Apr 08, 2014 — The Adirondack Attick's Andy Flynn unearths a target rifle from the Loon Lake area in Warren County. Laura Rice, the chief curator of the Adirondack Museum, talks with Andy about its story.
Laura Rice: The schuetzen rifle is essentially for target shooting practice and typical of the kind of thing that would be brought to the United States by German or Swiss immigrants toward the middle of the 19th century or a little bit later. It's very heavy to pick up. I find guns heavy anyway, but this is particularly heavy because you wanted some extra stability when you were shooting by hand, which is what this was for.
Schuetzen is a word that either applies to the rifle itself, so you can call this a schuetzen, but schuetzen is also a word that was used for the tournament itself. And these things were quite common and very popular. And in big urban areas, like Baltimore for instance, you'd have the German brewery and beer garden right next to the schuetzen park, which I always thought was kind of a dangerous combination. But it was a real center for German immigrants to come together to socialize, to have family time and to speak their own language and celebrate their heritage. So it's a very important piece in terms of ethnic heritage.
Andy Flynn: So let's describe this rifle here because it looks pretty exquisite.
LR: Actually, it's beautiful, and we recently had a master gunsmith take a look at it. And he said the workmanship on this is really exceptional. It dates from about 1860, we think, so this is obviously a family heirloom that was passed down from one generation into the next. And it's got a very heavy butt. Most of these things, as I said, were heavy because it gave you some stability. There's sort of a deep U-shape at the end of the butt so you can get your shoulder right in there. And then there's a palm rest that comes down just beyond the trigger so that you could hold it steady with your other hand. So you have your shoulder bracing it. You had the palm of the hand, and off you'd go.
We think it was either German- or Swiss-made. There is no maker name on either the barrel or lock because the barrel may be a replacement, although it's a very good one. It's in great condition. It has its original target sights and false muzzle. It's a 40-caliber rifle with an octagon barrel and a double set of triggers.
AF: You mentioned that this possibly was a family heirloom. What family are we talking about?
LR: This came down with the Jacob family, the Vetter family and the Avignon family, so all relatives, but it originated with the Jacob family.
[They lived in the Loon Lake area] on Bonnie Belle Farm. And they used this. They used this well into the 20th century, actually through the 1970s and 1980s. The boys in the family would take it out shooting.
AF: Just target shooting? I mean, they wouldn't take it out to hunt or anything?
LR: You know, it's so heavy and cumbersome. It's really meant for target shooting. It's not something you'd want to be lugging around through the woods and up hill and down dale. It's really intended for target shooting. [These rifles] can weigh between 15 and 18 pounds, sometimes more.
AF: It looks like it has an intricate scope. It's not a scope, but a sighting mechanism in the front and the back. What more can you tell me about this and the family, how you got this in the accession? It looks like a 2013 number, so you got it last year?
LR: Yeah, this is brand new, and we were actually very excited about it because I think it's sometimes easy to overlook the fact that the Adirondack Park is actually very diverse ethnically. And if you look through the past, there have been all sorts of people coming into the park from all over the world, and this is a really great addition because it really speaks to that, where people were coming from and the traditions they were bringing with them and then adapting for use in the Adirondacks. So we're just thrilled to have it.
AF: So the family would have had a European ancestry is what you're saying?
LR: Yeah, we think they came from Germany, and this is something that they grew up doing. This was a long-standing family tradition, and they brought it with them.