In 2000 “Oh Brother” caused a blue grass revival of sorts, with Everett McGill and the Soggy Bottom boys singing “Man of Constant Sorrow” leading the way, but back in the 1930s when the movie was set, there was a muzzleloading revival going on. In 1931, the same year that the Empire State building was completed, men like Red Farris and Oscar Seth were forming the fledgling N.M.L.R.A in Portsmouth Ohio. About the time of F.D.R’s New Deal and “we have nothing to fear” speeches, the NMLRA was meeting with another group down in Rising Sun Indiana, and eventually the W.L.W. and the NMLRA merged. By 1935 they were holding their first combined national shoots, and the rest is history, with men like Gilbert Angel, Walter Cline, Bill Large, Henry Pancake, Boss Johnson and Andy Whitehurst setting the stage for the event that is still held annually at the Friendship Indiana range to this day.
The 1930s was an important decade for the nation, and for muzzleloading, and the “Arkabutla/ Oh Brother” tribute set is carefully constructed from many original items from that era. Befitting the circumstances of many of the rural muzzleloader shooters in the 1930s, the bag itself is rather utilitarian and simple and made from salvaged leather. But it is well made with welted seams and decorative incising that matches the fancy incised lines on the original 1930s, hand hammered “art deco/craftsman” style buckle that is used for the strap adjustment. The powder horn has a turned antler collar and applied bone tip reflecting the southern regions where such horns were always popular, and where the traditional muzzleloading shooting match held on in outposts like Pall Mall Tennessee. The horn keepers button to the heavy canvas strap on old “two hole” bone buttons.
The cane measure is a double, one end pouring a small half charge, and the other a bigger “loaded fer’ bear” full one. It is based on an original, and hangs on a chain that is attached to the strap. Also on a chain hanging next to the measure, is a fine wire nipple pick. Where the chains attach to the strap, there’s an original “Roosevelt for Humanity” campaign button, showing that just like in the “Oh Brother” movie, politics was a topic on everybody’s mind in the 1930s. Nothing illustrates actual 1930s politics better than the campaigns of F.D.R.
The bag knife is an original “O.V.B.” pocket knife, made for and marketed in the 1930s by “Hibbard Spencer Bartlett & co.” Such knives were sold back then for about fifty cents, but in the days when a common phrase were “hey brother, can ya’ spare a dime”, you can see that wasn’t exactly cheap.
Another phrase coming out of the economic hardship of those days was “waste not want not”, and with that in mind the bullet bag or traditional suggin’, is made from salvaged antique feed sack ticking. It has a cane spout, and an improvised “rolled and sewn” ticking stopper.
The cap tin is made from “Dapper Dan”, “mens genuine seal oil pomade” that you probably remember was all that Everett McGill would use. Though believe it or not, “Dapper Dan” was never really marketed, it is now one of the most memorable Hollywood props and is inseparably associated with the movie “Oh Brother” and the time it was set in. You probably also remember the scene from the movie where the flood waters sweep in wash over the McGill cabin, that many tins of “Dapper Dan” can be seen floating by. No Arkabutla tribute would be complete without one.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the men who not only preserved, but who nationally revived our muzzleloading heritage during the difficult times of the 1930s. Though it is often most remembered for everything we lost during the great depression, like the movie “Oh Brother” tries to light heartedly show us, quite a few good things can be celebrated from that time as well, and the “Arkabutla/ Oh Brother” historic rivers pouch set is dedicated especially to those.
Copy and photos by T.C. Albert