The Kentucky Longrifle

Now that we’ve talked about a bunch of itty bitty pocket guns, let swing to the opposite end and take a look at one of the longest rifles ever produced: The American Longrifle.

“From a flat bar of soft iron, hand forged into a gun barrel; laboriously bored and rifled with crude tools; fitted with a stock hewn from a maple tree in the neighboring forest, and supplied with a lock hammered to shape on the anvil, an unknown smith, in a shop long since silent, fashioned a rifle which changed the whole course of world history, made possible the settlement of a continent, and ultimately Freed our country of foreign domination.”  –John G. W. Dillin, Media, Pennsylvania, September 1st 1924

The American, or Kentucky Rifle, as it is popularly known, was produced along the expanding western frontier of our nation. It is still produced today, but its “golden age” was from the American Revolution to the turn of the 19th century. “The advent of percussion ignition, interchangeable parts, and an emerging American industrial complex during the first half of the 19th century pretty much made custom made flintlock rifles, and therefore the classic American longrifle, a thing of the past.”

The American longrifle was modeled on a German rifle manufactured beginning in 1725. It came into fame during the Battle of New Orleans, where it was vital to the American victory on January 8, 1815. Samuel Woodworth immortalized the rifle–and the Kentuckians who carried it– in the song The Hunters of Kentucky.

Its golden age is generally accepted to be the period from the end of the American Revolution to the turn of the 19th century.

A rifle is not a specific weapon, but the method of carving or “rifling” inside the barrel, which spins the lead ball or bullet and tremendously improves distance and accuracy. Though the Kentucky Long Rifle of the 1800s was a muzzleloader, it held the distinction of being the most accurate long-range gun for several decades. And the longer the barrel, the more gunpowder can be used, and that meant longer shots. During the American Revolution, a British office became interested in the American rifle after his bugler’s horse was shot out from under him in battle from a distance that he personally measured at 400 yards. That’s four football fields!

The rifles were carried into the frontier (at that time Kentucky) by the longhunters, trappers and explorers. Typically a slender full stock flintlock rifle of about .50 caliber, which is a very large ball of lead, the rifle was often made of curly maple, with a 42 to 46 inch barrel. Add a stock, patchbox, and all the trigger mechanisms, and you have a rifle that was 5 ½ to 6 feet in length.

The most famous user of the Kentucky longrifle was Daniel Boone. “He was a skilled hunter, trapper, and trailblazer. During the early days of westward expansion, Boone’s explorations helped open the frontier to new settlements. In 1799, he led his family and other settlers across the Mississippi River into land populated by Native Americans but claimed by Spain. Boone spent the last twenty years of his life in what is now Missouri.” –The State Historical Society of Missouri

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20 thoughts on “The Kentucky Longrifle”

  1. I love reading about these old guns. My husband has a muzzleloader and it amazes me that they can hit anything. The barrels of the longrifle is so long, it had to be difficult to aim!

  2. Tracy,
    I am loving this series of posts you’re doing about the guns of the old west. I have images of Daniel Boone (FESS PARKER, forever in my mind) raising that rifle up and firing a deadly shot. In reality, the skill that would require is amazing. Thanks so much for these posts on all these weapons. It’s just fascinating to me.
    Cheryl P.

  3. Four hundred yards? Wow! I’m thinking Quigley.
    My sons all hunt. They have guns for each endeavor. One day they brought home one of these longrifles, but a more modern version. One son looked at it and said, “You don’t have to shoot this just stand up and swing it and you can knock the bird out of the sky.” Don’t recall if they actually shot it, either. I’m with you, though, about holding up a broom with weights hanging off it. Six feet long? That is taller than me!
    Fascinating information, though.

  4. Great series of posts on the guns of the old west, Tracy. I’m learning all sorts of things. Having fired modern rifles, I’m trying to imagine how strong a shooter would have to be to hold a gun of that length steady. A friend of mine is a world class gun expert. A few years ago he learned to load and fire a muzzle loader he’d planned to take bear hunting (!). After seeing how long it took to load and fire the thing, I was betting on the bear. Fortunately the hunt didn’t happen.

  5. Have any of you read that Daniel Boone was once gone so long from his wife that she decided he was dead, married Daniel’s brother and had a child with him?

    then daniel came back.


    And Daniel’s brother moved out and Daniel moved back in and apparently all was well, because Daniel and his wife had several more children.

  6. That’s the longest gun I’ve ever seen. It’s huge! Being new to KY, I’m just now getting into the local history. I didn’t realize it, but Lexington was the western-most outpost in colonial times. Thanks for the info, Tracy!

  7. NIce switch of focus. We have one old rifle, but it is not a longrifle. We have an old rifle, but I really don’t have the information on it i’d like. My great aunt had a flintlock and powder horn that belonged to some ancestor, but by the time I found out about it and had the nerve to ask, she had sold it to an antique dealer who stole the powder horn when she said she wasn’t interested in selling it. Too bad she was so intimidating, my aunt was even afraid to talk to her and many family heirlooms disappeared.

  8. Came onto this site from the Morgan Rifleman picture. Had two forefather’s in this unit. One of the qualifications was shooting an orange at 100 yds with a longrifle.

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