he would never shoot Murphy intentionally and vice versa, one of Carraway’s NA’s is enraged and killed Carraway in a cowardly fashion after the meeting broke up and took Carraway’s Rifle and other gear. Then the book describes how Murphy might have killed General Simon Fraser at Saratoga, if indeed Murphy was the one to do it. After the war is over, Murphy hunts down the coward who murdered Carraway and kills him.

The book ends in 1783, though in the title it says 1754-1840. The latter date is when the real Tim Murphy actually passed and was known as a great shot right up to his death.

At the time Roy/Rocky wrote the book, it was still pretty much generally believed that Tim Murphy used a Double Barreled Swivel Flintlock Rifle at Saratoga, though this has more recently pretty much been dispelled as too late of a rifle for the AWI. So Roy/Rocky weaves into the story how Tim became interested in this kind of Rifle Gun and was taken to a gunsmith who made them, to have one made for himself. Roy/Rocky served 20 years in the United States Army, during both WWII and Korea, and retired at the rank of Master Sergeant. So his combat experience enhances the book. He earned his college degree along the way and became a Teacher in Perry County, PA for his second career and his research into Perry County and Pennsylvania shows. Roy/Rocky’s knowledge of sniper gear and training also shows in the book. Some examples are:

1. When referring to knife fighting, Roy/Rocky refers to Carraway using a sword fighter’s stance and techniques, borrowed from sword fighting.

2. When discussing using the tomahawk, Roy/Rocky notes the NA’s used them like the earlier stone and wood tomahawks. He also notes throwing a tomahawk is all but useless in a fight, with the exception of the rare person who could actually throw it hard enough to bury the edge in a tree or enemy’s chest.

3. Where the book really shines IMO is in describing the long range shooting, with the exception of some of the distances claimed. Roy/Rocky mentions what good eyesight Murphy had and how he used what we would call good marksmanship techniques, though in a period way. Roy/Rocky mentions as how one of the two barrels of the Swivel Rifle would have been more accurate than the other, so Murphy uses the most accurate barrel for target shooting and long range work, while the other barrel is used as a quick second shot. Murphy never fires more than three rounds before cleaning the barrel when he does his long range shooting. Murphy and Shep Laird both talk about the effects of wind on long range shooting in a period manner. During some of Murphy’s early shooting at the time of the Siege of Boston, it mentions as how it took Murphy up to 6 shots to get the range and find an aiming point. Shep Laird jokes that Murphy was “aiming at the stars” for an aiming point at some of Murphy’s longest distance shots. Finally and what makes Murphy’s and Laird’s long range shooting/sniping the most effective was they worked as a two man team and one man “spotted” the shots of the other man and they even note that they would not always see where the shot landed. Though I personally don’t know of historic precedence for this two man shooter/spotter team work, it most likely comes from the author’s personal knowledge of sniping and incorporating that into the period.

Though this book is not quite up to Allan Eckert’s “Frontiersmen” Series standards, it was an enjoyable read. The only problem is this book sells for something like $ 60.00 or more on Amazon and I don’t believe it is worth that much. However, if one could find it in a library or on a library exchange program, it would be well worth reading as Historic Fiction.

Gus
 

Wes/Tex

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The Rifleman: A Novel by John Brick, published 1953 is another good account of Murphy's like and includes an entire chapter of John Golcher and Tim Murphy's decisions for his gun a Glocker's methods for making it. It also details much of Murphy's tortured life and paints him as a man who loved hunting and trapping in the woods, living that kind of life...not of the temperament to be a farmer like his father and brothers and the hard times he endured because of his calling.. Construction of the gun itself is that of a stacked barrel, double flintlock with 42" barrels and an 8 twist bore, 50 balls to the pound...a .453" bore. Lot of interesting comments about choosing barrel steel strips, hammer forging around a mandrel, filing flats, cutting and polishing the bore before hand cutting the 8 groves in each. Wood was maple stained with dye adn soot to obtain the right dark color with few silver inlays from William Gates of Easton, Pennsylvania, silversmith. Lots of talk about the construction and finishing of the piece as well. Note made that it shot conical or picket slugs Golcher had cast for it. Gates installed a silver star in a circle of silver with silver plus the same for the stock fittings...or so the story goes.

The general story runs along the lines of Murphy joining Daniel Morgan's riflemen and hoofing it to Boston where he sniped redcoats and paddled across to Boston to filch ale., Tiring of the lack of activity, he too 'French Leave' and went home to chase after the gal he had an eye out for only to find her married. He was persuaded to go back and served in the rifle scouts until Saratoga where he again went into Morgan's riflemen and won fame with his shot of General Frazier. He finally settle d down and later in the war fought off Tories like Butler & Brandt and Indian raiders at Wyoming and Cherry Valley before wandering south for the southern campaign, and to get away from his rather stern father-in-law after a scuffle over being a "no account woods-runner".

True...semi...none atoll...who knows but Brick did extensive research on Murphy before starting his opus. Good read. :thumbsup:
 
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As I understand it, the Real Tim Murphy did some excellent service after Saratoga and rose to the rank of Sergeant. I am not totally sure that is correct, though?

Gus
 

Elnathan

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Murphy was a sergeant in the Rifle Corp during Sullivan's Iroquois Campaign. He was the only survivor of an ambush that claimed the rest of his scouting party, pretty much the only defeat for the Continental forces in that campaign. Glenn Williams' Year of the Hangman has a fairly detailed account. (Artificer, if you aren't familiar with that work you should read it. I think you will enjoy it a lot)

There is another piece of historical fiction, Wild Horizon, that features Tim Murphy and gives him credit for shooting Ferguson at King's Mountain, immediately prior to Murphy's own death there. I don't believe that there is a single atom of truth in the whole book.

Awful lot of sex in both that book and Brick's book.

Wes/Tex,
I read Brick's book long ago, and the one thing that I really remember is the incident at the beginning of the story in which Murphy loses not only his furs but his whole outfit to a trio of teenage Iroquois. I figure it, as well as everything else in the book, to be a figment of Brick's imagination, though.
 

Wes/Tex

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Brick himself said, " Therefore the events and scenes of Part One of this novel are largely fictional." The rest of the book is based on research from Jeptha R. Simms "History of Schoharie County" which includes conversations directly from Dave Elerson, Murphy's friend and hunting buddy. Whether embellished is anyone's guess. Other works were by Michael J. O'Brien and A, M. Sullivan and Brick did say he only included the stories that seemed, in his estimation, to "have a reasonable basis in fact". Nice way of saying...I have no idea! :wink: :haha:

There are several versions of Murphy's early years and no one knows for sure. Fraser, if hit by Murphy, was done so on shot #3 and there are a couple period accounts of an older man firing from a stump at a bout 180 yards who also got credit. Maybe Fraser was in a crossfire...again, no way to know. Way too much mythology to ever positively know what happened.
 
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Elnathan,

Thanks for the book recommendation.

WesTex,

I have read a lot of accounts of how Tim Murphy supposedly shot General Simon Fraser at Saratoga. Some say he did it alone and others say he was a member of a three, four or five man "Team" of Riflemen all shooting at Fraser. Some accounts say he did all the shooting with his own rifle, which I find the most plausible if he did it; but other accounts claim they loaded different rifles and handed them to Murphy. Have to say I totally discount that nonsense.

The accounts that say he was alone generally say he was firing from up in a tree and rested the rifle on the branch of the tree. If he was not in a tree, he would have had to have been at a high enough elevation like on a hill to look down and possibly see where his missed shots landed OR someone else could tell him where they landed.

Accounts also vary a WHOLE lot on exactly how far away Murphy was when he shot at Fraser. Some claim as far away as 440 yards and I believe that is nonsense under the conditions of the battle, though some say it was around 285 yards, which is at least somewhat plausible.

However, British accounts mention it was not a Rifleman at all that hit Fraser, but a soldier on the flank who was shooting a Musket and only about 60 yards away. One account mentions the man had "grey" hair. These accounts came from British reports and accounts shortly after the battle when Fraser fell.

I have a tendency to put more faith in the British reports, though it is possible Murphy may have got Fraser if the range was 285 yards or less AND he had at least one other person who "spotted" his misses for him.

Gus
 
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Oh, forgot to mention in the book it mentioned as how the British tried using Artillery fire to "silence" Murphy and the other riflemen during the siege of Boston. I know that happened at least one time in battles around New York, but I can't remember the battle for the life of me right now.

Going OT a bit, I do know that American Riflemen were often grabbed to man Artillery pieces when their rifles broke down or were lost in action. This because they were better at estimating range distance than most "town folk."

Gus
 

Wes/Tex

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There are so many accounts of what happened and you're right, by himself, with a team...bit surprised a UFO didn't get involved. Many sources agree his rifle was a stacked double and his adjutant mentions a close miss, second shot clipped the horses neck and third hit Fraser. That may be so but whether he reloaded his or got another passed to him is unknown but my personal take is he'd reload his own rifle even if up a tree. There are a couple accounts of a second older man firing from another angle and standing on a stump and from a shorter range. Who made the hit is something we'll never know.
 
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Wes/Tex said:
There are so many accounts of what happened and you're right, by himself, with a team...bit surprised a UFO didn't get involved.

:rotf: :thumbsup: Almost spit coffee all over the computer screen on that one!

Gus
 
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The book "The Rifleman" was about Murphy written in 1950-something. In the book, which was a fictionalized account of Murphy, his was a swivel rifle in "40 balls per pound." Also, the lock was by Gloucher or Golcher however you spell it. It's been 40 years since I read it, but remember those three points...I think.
 

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