Guns of the Presidents at NRA’s 141st Annual Convention, April 22, 2012
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U.S. Presidents have been very largely gun owners and users. This would be expected for those who had military backgrounds like Washington, Jackson, Harrison, Lincoln, Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, and Bush 1 & 2; but gun ownership also extended to presidents like Truman and Johnson, who did not. Some were avid hunters. Teddy Roosevelt, with his son Kermit, made an African Safari after he completed his term. Eisenhower included Georgia quail hunts among his annual activities. The most flamboyant of them all was Jackson who fought at least 13 duels and was connected with about a hundred others, according to some sources.
On one duel about a disputed horse race, he faced Charles Dickinson. Dickinson was allowed the first shot and hit Jackson in the vicinity of the heart, Jackson put his hand to his chest to staunch the blood, and attempted to fire at his opponent. The gun misfired. Ignoring the code which would have counted this misfire as his shot, he recocked the gun and made a second attempt. This shot struck and killed Dickinson. Jackson survived and retained that bullet in his body for the remainder of his life.
A fine set of cased Henry Deringer pistols. These were made in larger and smaller sizes and were sold as pairs cased with accessories for loading and cleaning. Although Booth dropped the pistol that killed Lincoln, the mate to this pistol was never recovered.
Jackson was also the first president to face an assassin. In 1835 Richard Lawrence waited for Jackson outside of the White House. When he emerged, Lawrence drew one pistol and attempted to shoot Jackson. This pistol failed to fire and he tried with another. Both pistols malfunction, and Jackson rushed at Lawrence with his cane and beat him to the ground. Jackson had to be pulled away to prevent him from killing his assailant. When the guns were tested, they were found to be in perfect working order. Lincoln was not so fortunate, and John Wilkes Booth’s .44-caliber Derringer pistol fired and sent a ball into the president’s head. Booth also stabbed Major Henry Rathbone before jumping from the viewing box onto the stage. Booth injured his leg when he jumped, but nonetheless escaped. This pistol may be seen today in a museum in the basement of the Ford theater, and the bullet is preserved at the National Museum of Health and Medicine.
I will be producing a YouTube video where I describe, load and shoot a replica Derringer pistol, similar to the one used to kill President Lincoln. This replica is currently made by the Davide Pedersoli company in Italy and available from Dixie Gun Works and other sources in the U.S. Although .45-caliber (.440 patched round ball) and similar in size and functional characteristics to the original guns made by Henry Deringer in Philadelphia, the replica gun uses brass fittings, while the originals were most often made of iron and steel components. The video, “Derringer Vs. Pizza Zombie,” may be seen at: http://youtu.be/YiIeURpyi34. I also have a more expansive post on this pistol on my Backyard Deer Hunting Blog at: http://www.hoveysmith.wordpress.com.
Although no guns that belonged to former Presidents were on exhibit at this NRA Convention, related guns, commemorative guns and those of the same type were. On this show I talked to collectors associations and an auctioneer about a variety of historic guns that were associated with U.S. Presidents. George Washington carried a brass-barreled flintlock pistol and a pair of such pistols belonging to War of 1812 General Amos Hall was shown by the American Society of Arms Collectors and described by Vincent Rausch. To find out more about the society go to: www.americansocietyofarmscollectors.org.
George Washington as a young man and surveyor also owned a flintlock Kentucky rifle, according to those at the Contemporary Long Rifle Association. The use of flintlock guns as both civilian and military arms extended through the periods of the westward explorations of Lewis and Clark during the Jefferson administration, the war of 1812 and the Mexican war. Although considered second-tier arms by that stage, some unconverted flintlocks were also pressed into service by the Confederacy, although most were converted to the percussion system by the 1860s. The use of numbers of rifles by the U.S. militia under the command of Jackson resulted in the defeat of the British troops who were still armed with the notoriously inaccurate Brown Bess Musket. In an irony of war, the Battle of New Orleans was fought after a piece treaty had been signed in Europe, and the news was on its way across the Atlantic. To find out more about the Contemporary Long Rifle Association go to: www.longrifles.com.
The pistol maker, Smith & Wesson, started making rimfire revolvers by the time of the Civil War. The first were chambered for what is now the .22 short, but a more powerful .32-caliber gun was quickly introduced. A fine engraved gun was ordered by President Grant similar to the pair shown in this cased set, according to Roy Jinks, the Smith and Wesson historian. This started a practice of the company giving guns to the U.S. presidents. Known recipients included Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Ronald Regan and one was being prepared for John Kennedy, but he was killed prior to its delivery.
As a western rancher living on the edge of the Dakota badlands, Teddy Roosevelt used a 1976 Lever Action rifle and is shown here with that gun. As firearms technology advanced, he kept abreast of developments. Among the guns he took to Africa was an 1895 Winchester chambered for the .405 Winchester cartridge which he considered his “lion medicine”. Two Gatling guns chambered in the then new .30-40 Krag cartridge were used to support his charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba, and this was among the first tactical use of these guns to support an active engagement, rather than for protecting a fixed position. At least one of these guns still exist in private ownership, and I spoke to an attendee who had actually fired it.
Miniature firearms and arms have been made since the Middle Ages, and one that I saw at the Convention was a tiny engraved Colt 1872 revolver that Miniature Firearms Specialist Wayne Driskill had just received for evaluation. This was one of a number of pieces that are likely to be auctioned during the coming year. This particular gun has ivory grips with a TR for Teddy Roosevelt carved into them. (The coin shown in the photo is a 25-cent piece.) The oldest piece that he had at the show was an English-made pinfire revolver. Although tiny, these guns are fully functional and would shoot, if proper-sized ammunition was available. To see more of these guns go to: www.waynedriskillminiatures.com or contact him by E-mail at email@example.com.
One of two 1895 Winchester rifles offered in a raffle by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation at the NRA Convention.
If for no other reason than its size and the fact that this Gatling gun was complete with its field carriage and caisson, the military marked .45-70 gun was one of the most popularly viewed pieces at the show. This gun was one of over 1,000 collectors-grade firearms that were to be sold by Rock Island Auction Co. in an event to be held April 20-22 that is expected to bring over $3,000,000. If you see this post before the show broadcast date, you can still participate. Call the company at (309) 797-1500 for details or E-mail the company at firstname.lastname@example.org to receive information about this and future events.
An original Gatling gun from the 1870-80s with its rarely seen field carriage and even rarer caisson. This gun has U.S. Military inspectors markings.
In an election year Presidential candidates often attend the NRA convention to address the association’s 4,000,000 members. This year Mitt Romney received the top billing of the Republican Party candidates, and spoke for about 40 minutes outlining what he termed as his vision for America which included an unambiguous promise to protect the rights of gun owners and hunters. Romney’s recent political activities have been associated with Illinois and Massachusetts, which have some of the most restrictive gun laws in the nation. Nonetheless, as you will hear on this program, he passionately asserted that he would strongly defend and support gun ownership and hunting. Should he backside on these points, all Americans would have justifiable cause to remind him.
To listen to this segment of Romney’s speech go to my YouTube video “Mitt Romney on Guns at the NRA Convention, 2012” by activating the following link:http://youtu.be/dk5K8KJtzT0.
The cooking segment of the show is about making whiskey at the Jack Daniel distillery in Lynchberg, Tennesses. There, Jessie James conducted the tour, and I recorded sections of it as we walked through the operation. Although this was not a sampling tour, everyone got a strong whiff of the fermented sour mash (sufficient to burn the nose hairs) when they stuck their heads down into the retort. Jack Daniel starts off as a clear 141 Proof whiskey and then is charcoal filtered and aged in charred white oak barrels. There is is “fined” as the alcohol works its way into and out of the wood. This process is what imparts the amber color to the finished product. Red, Green and Black label Jack Daniel is bottled from barrels depending on how high they are stacked in the barrel house. Gentleman Jack is twice filtered through the charcoal – once before aging and once afterwords. The whiskey may be aged for various lengths of time, depending on its position in the barrel house and color. A new product, Tennessee Honey, is made by mixing honey with Black Label Jack Daniel for a sweet after-dinner drink. Another specialty product is a single barrel malt where, for approximately $40,000, a person and the master distiller will select a single barrel, and this entire barrel will be specially bottled for him. The used charcoal is sold to grilling enthusiasts who want a bit of Jack Daniel flavor to their meat, and the sour mash left over from distilling is used for cow feed. This part of Tennessee is noted for its happy cows.
Clifford Casey is an artist who lives in Norman, Oklahoma, who has chosen pencil as his preferred method of artistic expression. With just pencil and paper Casey can do a remarkable job of preserving the memories of a hunt and, using the flexibility that the method allows, can combine elements from different photographs in the same picture. The medium of using carbon-based pencil on paper is more precise than charcoal, allows better shadings and will last hundreds of years longer than color photographs, so long as it is protected from scrubbing and moisture. For about $225 he will draw an 14 X 18-inch image that can include two people – additional people incur an extra fee. For more information go to: www.cliffordcaseysart.com.
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