A great deal of monumental research about this American innovation has occurred since Dillon’s truly milestone dissertation was presented in 1924. Twenty years elapsed before the next influential book, Walter M. Cline’s, “The Muzzle-Loading Rifle; Then and Now”, was published in 1944. Then the great Kentucky Rifle collector, Joe Kindig gave us his revolutionary tome, “Thoughts On the Kentucky Rifle in its Golden Age” in 1960 and later that same year Henry J. Kauffman made his statement with “The Pennsylvania~Kentucky Rifle”. It would be two decades before Dr. George Shumway followed suit with his revolutionary two-volume set “Rifles of Colonial America” in 1980. Meanwhile, John Bivins, renowned as a contemporary longrifle maker and author, had released his very academic and geographically focused “Longrifles of North Carolina” back in 1968 and Dr. Shumway and a myriad of others have since published numerous volumes focusing on specific makers, regions, and styles. The interest in this American icon has never ceased to fascinate collectors and others since it’s inception in America.
The term Kentucky Rifle first appeared in print, as a line in a victory song soon after the resounding American defeat of the British in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. In the song, reference was made to "The Kentucky men and their Kentucky rifles." In that battle, the militia from Kentucky and Tennessee under Andrew Jackson used the rifle almost exclusively. The term therefore, goes back over 190 years. The name, “Kentucky Rifle” was born in battle - honorably and in defense of our young and struggling nation.
Forged in the heat of battle, the moniker is covered with glory. The name, through long association, conjures up a unique mental image of this grand rifle. Say “Kentucky Rifle” and people know what you are talking about. Say anything else and you have to stop and explain.
There has never been a time since its invention that the American muzzleloading rifle has not been produced; yet when regarded simply as a shooting apparatus, it fell out of favor soon after the close of the Civil War with the development of the metallic cartridge. However, during the last 50 or so years, thousands of individuals have again become very interested in them. They study them, read about them, collect them; shoot them and… and they build them.
During the 1960's there was a mounting interest in making the so-called “Kentucky Longrifle”. This passion developed alongside an increasing interest in collecting and studying antique rifles. The longrifle is one of the most important and finest art forms of early America. Thus, the longrifle is not just a weapon nor merely an important tool from America’s frontier era, but also a representation of artists applying their expertise in design and execution.
In 1980, Robert Weil wrote the first comprehensive and authoritative work on the new makers, of the old traditional American arms. His book, “Contemporary Makers of Muzzle Loading Firearms”, sparked the interest in many of today’s builders and collectors and expanded the level of appreciation for this important and comprehensive form of art. As a contemporary art form, when designed with taste and executed with skill, it can exist solely as an object of beauty. If well done, it is indeed a complex sculpture of three-dimensional art with two-dimensional art superimposed. Its general structure is commonly made from beautiful wood, most often maple or walnut, and decorated or mounted in different combinations of forged iron, brass, and silver.
No doubt, some of the finer longrifles being made today will be collected and preserved for their esthetic aspects alone and never put to use for shooting .Yet I contend, that the flintlock rifle is full of life and to be fully appreciated needs to be handled, loaded, shot and cleaned, as well as being looked at, caressed, cherished, and studied.
The thought and research required to build a “correct” early American rifle adds unique insight into the spirit of this tool, enhances the mindset of the maker and a bestows a deep appreciation of our glorious past that can be achieved in no other way.