Thursday, May 30, 2013

James M. Graham, Gunsmith

Graham, James M.: He was working as a gunsmith in Franklin County, Kentucky, from before 1829 until after 1850. Graham was born in Kentucky in 1799 and was the son of gunsmith William Graham (1768-1845) of Franklin County. He learned the trade in his father’s shop and married in Franklin County on June 15, 1829. Little is known about James Graham, but he was a well-respected gunsmith in his day. A gunsmith by the same name, and thought to be him, was commissioned to make a fine rifle for Tennessee Congressman David “Davy” Crocket who became famous for his death at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas, on March 6, 1836. The rifle is historically important due to the Crockett association,, and it survives today in the small museum at the Alamo along with a story of its checkered life.

The rifle was commissioned in 1822 by a group of Nashville, Tennessee, citizens as a presentation piece for Congressman David Crockett in recognition of his political service to the state. The gun was presented to Crockett on May 5, 1822. It was described as full-stock in black walnut, brass mounted with a patchbox and profusely inlaid with silver. The gun was signed “J. M. Graham” on the barrel and was probably made by James M. Graham of Kentucky since he is the only known Graham gunsmith of the day with the same first two initials. The gun was christened “Old Betsy” by Crockett according to one story, although he had other guns over the years with similar names.

Crockett family tradition indicated this gun was in fact the Alamo rifle,, but family “recollections” are not always reliable. The provenance accompanying the rifle into the twentieth century provides the following details about its history. The gun was carried by Crockett on his trip to San Antonio, Texas, in 1836. (See entry for Kentucky gunsmith John Berry, who repaired Crockett’s “Old Betsy” rifle while Crockett was en route to San Antonio). Upon arriving, Crockett joined the small band of American troops who became martyrs by choosing the cause of liberty over their own lives when they defended the Alamo against a much larger Mexican force. The fall of the Alamo and the death of the Americans led to the famous battle cry, “Remember the Alamo”.

Despite some records indicating most American weapons were destroyed after the battle, the Crockett rifle reportedly was recovered from the battlefield and, due to its inscription, identified and eventually returned to Crockett’s immediate family. Years later Crockett’s son, John W. Crockett, sold a number of his father’s remaining personal items, including the rifle, to a friend of the family named Wade Hall. Following Hall’s death the Crockett gun went to his son, who sold it to Texan W. H. Barnet in January of 1862. later that year the gun was sold by Barnett’s wife to a Mr. Whitton, presumably while Barnett was serving in the Civil War. Barnett was captured at Van Buren, Arkansas, and served time as a prisoner. After the war Barnett returned home and purchased the Crockett rifle back from Whitton. The gun then remained in Barrett’s family for over twenty years.

The gun suffered from poor care during those years, and in 1886 Barrett described the gun’s condition and his renovation efforts by stating, “She was so badly rust eten (sic) at each end of the barrel that I cut her off at each end and put a patten (sic) steel breech and a steel rib and made her a half stock percushion (sic) lock gun using all the mountin (sic) and American black walnut stock”. Based on Barnett’s description, the Crockett gun kept its original mountings and most of the walnut stock, thereby retaining a good portion of its original appearance including its patchbox and extensive silver inlay work. The historical rifle eventually made its way back to the Alamo and is on display along with its history at the Alamo’s Long Barracks Museum in San Antonio. James M. Graham, while not one of the better known Kentucky gunsmiths, might be responsible for one of the more significant surviving Kentucky rifles in American history.

Marriage Records of Franklin County, Kentucky, p. 70; Franklin County, Kentucky Will Book 2, 1824-1854, p. 163: Federal Census of 1840 and 1850, Kentucky Division; M. Newland, “Old Betsy Crockett,” The Trafalger Times, Issue #7, July 2000 (official journal of the Staffordshire Branch of the MLAGB).

1 comment:

  1. I have a flintlock poor boy 44'' Barrell full stock signed Graham does any one have a picture of a rifle made by James M. Graham ?