Sunday, February 19, 2017

Meriwether Lewis and Two Tomahawks

I went to the Antique Arms show in Noblesville to catch up with my friend, gunmaker Marvin Kemper. We share an interest in Indiana's frontier sheriff and gunsmith Colonel John Small (1759-1821). I got lucky to write some magazine stories about Col. Small recently, and Marvin has crafted (or has plans to craft) reproductions of nearly every John Small rifle, pistol, and tomahawk currently known to exist (including the "Grouseland Rifle," Indiana's Official State Rifle).

We talked at his table while he paused now and then to chat

with passersby, answering questions about his work and the flintlocks he had on display. After 20 or 30 minutes, a tomahawk on his table caught my eye. I recognized this tomahawk.

"Is that...? Did you build a Lewis tomahawk?"

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Road Ends in Water

The sun cut long shadows across the field as we hunkered down in a tree line. Our breath came in billows. Frost glazed the grass. Mike sat in a shock of thorny brush 30 yards to my right. He began working his coyote calls and I settled against a bare oak and awaited the appearance of a predator.  

This morning was our second run at coyotes in the 12,000 acres around Salamonie Lake in northern Indiana. The Miami Indians called the river O-sah’-mo-nee, or “yellow paint,” for the flowering bloodroot that grew on its banks. The Army Corps of Engineers dammed the Salamonie in 1965. At its low “winter pool” levels, the reservoir is drained, its capacity waiting to take the snow melt and spring rains that would otherwise flood the downstream river towns of Wabash, Peru, and Logansport.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Tubes of meat

We've been coming together every year for going on 16 years. Many of us have moved away from Indiana, off to every corner of the country. But we rendezvous every year to hunt or fish or just to sit around and eat meat and watch "Band of Brothers" for the eleventy-seventh time.

Sure, part of the draw is where we go or what we do. But part of it is listening to the conversations, taunts, schticks, and wisecracks... and trying to get them into a notebook before they drift away with the campfire smoke. We'd hope that outdoor writer and funny guy Bill Heavey, author of titles like If You Didn't Bring Jerky, What Did I Just Eat? would feel at home around our fire.

These are some of the best from over the years.
*********************


Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Dinner

In the neighbor’s kitchen on Christmas Eve, nine-year-old Kevin kept a finger through his father’s belt loop as strangers kept introducing themselves.

“Tom, is it?” they would say to the father. “So glad Jenn asked you and your boy to come over,” they would say. They would
Photo: Craig Sanders, Flickr, Creative Commons
introduce themselves as Jenn’s brother, or one of her sisters, as Jenn’s mom or Jenn’s aunt. Kevin glanced up to see his father shaking their hands politely. The boy couldn’t keep track of all the names. He kept hold of his father’s belt.



Saturday, October 22, 2016

A three-hour tour, a three-hour tour...

Outdoorsman Steve Rinella wrote, “When someone asked us what we liked to do, we said huntin’n’fishin’ as though it was one word.” There’s been more of that in recent years for the group of us who choose to call each other brother. 

We’ve hunted mallard and pintail and teal from blinds on Reelfoot Lake in Tennessee. We’ve walked fallow fields in South Dakota
and Kansas for ring-necked pheasant and reclined in laydown
blinds for Canadian goose. We’ve cast for snook and speckled trout and sheepshead in the grass flats off Cayo Costa Island in southwest Florida. It brings a sense of connection to the land, eating what we catch. 

But for Timmy and me, a susceptibility to seasickness may mean that any deep-sea tuna, grouper, or swordfish on our plates may have to come from the menu at McCormick and Schmick’s. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Grouseland Rifle: A Longrifle by John Small

Appearing in the November 2016 issue of the National Rifle Association magazine American Rifleman:

"In its own odyssey, an historic American long-rifle from the bench of Revolutionary War gunsmith John Small (1759-1821), long separated from the town where it was built, would be delivered to its home by modern-day versions of those
Greek mariners. As Odysseus was returned home to Ithaca, so was John Small, in a way, carried home to Vincennes, Ind. 

"This long gun, built by Indiana’s first sheriff John Small around 1803, would become known in 2004 as the “Grouseland Rifle” when it returned to Vincennes to reside in the museum at Gov. William Henry Harrison’s Grouseland home. In 2012 when the Grouseland Rifle was adopted as the official rifle of the State of Indiana, it would come to symbolize an entire state’s regard for its frontier heritage."

Story continues on AmericanRifleman.org.  

John Small's Grouseland Rifle: An Official State Rifle and its Reproduction

In Muzzleloader magazine (September/October 2016):

"INDIANA GUN MAKER MARVIN KEMPER laid John Small’s 200-year-old long rifle on the dining room table in William Henry Harrison’s Grouseland home in Vincennes. It was summer of 2015, and Kemper looked out the windows to sunlight mottling the leaves in a stand of walnut trees.

"Governor Harrison had met Shawnee chief Tecumseh among those trees in 1810, and listened to Tecumseh’s protests over acquisition of tribal lands by the Americans. Colonel John Small had been adjutant general to Harrison’s territorial militia from 1801 to 1812, and would have dined at the table in this room, eating roasted prairie chicken and discussing military operations with the governor.

Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed through here, Kemper reflected, and were guests at Harrison’s table.

"History transpired in this place. Small, Harrison, Tecumseh, and Lewis and Clark might have all been looking over Marvin Kemper’s shoulder as he began his process of bringing new life to John Small’s 'Grouseland Rifle' at this table."


Story continues in Muzzleloader magazine, available for order at Muzzleloader Magazine web site.



Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Grouseland Rifle: Tied to the Land


From the pages of Muzzle Blasts, the magazine of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, a story I was privileged to tell:

"An historic American long rifle from the bench of an 18th-century gunsmith is seeing a rebirth in the heart of the Old Northwest Territory. The “Grouseland Rifle” was crafted in the early 1800s by Revolutionary War veteran and gunsmith John Small (1759-1821), and was designated the Official Rifle of the State of Indiana in 2012. 

"As part of Indiana’s 2016 bicentennial, the Grouseland Foundation commissioned a reproduction tied as deeply to the land and the history of the Old Northwest as is the original Grouseland Rifle and its maker, John Small of Vincennes. This faithful reproduction will be available at auction in August/September 2016."

The story continues in Muzzle Blasts:   Link to story on NMLRA.org

Mitakuye Oyasin

When I was 21 and serving as a Marine Embassy Guard in Yaounde, Cameroon, I found a third cousin in that city. Marie and I met. Our great-great-grandfathers were brothers.


The Llangeryw Yew in North Wales,
estimated to be 4000 years old.
Last year while doing Sons of the American Revolution research, I discovered that a new friend, Kevin, and I had 8x great-grandfathers who were neighbors and served in the same militia unit -- 400 years ago in Hartford, Connecticut.

While doing book research on an 18th-century Knox County sheriff and gunsmith, I learned that a branch of my mother's family had lived on the farm next to his.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Bank Heist: An Inside Job


I don't picture myself ever landing in federal prison for bank robbery, but I have an old friend who did. 

Jack and I were much alike in our early 20s. We were both US

Marine guards at the American Embassy in Nassau. We both liked
bourbon and coke with a squeeze of lime. We chased the same kind of girls on Cable Beach. We shot pool together at Settler’s Pub on Bay Street. We paced each other on five-mile runs. But ten years later, I was wearing a cap and gown at a college graduation and Jack was wearing khakis at a federal prison in New Jersey.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

First Annual Reelfoot Duck-Blind Rodeo

More than a few skydivers have experienced a main canopy malfunction. There’s a minimum altitude required to safely cut away one’s main and deploy the reserve chute. The higher you are, the better: you have some time to assess your situation. But the longer you wait to make a decision, the closer you are to the ground and your options start to dwindle. 

The principles are similar when you’re in the middle of a 20-square-mile lake with a belly full of biscuits and gravy and you feel that first rumble that says, “Nature calling.”

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Cloud Atlas

It's the year 1637 and Kevin's ancestor Thomas Spencer and ours, Thomas Root, are living a mile from each other in Hartford, Connecticut. They're as close as Kevin and I are living now, next neighborhood over.

In 1654, my Thomas Root moves away from Hartford, 30 miles north into Massachusetts. Now here in this century, Kevin and his family have moved about 30 miles away, to Brownsburg.

It feels like the shadow of a pattern that repeats itself. 

The "what-if" in this story: what if in the year 2393, his descendants and mine, living in adjacent settlements on some distant planetary outpost, discover that their ancestors Kevin and Joe knew each other back on the home planet, in the state they called Indiana.


Sunday, October 4, 2015

Little fräulein

Anna reflected that Michelle would have been age 46 yesterday, if not that Michelle will always be 21.

Summer 1990



She was a 20-year-old Indiana University nursing student in 1990, recently diagnosed with leukemia, and a patient on 5 East Oncology at St. Vincent. After scoring a remission, Michelle had relapsed, and wasn’t too happy about it. The one thing that seemed to cheer her up was the idea of another remission and getting strong enough to make her first skydive.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Harry Potter is a wizard and I am not

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Hagrid kicks down the door, introduces himself to Harry by giving him a birthday cake, and tells Harry his dad was a wizard.

Our “Hagrid” was my cousin, Daniel Root, who kicked down our door in the spring of 2013 when he shared some family history with the rest of us. He pointed us to a book published in the late 19th century:

Root Genealogical Records 1600 – 1870: Comprising the General History of the Root and Roots Families in America, by James Pierce Root.

Daniel had sketched out a guide to help us trace our family’s specific bloodline, drawing a line through the 500+ pages and thousands of names listed in this 145-year-old book. Our line started with Thomas Root, who came to the colonies in 1637 aboard the ship Increase, through to near-modern day with David Anson Root, born 1849. One of Daniel’s comments caught my eye:

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Babushka

Dave sat at the stoplight, corner of State and Southeastern. He watched three guys loitering on the stoop of a squat building with the words “Puff n Chew” painted in crooked letters on its cinder block wall. Dave guessed it was a tobacco shop and checked his door locks.

He looked in his rearview at the old woman he’d passed a

block back. The sidewalks were piled deep with snow so she walked in the street. “Walked” might be an overstatement. Her legs seemed not to know each other: one step with the left leg, then a pause and her right leg took a turn. Left. Right. Left. She stopped, took a little rest, and took a few more steps. She wasn’t gaining much ground.

Princeton: Buffalo Hides and Buffalo Trace


Mike brought out the old flintlock rifle and Louie decided he just had to have it. Louie wasn’t the only one. That muzzleloader was getting a lot of attention from guys in the “gun room” – their name for the meeting hall in the scruffy and threadbare Days Inn just off the interstate in north central Illinois.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Coyote Hunt

We set up in a tree line along the Salamonie River and it was obvious my eyeglasses weren’t going to cut it. It was just after dawn and my every breath rose with its heat, mixing with the 20° air and fogging my lenses. So off came the glasses. I’d just have to deal with less-than-perfect vision as we sat, watched, and waited for coyote to emerge from the surrounding woods.
USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Creative Commons


I sat with my back against a bare maple, the tree masking my outline. Mike was thirty yards to my right, and began calling. Rifle across my lap, I let him do his work.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Encounters

In 1778, militia colonel Benjamin Logan was alone when he
encountered a small party of Shawnee warriors outside his settlement near present-day Stanford, Kentucky. Outnumbered, Logan fought them off, but not without cost. With multiple wounds and his arm broken, he escaped to the safety of Logan’s Station, and eventually recovered.

To depict this event, frontier artist Andrew Knez, Jr., borrowed a friend’s hammer tomahawk to use as prop for his painting, “Encounter.”


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Princeton

Once or twice a year, 30 or 40 men who’ve known each other for 20 or 30 years rendezvous at a Days Inn just off I-80, surrounded by central Illinois farmland. If you look it up on Google Maps, the place appears with the caption: “Simple hotel with free breakfast and a bar.”

Don’t bother vetting this Days Inn on TripAdvisor – I’ll tell you right up front that the wallpaper can be found peeling, the pool is empty of water in the middle of August, and the décor is heavy on 1970s-era wood paneling.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Comrades, Come Over

Kameraden! Treffen sie uns!

“What are those cabbage-eating bastards saying now?” said Sergeant Trevor MacAllister, 1st Coldstream Guards.

The prisoner, his hands bound and his English passable, said, “His words are ‘Comrades. Come meet us.’”