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Guns & Cornbread: Shotgun History is Alive and Well in the Shadow of the Appalachians.

Life was hard in 1756, but March of that year didn’t seem too bad. St. Patrick’s Day was celebrated for the first time in New York City at a quaint little joint called the Crown and Thistle Tavern. Things started to go downhill by May of that year when Great Britain declared war on France. The Seven Years War became the French and Indian War in America.

By September the natives were restless and Indians were raiding settlements all along the eastern frontier. In Augusta County, southwest Virginia, Nicholas Carpenters farm was under attack. Nicholas and his wife Kate had settled there and built a cabin on a site near the Greenbrier River.

Knowing they could not travel fast enough to elude the Shawnee, Kate took their young daughter Frances and fled to a nearby steep mountainside to hide. Nicholas made his way to the nearest fort, Fort Dinwiddie to get help, he never returned.

Kate Carpenter made her way off of that mountain and headed for a settlement, finally reaching Staunton, Virginia. That is almost 100 miles by today’s roads. Lord knows how far it was for Mrs. Carpenter and what she had to endure. She was alone in the wilderness with a small child, most likely without provisions or a weapon. Life was hard in 1756, especially on the eastern frontier.

Kate Carpenter was a tough, resourceful woman and her legacy lives on here in the southern Appalachian Mountains. William “Willie” Perkins and David Gutshall are muzzleloader shooters that keep that legacy alive. Willie and Dave are members of the Kate Carpenter Muzzleloaders chapter of the West Virginia Muzzleloaders Association which is a charter club with the National Muzzleloading Rifle Association. (wvmla.com/clubs)

Willie Perkins actually grew up in a muzzleloading household, his father Paul “Shorty” Perkins was local legend in the muzzleloader world. Mr. Perkins was instrumental in starting Dave Gutshall down the muzzleloader trail, 35 years ago. Both of these guys are proficient muzzleloading rifle shooters, but they are also serious muzzleloader shotgunners.

“Most people don’t understand that if loaded properly, a muzzleloading shotgun can perform just as well as a modern shotgun” Willie Perkins told me. “The only disadvantage is that you have to clean it more.”

Dave Gutshall explained further, “Most modern shotgun shells have powder measured in dram equivalents, black powder loads are now measured in grains, so a typical modern shotshell target load is around a three dram equivalent, this would be 82 ½ grains of black powder (FFG) and give you the standard velocity of most target loads, about 1200 feet per second. So you can load your muzzleloading shotgun for whatever type of shooting you are doing, from targets to hunting. You can be very flexible and very precise.”

Willie was shooting a load of 120 grains of FFG powder with 1 3/8 ounces of 7 1/2 shot. Dave shot a similar load but with less shot, 1 1/8 ounces of 7 ½’s. Neither seemed to have much trouble hitting the clays. Dave Gutshall reminded me of the old muzzleloader maxim, “Little powder, much lead, shoots far, kills dead.”

The day I visited the Kate Carpenter Muzzleloaders they were having their monthly shoot at the James Burns Memorial Range near Sam Black Church, West Virginia. James Burns (Willie Perkins’s ancestor) was killed by Indians in 1778 defending Fort Donnelly near what is today Lewisburg, West Virginia.

A clay target event is always held at the monthly shoot and the muzzleloading shotguns present would make any early shotgun fan’s mouth water. Willie Perkins shot an English gun, a Wesley Richards double barrel ten gauge shotgun vintage 1880’s. Dave Gutshall carried an American made George T. Abbey 12 gauge muzzleloader made in the 1860’s. This is pretty heady stuff for a local shooting match in the Appalachians.

It was great to see the legacy being passed on as present was 13 year old Joshua Bostic of Union, West Virginia. Joshua has been shooting muzzleloaders “since he was in diapers” according to his Grandfather, Steven Bostic, also a muzzleloading devotee. Joshua is a very accomplished muzzleloader rifle shooter and he was mentored in the shotgun match by Willie Perkins and Dave Gutshall. The muzzleloading heritage being passed on to the next generation is very important to these men.

I left the James Burns Memorial range that day with the good feeling of having made new friends and learned much. I thought about how I was only a few miles from the mountainside where Mrs. Carpenter hid that day, now called Kate’s Mountain. Down below where their cabin stood is the town of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, now the location of the world famous Greenbrier Resort.

Many of us like to romanticize about living on the frontier in the 1700’s. We love the graceful muzzleloading rifles and shotguns and all of the history and lore that go with them. With men like Willie Perkins, Dave Gutshall, Joshua Bostic and groups like the Kate Carpenter Muzzleloaders around we will always have that heritage.

– Larry Case, HashtagWV #105. September 2018. If you would like to contact Larry, email him at Larryocase3@gmail.com. See Larry’s online blog at GunsandCornbread.com

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