The Controversy Surrounding 'Rifle Gun Number 42.'

Part I:  Mr. Gusler's Hypothesis.



Wallace Gusler has published a four-part article in Muzzle Blasts magazine which is of particular concern in relation to RCA 42 (photos 1 through 12).  This article was entitled, "An 18th-Century Moravian Rifle Gun from North Carolina," and was published within the January, March, July and November 2005 issues of the magazine.
  The assertion put forth by Mr. Gusler within the body of his article is that "Rifle Gun no. 42" is related to the work of the Moravian gunstockers at Bethelehem and Christian's Spring, but was in fact built either at Bethabara or Salem in the Moravian Wachovia tract of North Carolina.  [While no individuals were named by Mr. Gusler, this would then point to construction by either Andreas Betz and/or his apprentice Joseph Mueller ca. 1754-1767, or Johann Valentine Beck ca. 1764-1776.  At the 2007 KRA annual meeting, the rifle was displayed with an attribution to Valentine Beck.]  The essential points of Mr. Gusler's attribution to North Carolina are listed hereafter and grouped by month of installment.  In January, 2005, he noted that the rear of the set trigger bed upon RCA 42 is rounded and may bear association to the rounded beds utilized by Adam and John Haymaker of Virginia.  The stock profile of 42 evidences a high, straight comb which relates well to later examples attributed to the Shenandoah Valley and Tennessee, and likewise the long cheekpiece also relates to this area (as opposed to Northampton County-area pieces, which often - thought not always -  are short).  Mr. Gusler also asserts that RCA 42 carries a comb which faintly displays evidence of a central ridge which basically divides the upper surface of the comb into two 'facets,' and this is reminiscent of the three-faceted combs found upon a number of surviving Southern rifles.
  The first barrel pin placement upon RCA 42 is of a greater distance from the breech than the typical Pennsylvania rifle and is more in keeping with the 'long' spacing, i.e. thirteen inches-plus from the breech, that is a characteristic of the South.  Also according to Mr. Gusler, the brass box and sideplate upon RCA 42 are somewhat prototypical of later examples, a generation or two removed, which were found in Kentucky and Alabama.

In March, 2005, Mr. Gusler shared some selected photographs of a particularly early rifle which he attributes to Bethlehem and which he stated displays some evidence of being carved - either wholly or in part - by the same hand which carved RCA 42.  He then goes on to contrast the very different brass box upon the "Musician Rifle," as he has termed it (quite aptly) with the box upon RCA 42, and this stark contrast in innovation is proof of an individual who first worked at Bethlehem and then traveled to the Wachovia settlements, the family tree splitting thence and a different line of development taking place (as illustrated by the characteristics and comparisons noted in the initial January installment).

In July, 2005, the alleged contrast in carving style between the man who carved both the Musician Rifle and 42 (this being the same man, according to Mr. Gusler in the preceding March 2005 portion) and the remainder of the assumed Bethlehem/Christian's Spring pieces was explored.  He focused specifically upon the distinctive wrist carving present upon both the Musician Rifle and 42, and states that since this style did not continue in Pennsylvania, one should then infer that this individual must have left the area.  He then compared this carving to a small number of later Southern examples [none were identical, contemporaneous or by the same hand], thus concluding that the individual behind the creation of the Musician Rifle and 42 must have traveled South.

The final installment was published in November, 2005.  Mr. Gusler reiterated a number of his previous conclusions and also mentioned, in a discussion relating to a separate unsigned early rifle, that its style of "...wraparound buttpiece...probably represents early influence of Bethabara."  (Nov. 2005, pg. 9)  The implication in this statement is that the buttplate upon RCA 42 is a characteristic of the Bethabara workshop wherein 42 was constructed, the inside radius present at the heel apparently representative of some form of "wraparound butttpiece" indigenous to the South-only.
  Further comparisons between the hardware upon RCA 42 and excavated finds of uncertain provenance were also made.  Mr. Gusler then concludes that "...the two excavated rifles and restocked rifle [found in Kentucky] are artistically and technologically interlinked with rifle [RCA 42].  They illustrate a stream of design and technology from the mid 1760s [RCA 42] through the 1770s in Bethabara-Salem shops.  These designs spread southwest and west into the western Carolinas, southwest Virginia, and east Tennessee...The nature of this body of work appears to reflect the skill sets of two gunsmiths at Bethabara."  (November 2005, pg. 9)

Wallace Gusler's hypothesis, as put forth within the aforementioned article, is quite thought-provoking and currently quite controversial.  It is of course likely that fairly large measure of the controversy is an initial backlash against Gusler's challenging of long-entrenched thought; this would be expected of any radically new idea.  However, there are a number of serious flaws in Mr. Gusler's treatise which I believe should be carefully examined and expounded upon.

Mr. Gusler initially states that, "The strongest evidence for the attribution of this rifle...is a series of rifles made to the west of Bethabara in the western Carolinas, east Tennessee and/or Kentucky."  (Jan. 2005, pg. 5)  What is problematic about this statement is that the examples which are subsequently utilized as a basis for comparison are at least one - or possibly two - generations removed from RCA 42 and are of completely uncertain origin.
  In other words, the two excavated rifles as well as the later restocked rifle which Mr. Gusler illustrates are comparative to RCA 42 and therefore forge some of the links in the chain binding 42 to the South, however one must also then accept this comparison with the caveat that it is Mr. Gusler who is providing the regional attributions for the associated rifles.  He clearly states that the restocked rifle ca. 1830-1840 was found in Kentucky; the excavated components were uncovered in Alabama or Mississippi.  These 'parts' being uses as a benchmark, however, could have conceivably originated anywhere.  There are no signatures upon any of them nor are there any viable southern associations save that they were 'found' south of the Mason-Dixon line and the 'captured lid' box form does not seem to have materialized within Pennsylvania shops.  The serious kink in this logic is the blanket assumption that modern recovery location can always be associated with place of origin:  save any period documentary evidence, such as that which has been provided for the Leyendecher box lid, it can be seriously misleading to do so.  Modern collectors have recovered rifles made along the eastern seaboard from every state in the country, and pieces associated with Native American usage and trade have likewise shown a remarkably wide range of dispersal, from the St. Lawrence and the upper Hudson Valley to Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Florida, Alabama, Michigan etc.  Equally problematic is the initial inherent assumption that 42 was built in Bethabara with no supporting factual basis for this assumption being proffered.
The focused comparison of selected individual details relative to RCA 42 and attributed southern pieces - a rounded trigger bed, facets upon the comb, location of barrel loop, the concealed hinge etc. - also present an incomplete picture which leads to an invalid conclusion.  By associating these particular 'southern traits' with RCA 42, Mr. Gusler then states that "This interpretation gains meaning within the context of the other associations cited herein."  (Jan. 2005, pg. 9)  This interpretation could be viewed as presenting solid evidence, however this is only the case if the given associations are extremely selective and not inclusive.
  For example, there is absolutely no evidence prove one way or another where the set trigger mechanism upon RCA 42 was originally constructed.  It has long been a well-established fact that the Moravians as well as many other early gunstockers and smiths were importing large quantities of arms components from Europe; rounded trigger beds, both single and set, are a relatively common characteristic of German rifles [particularly upon ‘Brandenburg’ or north German pieces within the sphere of Berlin].  Likewise, facets present upon a rifle's comb are also not exclusive to southern-attributed rifles:  two examples made in Pennsylvania are displayed herein, both which provocatively  evidence various other ties to stylistic traits present upon RCA 42 (photos 13, 14).
Mention of the first barrel loop and it's longer-than-usual distance from the breech is used to connect RCA 42 to other southern-attributed rifles which display a pin spacing whereby the first loop is placed forward (towards the muzzle) of the entry pipe, typically in the range of thirteen to sixteen inches according to Mr. Gusler.  Rifle 42 is noted as possessing a thirteen-inch forearm and a first loop location (measured from the breech) of 12 1/4 inches, which places the pin directly above the forward portion of the entry pipe skirt (photo 11).
  This indeed is a longer-than-usual spacing in relation to many Pennsylvania rifles, however it certainly does not compare with the much longer spacing evidenced by some noted southern-attributed pieces, nor is it placed ahead of the entry pipe.  Comparisons made for the purposes of attribution need necessarily focus much more closely upon a regional grouping rather than a general body of work and it would be a mistake to focus upon "Pennsylvania" rifles as a whole in terms of barrel loop spacing:  it is much more productive, being as 42 is being studied within a Moravian context, to initially study the work of another Moravian, and no better-provenanced piece could be used for this purpose than rifle number 46 (Shumway RCA Volume 1, 198-202) signed by Andreas Albrecht.  Albrecht's signed rifle is certainly a later piece than RCA 42 and was likely made a considerable time after Albrecht's move to Lititz in late 1771:  it displays a bold, developed Lancaster style and much similarity to signed work of Jacob Dickert (another Moravian). It is a 'shorter' rifle overall, i.e. a somewhat shorter trigger reach and shorter barrel, however the location of the first barrel loop is proportionately quite similar to that of RCA 42 despite the shorter forearm and barrel of the Albrecht piece:  it is just above the tail of the entry pipe skirt (photo 15), while that upon 42 is just above the forward portion of the entry pipe skirt.
  Examining this characteristic in a bit more detail, it can also be seen that despite the shorter forearm (11 7/8") and barrel (37 13/16") upon Edward Marshall's rifle, it too maintains this same sense of proportion in that the first barrel loop was placed above the tail of the pipe skirt (photo 16) rather than in the middle of the forearm.  Albrecht's rifle and the earlier (assumed) Marshall rifle [often attributed to Albrecht, although this certainly can not be ascertained to complete satisfaction] evidence this advanced loop location which is in marked contrast to most of the later signed work of Oerter [whereupon the first barrel pin is usually placed in the middle of the forearm - see RCA 44 and 45 as well as 1774 Coykendall rifle].  Only one signed Oerter rifle of which I am aware utilizes a forward pin spacing comparable to RCA 42 and RCA 46 (photo 17).  It is notable that this particular exception also utilizes a 44 1/8-inch barrel. 

Casting a slightly wider net into nearby upper Bucks and Montgomery Counties, the area with which (coincidentally?) side-opening boxes are most commonly associated, it can be seen that the first barrel loop upon RCA number 65 (Shumway RCA V.1, 276-278) is approximately thirteen inches ahead of the breech and located in a practically identical location to that of "Rifle Gun no. 42" (photo 18).  This rifle (photos 19, 20) also shares precisely the same barrel length as that of 42, is removed from rifle 42 by at least one generation and yet provides a firm example of a Pennsylvania rifle (of the same general region within which rifle 42 is usually held to have been constructed, with side-opening box no less, again coincidentally?) displaying the so-called 'long pin spacing' which is proclaimed by Mr. Gusler to be a Southern characteristic.

That an obvious connection exists between the box and sideplate upon RCA 42 and the excavated components and restock can not be disputed.  However, the later pieces are at least one generation removed and of unknown origin:  they therefore cannot, with any degree of reliability, point towards a North Carolina origin when they themselves are of unknown pedigree.
  The later rifle which is illustrated as figure 4 within Mr. Gusler's January installment would appear to represent, as he states, a Rowan County (NC) or east Tennessee piece, however it very definitely is at least forty years removed from RCA 42 in period of construction and cannot be utilized to represent any type of legitimate tie when the intervening number of years is so excessively great and there are no clear stepping stones in-between as do exist in the Northampton and upper Bucks County, Pennsylvania region.  Furthermore, if we are to view "Rifle Gun no. 42" as some type of progenitor of traits which thence flowed outward from it, we must also consider the indisputable fact that the period during which 42 is held to have been constructed - broadly, 1765 through 1775 - was a period of much southerly movement by former residents of Pennsylvania.  This movement of people most certainly can account for the transfer of stylistic design, arms and components and mobility of ideas. 
Mr. Gusler's assertion that the later two-piece boxes of similar outline being inlet through the edges of their associated buttplates does not seem to serve any valid purpose, especially given the fact that all upper Bucks and Montgomery County (PA) side-opening boxes are of course likewise cut through their respective buttplates (including the hinges, the methodology of which strongly ties them to RCA 42). (Photo 21 , rifle signed "AP")  Finally, Mr. Gusler touches upon the use of a concealed hinge within the associated boxes as being representative of a Southern trait, a signpost originating with the concealed hinge upon rifle 42.
  The fly in this ointment, however, is the existence of Georg Leyendecher's box of 1771 which is so similar in design and construction as to be - in the context of following a trail of box development - nearly identical in methodology to the box upon RCA 42 and representative of a piece which is almost contemporaneous and directly derivative.  Furthermore, the Deshler rifle and it's uncanny similarities - including what is essentially the same box - likewise opens an insurmountable hole in Mr. Gusler's hypothesis and forges yet another link to the Northampton/Bucks County region (photos 22, 23).  As if this were not enough, the use of a concealed hinge in Pennsylvania can be seen to span multiple generations when considering the existence of several examples of Henry-family rifles (the Henrys also being Moravians) which were built in both Philadelphia and at Boulton in Northampton County, and which feature boxes utilizing concealed, internal hinges.  (See "The Henry Family Legacy," KRA 334-342)

One interesting note which bears a brief mention is the manner of nosecap construction and installation relative to Rifle 42 which was both described and illustrated within the January 2005 installment.  Mr. Gusler makes it a point to state that:


"The nose piece has an unusual construction [RCA 42].  A piece of thick brass is soldered to the inside of the cap, and when in place, this brass lug bears directly on the barrel.  the screw that holds the cap in place is threaded directly into the barrel.  The wood along the side flats secures the forend."

(January 2005, pg. 8)


The accompanying illustration to this statement, designated Figure 1 within the article, illustrates the construction and demonstrates that the wood of the forend along the lower barrel flat only was removed to accommodate the soldered lug, and the wood forward of this lug was removed as well to allow for wood shrinkage.  This is indeed a very unusual method of nosecap construction and installation; this author has not seen its parallel upon any other arm (although of course others may exist).  However, I must call attention to John Bivins' article entitled, "The Edward Marshall Rifle:  An Examination" which was published in Muzzle Blasts magazine in August of 1996.  Bivins dismantled the Marshall rifle - RCA 41 - and described the nosecap construction and installation as follows:


The muzzle cap is screwed to the bottom flat of the barrel.  A lug is soldered inside the cap to provide additional thickness for the screw countersink.  The tenon of the forestock in front of this inside lug was evidently cut away to allow a certain amount of longitudinal movement by the stock inside the muzzle cap."

(August 1986, pg. 6)


While no photo is supplied by Bivins to accompany this description, none is needed for the construction and installation method is exactly the same as described and illustrated by Gusler relative to RCA 42.  The perpetuation of such a unique detail from one rifle to another, those two rifles being comparative in many other details, only serves to further refute Mr. Gusler's hypothesis of a North Carolina origin for RCA 42.

            The March, 2005, installment of Wallace Gusler's article specifically focused upon the box design and construction of rifle 42 and contrasted it with the box upon the "Musician Rifle" (selected photos of which were provided by Mr. Gusler) as well as a relatively early unsigned rifle ca. 1770-1775 which has been attributed to George Schroyer.
  Gusler has attributed the Musician Rifle to Bethlehem ca. early 1760s while the Schroyer is a assumed to be a product of either Reading or Hanover.  [Note:  while I am currently unable to incorporate photos of the ‘Musician Rifle’ herein, the only evident link to RCA 42 is the general similarity of carved design forward of the cheek.  This style is a very common German carving form.  Absolutely nothing else about the rifle initiates the conclusion that it has any tie to Bethlehem ca. 1760s whatsoever, and in fact the box carries a scratched-in inscription, “1756 NJ.”  This, in conjunction with the guard bow being pierced to accommodate a one-time sling hanger, may indicate campaign usage during the French and Indian War.  Given the actual background of the rifle, there is currently no reason to doubt the authenticity of this inscription and it would in fact seem very possible that this rifle was made sometime during the early 1750s.]  Both the Musician Rifle and the Schroyer piece utilize two-piece hinged boxes which operate via a relatively complex latch mechanism which is very different than the much more direct approach represented by RCA 42 and the Deshler rifle (photos 12, 24) as well as (it can be assumed, based upon the similar latch post location) the long-lost rifle by George Leyendecker which carried the surviving box lid.  Mr. Gusler asserts that the Musician Rifle and the assumed-Schroyer example utilize technology derivative of a locksmith/lock shop and certainly a fairly strong case for this assertion can be made based upon  both their relative complexity as well as their similarity to latch technology of the period within the context of non-firearm applications.  The much more simplistic approach present upon the side-opening boxes herein discussed, however, is not so clearly dependent upon this technology but is rather clearly the offspring of the spring catches utilized upon earlier wood boxes.  The sole link to lock shop technology upon both rifle 42 and the Deshler rifle is the presence of curious kick springs, RCA 42 possessing what is clearly a spring cannibalized from a door lock (as illustrated by Gusler within the March installment).  Lock shop technology alone, however, in no way implies any useful attribution.
Mr. Gusler states that "The singular quality of this coil spring and concealed hinge points to the invention of the spring-loaded box in Bethabara-Salem environs."  (March 2005, pg. 54)  Yet, earlier in the same article he points out that the style of coil spring within the box of RCA 42 is comparable to 17th and 18th century common house-door locks (photo 25).
  It does not seem to make sense that the coil spring upon rifle 42, being derivative of or possibly even at one time part of, a common door lock, need therefore bear witness to North Carolina construction.  This rifle - number 42 - is currently the only known piece evidencing such a spring and it certainly does not in any way point to a regional typology; what it does point to is use via necessity, happenstance or experimentation, or a combination of all three.  Furthermore, the box upon RCA 42 can not in any way be taken to represent a prototypical spring-loaded box as it does not in any way combine the latch, latch spring and release into an interrelated unit.  Additionally, the concealed hinge has been shown (see above) to be neither a Southern innovation nor a distinctly Southern characteristic. 
Mr. Gusler goes on to utilize two lone assumed-Pennsylvania examples, currently unrelated by both locale and time, to then proclaim that these are representative of a type or style and that this therefore proves - specifically because these two examples differ from the methodology of RCA 42 - that a separate line of development was present.  However, he states on page 54-55 that "A rapid popular demand for the spring-opening boxes explains the various attempts that are experimental...The period of box construction experimentation appears to have its beginning in the late 1750s and continues to the 1780s."
  Here he is acknowledging the experimentation inherent to the early years of brass box development, yet apparently refuses to acknowledge the concept that a single shop may have utilized various methodologies - i.e., the Musician Rifle and 42, because of the differing manners of latch and release construction, cannot both be representative of the same shop or even region.  Schroyer's (asssumed) example of ca. 1770-75 must necessarily indicate a perfectly lineal line of thought within a very broad regional swath (essentially most of southeastern Pennsylvania) with no room for variation.   He mentions that "After the 1780s the box takes on a more homogenous style..." (March 2005, pg. 55) yet he would seem to be indicating, for the purposes of attribution in this situation, that homogenous style was also the norm during the early experimental phase.  There would not seem to be allowable space along this strictly lineal tree for the Leyendecher box, nor for the Deshler piece, nor for the five cast side-opening boxes ca. 1770-1785 illustrated herein (photos 26-30) which, to the contrary, point to a side branch illustrative of side-hinged lids with a simple spring/latch system exactly identical to 42, and further, originally designed to accommodate an attached integral spring located in almost precisely the same location - to the rear of the lid with a pressure point along the lower edge - as the coil spring present within the box upon rifle 42.  This form of cast, two-piece side-opening box seems to have rapidly evolved ca. 1770-1775 in Northampton County within the Moravian sphere of influence and quite possibly [speculation] as an incredibly sturdy, direct response to the complications inherent to the concealed hinge type i.e. 42, Deshler and Leyendecher examples which are tentatively dated ca. 1765-1771.