Sunday, September 30, 2007
Family history -- and mysteries
Over at The Expert Witness, Mom and Gentle Reader Tom got to chit-chatting about a family heirloom.
I've mentioned this pistol in passing before, but I seem to have neglected in posting a picture of it.
The serial number on that pistol is 187XXX, which has it coming out of the Colt factory in 1898 or 1899. It is a nickled Single Action Army in .41 Colt, and originally came with mother-of-pearl grips, carved -- if memory serves -- with a longhorn head on one side.
Those grips were damaged, and replaced with the scrimshawed ivory ones you see above.
That .41 sits in my hand like it was designed for it. The action and spring-work are glass-smooth and while the sights are typical 19th century work, at hip-shooting distances when I pull the trigger a hole appears right where I'm looking.
This was my granda's uncle's church gun -- carried to church and other special occasions. For everyday use, Unc had a stag-handled .38-40, which has unfortunately been lost to time.
Below that pistol is one of the mysteries that surrounds my granda's great-uncle.
Unc was the child of an upper-class southern family, and -- although too young to participate himself -- he had brothers who fought in the War of Southern Independence.
When Unc decided he was old enough (in his teens), he cut trail for the West. When asked in his later years, Unc stated that he was a cattle drover and left it at that.
We do know that Unc's family refused to have anything to do with him; indeed Granda's mother -- she was Unc's niece -- was the only family member who would deign to even speak with Unc, and she was the family that he sporadically contacted throughout his 'cow punching' days.
When Granda lost his father, Unc -- then in his forties -- came to Texas to help his niece and her two sons.
Another mystery surrounding the man is the relationship between Unc and Frank James as recounted by several family members. According to family lore, Frank James visited Unc on several occasions while Mr. James was employed in Ft. Worth. During these visits -- according to family stories -- Unc and Mr. Frank would sit on the porch with their Bibles, their pistols, a plate of snacks, and talk.
What those two men talked about is anyone's guess.
When Unc died (and was buried holding the picture of an unknown woman which the never-married Unc kept on the dresser in his room) among his effects was found the badge of a U.S. Marshal seen below the SAA in the photo above.
Was Unc a U.S. Marshal? He never mentioned it to family. Was the badge a souvenir? Something interesting he found on the trail or that caught his eye in a shop? Or -- more worrisome -- was it a trophy?
I wish that badge and that gun could talk, but they can't. So I keep them safe -- the gun in Granda's old holster close to hand; and the badge is has been carefully framed -- for another generation of the family.