"A Quaker's 500 Kentucky Rifles"
Joe Kindig, Jr., a York (Pa.) Quaker who has never fired a gun, has assembled the world’s largest collection of Kentucky rifles, the weapon with which Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and other frontiers-men tamed the American wilderness.
His hair grows in a tawny mane to his shoulders, and it has a sheen as beautiful as a woman's. Three or four times in the course of an hour's talk, without a break in the conversation, he may whip out a short comb and sweep the hair back over his ears. That finished, he applies the comb to the big Moses-shaped beard that covers the middle button of his crisp white shirt. There's no tie under the beard.
"In one week," he says, "one man told me I looked like John the Baptist, and another said I looked like Jesus. A day or two later a man told me I looked like the devil. I'll cut my hair any time I have good reason to."
He had a good reason in 1952.
"Joe," a wealthy York business man said,"when are you going to get a shave and a haircut and look like other folks?"
The man took him up on it, and wrote $2,500 checks for two needy causes. Mr. Kindig, as good as his word, sat painfully through a shave and haircut. "It was awful," he told a reporter. "With my hair and beard gone, I looked as ridiculous as you do right now."
He comes from a long line of Pennsylvania stock. His grandfather, Eli, was a horse and mule dealer who became so wordly successful he was asked to drop out of the Mennonite community. His father succeeded in the same business. Young Kindig seemed aimed in the same direction when he graduated from Penn State's agricultural college in 1921. He tried farming for a year. "It was to much work," he says.
Because his father wouldn't allow a .22 rifle, a BB gun or any other weapon capable of harming human or animal, young King had bid 30 cents for a useless old Kentucky at an auction and taken it home. That led to an interest in antiques in general and Kentuckys in particular. When Joe gave up, farming he became a full-time antique dealer, his work today.
A religious man- he reads his Bible and meditates for two hours daily - he sees divine guidance in development of the Kentucky.
"It took 50 years for that rifle to evolve," he says. "And it took 150 years to develop a man good enough to carry it. god brought the two developments together at the end of the Revolutionary War.
"Europeans began moving into this country in the early Seventeenth Century, but for more than 100 years they didn't have much more than a beachhea here. They weren't frontiersmen; they were merely transplanted to a frontier. They weren't Americans, either. They held on to their old country ways, speech, clothing, thinking.
Germans and Swiss settlers who gravitated to Pennsylvania brought with them their own cumbersome Jager (hunting) rifle. It was heavy, inaccurate, and wasterful. But the weapon was rifled, which put it a cut above smooth-bore muskets. The rifling consisted of grooves cut so deeply that much of the propelling powder explosion escaped around the sides of the bullet.
The Kentucky Rifle, so-called because it was a favorite with men who explored, then settled that State, began to develop after the first quarter of the 1700's.
With their primitive new world equipment, gunsmiths learned to heat a flat bar of steel to pliability, wrap it around a rod, and forge the mass into a long gun barrel. They bored out the barrel, cut in shallow rifling, milled the outside of the barrel into an octagonal shape, then fitted on a wooden stock that ran the length of the gun.
The result was a long rifle, about 5 feet, slender to a point of gracefulness. The average weighed less than 9 pounds. It shot a smaller bullet- 70 balls to a pound, an used less power.
To this day, gun enthusiasts admire the Kentucky's balance. It was a plain, purelyl utilitarian weapon in its early days. Not many men knew how to use it.
"He got to know how his rifle would perform on a dry day or a wet one, in high wind or calm. He knew how to save powder by loading light for a short shot, and how to tamp it in heavy for a long one. He could hit just about any part of a man he wanted to every timeat 200 yards, four times the sure range of the old German rifle, and some of those frontiersmen could perform a near magic with it."
The Kentucky was never a soldier's weapon. It was too slow to load, wouldn't adapt well to a bayonet, and it required long experience to master. In the Revolution, handled by the rough men who knew it, it was a lethal factor against the British at King's Mountain and Saratoga. In the War of 1812, fired by Kentuckians and Tennesseans, it mowed down British by the hundreds before they could carry their own smooth bore muskets into useful range.
It was a patriot's song about the battle at New Orleans which gave the famous Pennsylvania-made rifle its now-common name:
"... But Jackson he was wide awake
Two years ago Kindig finished a book "Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in the Golden Age," which sells for $27. The weapon's golden age , as he defines it, ran from the end of the Revolution to about 1820.
He estimates there must have been more than 600 gunsmiths who turned out Kentuckys, some just a few, some quite a few.
Right after the Revolution, with frontiersmen moving out, opening up the whole country, there was great need for the rifle, and craftsman put their best into the weapons to attract more business.
"Ancient guns from Europe show better brass and silver inlay work , finer carving of wood and metal," Mr. Kindig says, "but six or eight artisans must have worked on each of those guns. Each Kentucky is the work of one versatile craftsman."
Much of a Kentucky's beauty is in its stock, which referred to by frontiersman as "tiger maple" or "fiddleback maple." It was sanded for hour after patient hour to a satin smoothness, then stained with a mixture of red dye from boiled henna root, chimney soot, and linseed oil.
Mr. Kindig looks at the Kentucky as a work of art-woodwork, brass patch box, carved wooden stock. He can examine a Kentucky for an hour- he often does- then set it asie without being able to tell you the size off the bore. He has never fired the gun, and knows nothing, nor cares, about the mechanism.
He hasn't a price tag on any of his Kentuckys. He recalls what he paid for it, figures in a bit of profit, tries to estimate what it will be worth to you to own it, then arrives at a price.
"I dont' sell Kentuckys," he explains. "You can buy one from me if I like you, but I don't sell them."
J O EK I N D I GR I F L E S
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