Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fred Riley: A Distinctive Style

My mother gave me my first full stock rifle when I was twelve years old. I still have the rifle after 60 years. My affair with the longrifle goes that far back.

I became interested in shooting muzzleloaders in the early 1960’s when I moved from Gainesville, Florida to Clearwater, Florida. Attending a gun show in St. Petersburg, I saw a partially finished longrife. I was awed and did not realize up to that point that there were artisans recreating the beautiful early longrifle.

This began a long time relationship with Fred Anderson Riley.

After serving our country in the Korean War, this career soldier retired to Tampa, Florida. He attended college at The Tampa college and the University of Tampa. He graduated with a degree in Industrial Design.

Fred was an extremely talented artist. He worked in several mediums and all with the most distinctive style. He made beautiful leather bags, powder horns, many clever and functional accouterments plus beautiful longrifles and pistols. Additionally, he made many items of pottery that were things of beauty.

His lifelong ambition was to build a sailboat and live aboard. I have in my possession two beautiful half model ships that were designed by Fred and built piece by piece. As with many contemporary artists, if he needed a tool for a particular task, he would design the tool and build it. Some of his tools were art within themselves.

I had a long and close friendship with this man. Together, we traveled to many shoots and gunshows as far away as Pennsylvania. He introduced me to the Kentucky Rifle association and I have been a member since 1967.

In his many travel, he sought insight and advice from many notable contemporary rifle builders. Carl Pippert, John Bivins, Robert Watts, Earl Lanning and Hacker Martin to name a few.

Fred’s longrifles were very distinctive. The function, architecture and finish was incomparable. My family is very grateful to own and enjoy eight longrifles and three pistols plus a variety of accouterments. Fred’s work can be picked out across a room. I have never seen carving and engraving anything like it. You might say that he engraved and carved with a heavy hand turning out rifles of rare beauty.

I would like to close this with a credit to Jim and Laura Jones who tended to Fred in his last couple of years. He was a rare individual and it was a privilege to know him.

Should anyone wish to see an example of this artist work, simply go to the book by Robert Weil on contemporary gunsmiths. A couple of examples of Fred’s work are features there.

Copy by Bill Ruggie from an article in the 2001 Flintlock, a publication of the CLA.


  1. Fred was my uncle - my mothers brother. I have bits and pieces of Fred's art (which he called junk). My brothers and father have his rifles and accessories. Things he made for Mom - she passed on after Fred. I was just trying to put his life together to pass on to his great, great nieces and nephews. Delighted to find this blog. Thank you. Carol Taylor

  2. Hi Carol, My husband Jack McCarthy and knew Fred briefly in the early 1970s. I would love to share a few photos of a lady's paatch knive that I won ...that Fred made and also a tomahawk that Fred made and that my husband won at one of the Alafia River Longrifle meets that we participated in ... and were members. What fun finding this information on Fred. A little aside ... we were young, with young children 5 to 6 year olds. I recall one camp out that we had (what great fun) we sent all the children over to Fred's camp and told the children that Fred wanted to see them. Fred was a great personality, talented artist ... with little tolerance for the little ones! We had fun at his expense ... believe he enjoyed the joke! The kids did not stay long in Fred's camp! Fred has given many folks fond memories ... and art pieces! Jenny McCarthy if you would like some photos of the pieces that we have that were crafted by Fred, email me.

  3. Bob Watts had a Riley rifle which he cherished. Fred was an incredible silversmith and made Bob a rifle that he would show only to particular people. Seems to me I shot it once at an exploding target on a tree stump. it was full of bees and we nearly didn't escape. Bob was a friend and not a day goes by that he doesn't pop in my head. Lou Di Trinco

  4. My mother (Brenda Lee Whitney), my grandmother (JoAnn Hardy-Haynes) and her husband at the time (JD Haynes) were great friends of Mr. Fred Riley. They were members of the Alafia River Longrifles . I still have a rifle that Mr. Riley made and signed for my mother about 41 years ago, (she said it made all the boys jealous) as well as the handmade tools for the gun, and several other things he had made. I also have a rifle that Mr. Bob Watts made for my grandmother. Both rifles and the stories behind them will forever be near and dear to me.


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