Editor’s Note – This is the fourth in a new series of stories authored by Robert Kroeger, who has painted 23 barns in Highland County. The most recent 12 paintings, usually framed with actual wood from the barn depicted, will be auctioned off Sept. 24 when the Highland County Historical Society holds its annual Log Cabin Cookout. Proceeds from the paintings will benefit the historical society. Kroeger titled this story “Six Notches.”
Friday, June 24, 2016, had been a long day of barn-hunting, lasting from 6:30 a.m. when I left Cincinnati to 7 p.m. when I finally had a chance to shower. Hillsboro area residents Sandy and Tim Shoemaker once again wore me out. Not done yet, I drove for 20 minutes through the cornfields of Highland County to the historical museum in downtown Hillsboro for an artists’ reception where three of my paintings and 16 other works were displayed. I arrived late, tired, and running on fumes.
So, when a lady told me she had an old barn that might interest me, I felt like telling her that my batteries were nearly spent. I’m glad I didn’t. Instead, I politely asked her some questions. How old? What kind of shape? Metal siding (a no thank you), metal roof (OK). Historical info? She methodically answered them all. And, as the answers came, my batteries recharged.
Jean Fawley, the historical society’s volunteer coordinator, clinched it when she said that they found a gun on the property in the 1940s – hidden in a wall in a log cabin on their farm that was dismantled in the 1940s. It was a military flintlock rifle, old enough to have been used in the War of 1812. And maybe it was fired against the famous Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his confederacy of 32 Indian tribes who fought in the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 and again in 1813, this time allying with the British.
But, and this is where the painting’s title comes from, it was not just an ordinary flintlock. This one had six notches carved into its wooden stock. According to dime novelists of the 1800s, gunslingers of the Wild West would notch their six-guns whenever they killed someone. That was probably more fiction than fact, though perhaps some did keep track. Notches for what? Bears, mountain lions, people? Anyway, it made me wonder what action this flintlock did see. I was hooked.
The next morning I drove to Jean’s home to take a look at the gun. The military emblem, the Great Seal of the young United States, first used publicly in 1782, is clearly embossed in metal underneath the gun’s hammer. Behind it, also in remarkably vivid detail, is Harper Ferry, 1810. The “s” and part of the “y” have been worn down. This muzzle-loading flintlock is called Harpers Ferry Model 1803, which is the date it was ordered by the U.S. military. The 1810 stamp reflects the year it was made.
This gun revolutionized rifles since it was shorter than the highly accurate Kentucky and Pennsylvania long rifles. In 1803, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn specified that the barrel should not exceed 33 inches, a length much shorter than the 48 inches of the long rifles, because he felt the shorter barrel would have a lesser chance of fouling, which could ruin the gun. This wasn’t the first time the long rifle’s barrel had changed. In 1792, the U.S. Army contracted for a long rifle with a barrel of 42 inches.
The “Model 1803” was produced in a new armory, the second in the young country, in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. – though at that time it was part of Virginia. The military order for this gun came in May of 1803, but it wasn’t until 1807 that the order of 4,000 rifles was finished. Outbreaks of malaria in Harpers Ferry in 1805-06 hurt available manpower. The production of Model 1803 lasted until 1819, with the actual date of production imprinted on the plate.
Since the Fawley’s flintlock was produced in 1810, it may have been used in the War of 1812, a war between our county and Great Britain that lasted nearly three years – to 1815 – and took place in nearby Lake Erie and Canada, among other sites. The Model 1803 was used successfully and so extensively by U.S. troops that another production order was issued in 1814. Later, the gun was used in the Mexican-American War – 1846 to 1848 – as well as in the Civil War, where almost any kind of gun was used by both sides.
This gun’s length also tells a story. It’s about 45 inches long, but the barrel is only 19½ inches, which means the wooden stock is 26 inches. Model 1803 had a barrel of 33 inches which, combined with a stock of 26 inches, would make the gun 59 inches long – or almost five feet. In the second run of this model in 1814, the metal barrel was lengthened to 36 inches for more accuracy. This gun’s stock is also longer than the typical Model 1803. Try holding a gun that long and controlling it. So, the question is: Did the Army make a shorter gun as an experiment? Or did someone shorten the barrel years later to make it easier to load and fire? We’ll never know – unless a military gun historian has the answer.
Jean also told me that her late husband was a descendant of the Vance family that owned the farm as early as 1840 – as a deed attests – and perhaps earlier. So, the family ownership of this farm goes back six generations. My next stop was to see the barn and her son, Kevin, who lives with his wife, Heidi, in the farmhouse adjacent to it.
After leaving Jean’s, I found the Fawley’s farm on Concord Road, not far from New Market. Kevin, another Millennial enthusiastic about Highland County’s history, showed me a photo taken on Aug. 30, 1897, of John’s – Jean’s late husband’s – great-grandfather, David Ellison, plowing with two white horses. Next to him is Effie Jane, his wife, and posing on top of the horses, are two children.
Kevin told me that he became interested in history when he bought a metal detector and began to find “stuff” with it. Old bottles, war buttons, coins. Remember that old log cabin where the flintlock was found? Kevin found a large copper U.S. cent near the cabin’s foundation. The U.S. first minted this coin in 1793 and kept producing them up to a few years before the Civil War. In those days a penny was worth something.
We then went into the barn. “We better watch out for the foxes,” Kevin warned. He explained that a family of the critters lives under the barn and every spring a litter emerges from a hole in the back. But we didn’t see any that day. What I did see amazed me: large, ancient logs, hand-hewn, and probably dating well before 1840. These were old, old timbers. As with other barns in this county, the early builders knew their trade, which the barn’s longevity testifies to, 200 years later. Here’s to hoping that the Fawley-Vance legacy will last many more decades.
Robert Kroeger is a former Cincinnati area dentist who has since ran in and organized marathons, took up the painting skills he first picked up from his commercial artist father, become a published author, and is a certified personal trainer that started the LifeNuts vitality program. Visit his website at http://barnart.weebly.com/paintings.html.