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THE KENTUCKY RIFLE, AND BUILDER

Examples of 18th century, letters to the editor, reference The American longrifle;

London Chronicle 1775 – “This province has raised 1,000 riflemen, the worst of whom will put a ball into a man’s head at the distance of 150 to 200 yards; there fore, advise your officers who shall hereafter come out to America to settle their affairs before their departure.”

London Newspaper 1775 – “The shirt-tail men, with their cursed twisted guns, the most fatal widow-and-orphan-makers in the world.”

The Kentucky rifle was produced by a small group of artisans in 18th century colonial America who were skilled in the medians needed to produce these uniquely American works of art. Whereas other artisans exercised their talents in a single medium (the silversmith in silver, the cabinetmaker in wood), the Kentucky rifle maker had to be a master workman in at least three materials – wood, iron, and brass. These rifles were considered one of the finest examples of American material folk art form.

Wayne Watson strives to keep this heritage alive by building exact reproductions of existing masterpieces of the eighteenth century.

An authority on these rifles, Thomas Ames, in Sept/Oct 1988 issue of Muzzleloader magazine, wrote,” It was the eight longrifles from various schools of gunmaking that first drew me to Wayne’s table at Dixon’s Gunmaking Fair in Kempton Pennysvlania. It was as if the clock had turned back 175 years. Here were the rifles of Sell, Verner, Armstrong, Beck and the like. Not mere longrifles of above average quality and workmanship but longrifles that truly reeked the personality of the old masters. The varying styles of carving and engraving surely had to be studied, then mastered individually. The inlay work of silver and brass was not flush with the surface of the wood but left just a bit high with the finish and patina built up around them as if they were actually inlet almost two centuries ago. The richness of the stocks was mellowed, not flashy or gaudy but lovingly hand-rubbed to a rich patina. They seemed to come alive and speak of a time when virgin forests still covered the east and copper-hued warriors still reigned supreme along the frontier. This was the work of a craftsman who had obviously spent a lifetime perfecting skills necessary to duplicate the traits of various master riflesmiths of years gone by.”

Wayne has two thoughts toward the documentarian style of gunmaking and is comfortable with either view. He will make exact copies of particular rifles if he finds them pleasing overall, or he will take several rifles by the same maker and incorporate the best features from each. Thus the finished rifle may exhibit the finer qualities of several.

In 1992, Wayne’s work came to the attention of Twentieth Century Fox Studios and Michael Mann, producer/director of the movie, “The Last of the Mohicans”. He was hired to produce historically-accurate war clubs, tomahawks and the legendary “kill-deer” rifle carried by Daniel Day-Lewis, the star of the movie.

Wayne with Daniel Day Lewis, star of "The Last of the Mohicans"

    

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