his small, solitary Clark County backyard shop, Elmer Wall of
Winchester builds Kentucky Longrifles from scratch. He’s dedicated
to the affirmation of historical preservation. He relies on the
deftness of his hands, the keenness of his mind, the strength of
his commitment to responsible individualism.
Daniel Boone would have been
proud. So would Simon Kenton and all those pioneers who left the
security of Virginia and dared to venture over the mountains to
carve out an uncertain Commonwealth of Kentucky. They arrived and
survived with nothing more than a belief in themselves and their
principal weapon, the Kentucky Longrifle, built by men like Elmer
Wall, patriots who still today believe staunchly in the cause of
nation building and subsequent safeguarding. When the issue came
down to fingers on triggers, it was the Kentucky Longrifle that
spoke volumes and settled scores.
Three centuries ago, there
ensued a struggle involving revolutionaries, Native Americans, the
British, French, and Spanish-a bloody time that deserves to be
studied as objectively as possible. There are many sides to be
thought about, different perspectives to be considered,
conflicting partialities to be honestly weighed.
We live in a different time.
Weapons are technologically superior, but that doesn’t sway Elmer
Wall of Winchester. Despite a stroke and advancing years, carving
is this man’s devotion. His skill is still remarkable and the
finished work is beautiful to behold. To sit there and watch him
start with a single, rough piece of curly maple is to wonder how
it could possibly evolve into a weapon capable of winning national
In the past 50 years, Elmer
Wall has turned out about 200 Kentucky Longrifles, the parts alone
valued at $600 to $700. But the guns he makes today are not for
sale. They’re "to take to shows to educate people about their
use in their time," he explains.
In the time of the American Revolution, the Kentucky Longrifle was
celebrated and demonstrated to be more accurate than the ones used
by the Continentals. Survival was at stake, a time when a gun was
necessary to kill wild game and defend the cabin called home.
Proponents of a gunless
society will doubtless want to argue vigorously with Elmer Wall
when he declares, "Everybody ought to own one," but he
stands his ground, and patiently makes a case for responsible use
of all weapons. His self-directed career is winding down from 20
guns a year to one in two years, although the basic idea has not
There’ll always be "wars
and rumors of wars," he quotes from the Bible (St. Matthew).
"This thing ain’t over yet," he says of the war on
terrorism. Near the end of 2001 (he’s counting three score and
ten), Elmer Wall each winter has had a corner to himself in one of
the stockades at Fort Boonesborough, where he sits quietly,
Longrifle across his knees. He’s generous and tireless with his
explanation of how he transforms a piece of wood into a highly
polished weapon. He thinks of himself as a teacher who takes pride
in his calling. He makes Fort Boones-borough seem more real and
Nearby, a man in buckskin
approaches a large stone fireplace. He takes his time. No hurry.
No wasted words. Daniel carefully strikes a flint to ignite a
spark. He gently blows, breath generating smoke, then flames. The
hope of warmth curls up. Hands go out, palms open to the gathering
heat. It serves as a reminder that there was a time when starting
a fire, like shooting a gun, was fundamental. It spoke of that
time when the conception of the Commonwealth of Kentucky was
caught on the leading edge of doubt.
Today, the master of the
shaping of the Kentucky Longrifle and the builder of an honest
fire are two good reasons for taking stock in ourselves, believing
in the future, and giving thanks for courage.