Uncle John Rutledge's
Its origin is unrecorded - what a shame! Lost too is the story of the old gun's coming into our Uncle's possession and exactly when. We do know that it was the owner's precious ally in the early days of settlement in Taylor County, Iowa, circa 1860 and the following decades. And we have been told many times that in a sparsely settled land of raw prairie and lush timber along the creeks, it kept the family table supplied, in season, with venison, wild fowl and game, then so abundant.
On the fringe of the frontier and in the hands of a stalwart John Rutledge, the rifle's aim was deadly and its care anything but neglected. Uncle John was that kind of man - resourceful and reliable, widely known and implicitly trusted. Equally respected was his good wife, Aunt Mary, and for similar reasons. Strength of character was a dominant attribute of this pioneer couple. My mother thought the world of Aunt and Uncle and enjoyed nothing more than recounting incidents illustrative of their superlative worth. Mother, named for Aunt Mary Rutledge, couldn't have carried any given name with prouder grace.
As a very small boy, I saw Uncle John and Aunt Mary when they visited my Rutledge grandparents, coming up to Sharpsburg from their home in Garden City, Kansas. Uncle John was bearded, tall and straight; both were kindly.
All my life, down to the time of Mother's passing, I was gently indoctrinated with the virtues of this honorable pair, in relationship just slightly to the side of lineal descent. Their lives were still worthy of emulation, their memory deserving of veneration.
Other than what little has already been said and implied, the rifle's pedigree embraces this bit of remembered recent history:
It was probably some time in the 1930's that
Cousin Fann (daughter of John and Mary Rutledge) and
I happened to be visiting our
I regret my inability to recall all that
Cousin Fann said that day at Sharps, but it related
to the close and lengthy association between the "musket" and Uncle
John, long-time deceased. Looked at now,
it seems an odd circumstance that the relic should have been in Mother's livingroom, since Granddad Rutledge's household effects
were still pretty much intact in Aunt Alice's house a few doors away. It had been in Granddad's (later, My Aunt's)
keeping for years. Of this I am quite
sure. After Mother's death, I arranged for the gun's shipment to me here in
I would point out that the utter absence of notches in the beautiful hardwood stock. Its mission, long since fulfilled, was essentially humanitarian. Without doubt, the old gun was exposed to the sullen features of a wandering Indian from time to time, but never aimed at "Poor Lo." Uncle John was a pipe-of-piece kind of man.
Though it doesn't call for a bannered warning, still it should be known that the old rifle is loaded - loaded with the lore that is common to the saga of the mid-West of the mid-nineteenth century.
Never to be stripped from it is an aura of family and ancestral pride and sentiment. And it carries a powder charge: a charge to oncoming scions ever to be alert to advance and defend the high American principles and deeds of service represented by this old rifle relic.
To the extent of the authority vested in me to do so, I respectfully dedicate this old rifle and ramrod to a worthy future of Rutledge-based descendants, and I bequeath custodianship in perpetuity to my son, Robert T. Smith, and successive legatees.
Earl W. Smith
October 26, 1968
The patriarch of our particular Rutledge branch is Great Grandfather Jacob Rutledge (b. circa 1800), one of a dozen or so brothers bearing Bible names, and father of William and John Rutledge.