What makes a Tennessee mountain rifle?

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M. De Land

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I have to say, some posts have a lot of misinformation in this thread.

Eastern TN rifles and Western NC rifles had very similar features. Walnut stocks were on 95.5% of them with a few maple. Maybe 1 out of a 100 were other woods. Early gunsmiths supplied the Scotch-Irish families who settled the Appalachians starting in the 1740s and ending during the Revolution. Were long rifles made in TN/NC that early? Probably, but also a lot were brought down from more settled colonies.
But by about 1800 or 1810, there were gunsmiths in the back hills, forging the native iron and building rifles to fight Indians, hunt game (deer, wild boar, turkey) and a generation later, fight bushwackers. It was wilderness.
The Piedmont rifles are fancy with lots of brass and ornamentation because their users lived in towns or on farms near towns, trotting around on fine horses between villages on plank roads. In 1820 Appalachia, there were no towns or roads...it was rough frontier. In the Piedmont, there was no longer a worry about Indians by 1810, but you still had lots of bad guys in the mountain border regions. Just like today, the government expected the border settlers to be a "buffer" against all that bad stuff, and protect the landed gentry down in the flatlands.
Appalachian mountain rifles have a distinct style because of their isolation and resources. Iron ore was around, and used instead of brass which was expensive. Walnut instead of maple. Grease holes instead of beautiful, fancy brass patch boxes.

The styles we study as sounthern mountain started in middle NC, (which were a merging of several Northern styles like Moravian and Lancaster), then moved westward into the foothills counties like Catawba, then further into the mountains of NC, then over the Blue Ridge into eastern TN. In that direction. East to West, from the very late 1700s to the 1830s. Once the styles were established in the counties of the far Western NC, they carried over (literally) into Tennessee. The much earlier, Revolutionary TN "over the mountain boys" surely had Northern long rifles traders brought down to them. It was too frontier in 1776 to even have blacksmiths and such, for the most part.
I personally much prefer good close grain walnut for gun stock wood compared to maple but am curios as to which species was more prevalent and available to the areas you mentioned that birthed the SMR. Iron furniture makes sense as that was the least expensive available material but I'm wondering if walnut was that much more redily available than was maple. I've read cherry was also fairly popular gun stock wood.
 

AZshot

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Again, almost all the southern mountain rifles were made with walnut stocks. If you collect them, and talk to long-time collectors like I do, (some have collected them since the 50s) it's very seldom anything but walnut. The books on them show almost all walnut. I've never seen one in cherry. Only a few in maple.

Why is that? I don't know, but it's interesting that there are types of maples in the Smokey Mountains, but perhaps not the best gunstock types. It may have been that the gunmaker's customers asked for walnut, or it was perceived as being stronger and less likely to chip or crack. I know of all my SMRs, their butts are usually much more intact than maple rifles from the period. If used hard. I believe frontier made rifles were used a LOT harder than flatlands rifles. Most hunters in Salem or Salisbury in 1830 probably just did day hunts, from their farm. A long hunter in the Appalachians spent more time sleeping on the ground, and being in woods for several days at a time, or weeks, if they explored far. Remember, the explorers were the ones out pushing into the unknown areas of the frontiers. Not the people that settled and raised families and stayed behind in populous areas. Those rifles had to be tough.
 
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A lot of early blacksmith made Tenn. rifles used easy to make sheet iron fabricated trigger guards and butt plates. Last one I built was copied from an original Tenn. , Alfert Gross rifle. I used a .50 Colerain , 42 " straight 7/8" barrel , in a semi figured ash , Fred miller precarved stock. I used a late flint lock , as percussion guns not permitted in the Pa. late season deer hunt. The butt plate and trigger guard were easy to make. I first made some card stock paper patterns. (they probably don't teach kids to do simple art work like that these days. Might have to learn a new , old skill. ) Anyway , glue the paper patterns on some 3/32" to 1/8" cold rolled (soft) sheet metal and cut the metal parts out. Form the bow of the trigger guard,and Inlay the front top end of the preformed bow of the trigger guard into the rear edge of the front most rectangular piece of the sheet metal used for the fore part of the guard. Flip the guard pieces over,and spot weld , braze , or solder the joint together , on the bottom side of the guard , so the joint is not seen from the visible side of the guard. In the rear end of the guard the metal is simply bent at a right angle . The last joint is bending two curls in the sheet metal that will mate the shank of the guard to the rear rectangular piece of metal . The rear guard wood screw goes through this piece. Joining the two curled pieces together is done with a 10-32 brass plumbing screw threading one pc. of the guard curl , and tighten the threaded piece together , and cut off the unused ends of the brass bolt. Simply solder this joint. It would most likely have been forge brazed. A touch of brass colored paint will make any solder joint look forge brazed. A picture of Alfert Gross's trigger guard makes this job easy. This particular guard is very easily made with no forge work. I like easy. The butt plate is simple paper pattern , cut out the metal, bend into shape , and install. I know this instruction is incomplete , but they are easy , and cheap , parts to make. ........oldwood..... :thumb:
 

M. De Land

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Again, almost all the southern mountain rifles were made with walnut stocks. If you collect them, and talk to long-time collectors like I do, (some have collected them since the 50s) it's very seldom anything but walnut. The books on them show almost all walnut. I've never seen one in cherry. Only a few in maple.

Why is that? I don't know, but it's interesting that there are types of maples in the Smokey Mountains, but perhaps not the best gunstock types. It may have been that the gunmaker's customers asked for walnut, or it was perceived as being stronger and less likely to chip or crack. I know of all my SMRs, their butts are usually much more intact than maple rifles from the period. If used hard. I believe frontier made rifles were used a LOT harder than flatlands rifles. Most hunters in Salem or Salisbury in 1830 probably just did day hunts, from their farm. A long hunter in the Appalachians spent more time sleeping on the ground, and being in woods for several days at a time, or weeks, if they explored far. Remember, the explorers were the ones out pushing into the unknown areas of the frontiers. Not the people that settled and raised families and stayed behind in populous areas. Those rifles had to be tough.
Ah, so black walnut was more widely available! We have both on our farm in Southern Michigan and have cut a lot of it (large limbs) after ice storms for fire wood. Course that was long before I began stocking guns and it makes me cry to think of the perfectly good stock wood I have cut up from the large diameter limbs with crotch grain for the furnace, to heat the house. The crotch and stump wood was beautiful but most was to short for full length guns. It is very satisfactory for two piece single shot rifle and shot gun stocks though. Lots of Burl grain in the stump wood.
Here is a slab I just picked up today from a friend I did some gun work for! Click to enlarge.
I can easily get a couple of underhammer stocks out of this slab and perhaps a two piece Kentucky.
 

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I'd like to let you guys know that I appreciate the recent additional posts. I started getting notifications for it and had no clue why, until I realized I was the one who made the thread lol.
 
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Ah, so black walnut was more widely available! We have both on our farm in Southern Michigan and have cut a lot of it (large limbs) after ice storms for fire wood. Course that was long before I began stocking guns and it makes me cry to think of the perfectly good stock wood I have cut up from the large diameter limbs with crotch grain for the furnace, to heat the house. The crotch and stump wood was beautiful but most was to short for full length guns. It is very satisfactory for two piece single shot rifle and shot gun stocks though. Lots of Burl grain in the stump wood.
Here is a slab I just picked up today from a friend I did some gun work for! Click to enlarge.
I can easily get a couple of underhammer stocks out of this slab and perhaps a two piece Kentucky.
That is a beautiful pattern, I made a few T/C Hawken kits years ago. They had top notch black walnut then, some of it fiddleback..
 

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