Uncle John Rutledge's

Deer Rifle


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 Sharpsburg relatives at the same time.  One particular day both of us were at the home of my parents, the rifle standing in a corner of the livingroom.  In the course of conversation, Cousin Fann's gaze focused on the gun and she fell to talking about it in terms that seemed to make me, in due time, warder of this heirloom-in-the-making and its future.  She would hear nothing of my protests of ineligibility, lack of lineage and general unworthiness: the rifle was mine!  Properly conserved and "handed on," in time it might become a genuine heirloom by dint of age. In my own mind and breast, it is that already.  It is a rare item of memorabilia, a symbol of Rutledge-blood continuum.


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 California.


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

5001 Garden Grove Avenue

Tarzana, California


October 26, 1968


Explanatory note:

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.