the fall of the Alamo
in 1836, two of the most famous weapons in Texas history--a knife
carried by Jim Bowie and a rifle used by Davy Crockett--were lost
in the mists of history.
Crockett actually left his favorite rifle, which he called “Old
Betsy” with his son John Wesley when he departed for Texas in 1835.
Today, it resides in the Alamo
Museum collection in San
Antonio. Crockett used “Old Betsy” to kill 125 bears between
1825 and 1834.
Early pioneers and explorers such as Crockett and Daniel Boone probably
depended on Kentucky rifles and a successor, the Plains Rifle, for
survival on the expanding American frontier.
Before the two rifles were developed, Texans likely used smoothbore
rifles and muskets, but they were often inaccurate, even at short
It was not until the early 1700s, when German arms makers invented
a method for rifling a gun barrel that long-range accuracy was possible.
Rifling, the process of cutting spiral grooves on the inside of
the rifle barrel, helped achieve greater precision when firing.
As the bullet passed down the spiral grooves, the grooves imparted
a spin to the bullet.
As is the case with a thrown football, this spin helps the bullet
fly in a much straighter line, thereby improving accuracy.
German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania in the early 18th
century brought this tradition to America. These gun makers had
perfected their Jaeger rifle and that design evolved into what is
known today as the Kentucky rifle.
This is actually a misnomer because these rifles were made in Pennsylvania,
but were intended for use on the Kentucky frontier.
The first Kentucky rifles were made in or near Lancaster, Pennsylvania,
Most of the military companies serving in the American Revolution
were armed with rifles made in Pennsylvania. After independence
was won, the new U.S. government asked Pennsylvania rifle makers
in 1892 to supply firearms to all military rifle companies.
The Pennsylvania rifle makers worked at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia,
to help develop the first military rifle, the Model 1803, which
clearly exhibited its Kentucky Rifle heritage.
The early rifles were plain and simple, but as time passed the production
of the rifles evolved into a high art form.
The golden age of Kentucky Rifle manufacturing was 1775 to 1845.
When more modern repeaters eclipsed the Kentucky Rifle, it was regulated
to the poor man, who used it well into the 20th Century to put meat
on the table.
Bob Bowman's East Texas
November 17, 2010 Column.
A weekly column syndicated in 109 East Texas newspapers