Muzzle loading rifle of Ephriam Geiger, Somerset County PA

Muzzle loading rifle of Ephriam Geiger, Somerset County PA

This is the well-worn muzzle loading rifle that belonged to Ephriam Geiger (1859-1919) of Larimer Township, Somerset Co. PA. It is .38 (0.38 inches) caliber, and has a barrel that is 36-11/16 inches long.

Ephriam was the brother of Mary E. (Geiger) Korns, who married John Wilson Korns. The rifle was left in Ephriam Geiger's home, along with a powder horn and bag, when Ephriam’s farm was sold after his death. According to family tradition, Ephriam used the rifle to kill hogs and beef for butchering. Judging from the amount of wear and tear, it was probably used for far more than that.

In 1925 Ephriam Geiger's farm was sold to Harry Dietle, with the proviso that Ephriam's widow could still live there. After Harry Dietle was killed in a sawmill accident, his brother Irvin Henry Dietle purchased the farm. Irvin was my Grandfather. He kept Ephriam's rifle under an upstairs dresser, which is the reason for some of the wear on the left side of the stock. I was born in August, 1953. When my family would visit my grandparents during 1950's, when I was a small boy, we always stayed in the room that the rifle was kept in. I would ask my father to pull the rifle out from underneath the dresser so that I could examine it. When I was far too little to hold it, he would hold it up to my shoulder so that I could peer down the sights. Because of the large size of the rifle, and the deeply hooked buttplate, he joked with me that "it killed at one end and crippled at the other".

The rifle now belongs to a descendant of Ephriam's father Aaron Geiger. It was made at the J.H. Johnston Great Western Gun Works of Pittsburgh, PA, and was probably purchased by mail order. Copies of the 1871 catalog of that firm are available from Cornell Military Publications. Copies of 1879 and 1883 catalogs are available from the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, but I haven't seen them. The rifle has a dark colored stock, brass furniture, and a pewter-colored forearm tip. A similar looking rifle, but with an adjustable sight and less "hook" in the buttplate, appears as a built to order item in the J.H. Johnston Great Western Gun Works catalog of 1889, which states "SPECIAL OFFER--A sample No. 5 rifle sent, express paid, to any express office within one thousand miles for $15.00, Cash with order, and put in a powder flask and bullet pouch free of charge.".

I don’t know when the Great Western Gun Works began in business in Pittsburgh, but the earliest Great Western Gun Works advertisement that I have found was in an 1870 issue of “Putnam's Magazine”. The latest mention that I found for it was in 1902, in volume XVI of “Recreation”. Both of these references give the location of the company as Pittsburgh, PA. A copy of the 1870 advertisement is shown below.

1870 Great Western Gun Works advertisement

Buttstock closeup (replacement patchbox screws)
Lock closeup
Lock retaining plate closeup
Schnabel closeup
Toe plate closeup

L. Dietle May, 2008

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