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Supplement to “Kentucky’s Artisan History: Brooms, Bourbon, Longrifles”

You oughta be in pictures

The name of the Kentucky longrifle

You oughta be in pictures

When it wants historical authenticity, Hollywood–for that matter, artistic enterprises from across the globe–comes calling on the contemporary makers of Kentucky crafts.

Frank House made the pistol and rifle Mel Gibson used in the Revolutionary War-period film The Patriot, as well as a pistol for the actor who played the evil British colonel in that film; he also instructed the actors on how to use the weapons. He served as master armorer (the guy who keeps the firearms firing) for Russell Crowe’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and consulted on the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. (He even spent a few days working with more contemporary firearms on the set of War of the Worlds.)

Eighty-eight of Richard Henson’s brooms were used on the television series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. Henson says Dr. Quinn star Jane Seymour was especially fond of his Kentucky Cabin broom. Last winter 16 of his Shaker brooms appeared onstage in England, during the Northern Ballet Theatre of Leeds’ production of Angels in the Architecture, a ballet set to Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring.

The distinctive apothecary-style bottle of Bulleit Bourbon, now distilled in Lawrenceburg at Four Roses, appeared in a saloon on the HBO television series Deadwood. (Another character on that show asked by name for another Kentucky brand that’s still being made, Basil Hayden’s.)

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The name of the Kentucky longrifle

The American longrifle probably originated in Pennsylvania, based on the Jaeger, a style of German hunting rifle that was shorter and had a wider barrel. The best early makers were in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

So why is it universally known as the Kentucky rifle?

Because Kentuckians used it so well. (And probably because the state’s name scans so nicely in poetry and song.)

The name comes from a popular ballad of 1826, written by Samuel Woodworth about Andrew Jackson’s victory in the Battle of New Orleans, called The Hunters of Kentucky.

Frank House quotes the most famous lines from memory:

But Jackson he was wide awake and wasn’t scared at trifles
For well he knew what aim we take with our Kentucky rifles.

“You go anywhere in the world and say ‘Kentucky rifle’ and people know what you’re talking about,” says Mel Hankla, who’s working on a book called The Kentucky Rifle: America’s Excalibur. “But if you say anything else–you say ‘Pennsylvania rifle’ or ‘American longrifle’–you have to stop and explain.

“It’s a nomenclature that was born in glory, and it’s become an icon.”

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To read the Kentucky Living August 2009 feature that goes along with this supplement, go to Kentucky’s Artisan History: Brooms, Bourbon, Longrifles.

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