John M. Browning American Gunmaker

Part One - The Father

Jonathan Browning was born October 22, 1805 at Brushy Fork of Bledsoe Creek in Sumner County, Tennessee. When the first white explorers came to Tennessee about 1765 they saw an unbroken wilderness.

The first settlers arrived about 1779, few at first but before long in increasingly large numbers. They were mainly from North Carolina and Virginia with some from Pennsylvania and South Carolina. Most were men of obscure birth, accustomed to poverty, though there were others more prosperous, even a few families with slaves. Nearly all the men were fresh from the battlefields of the Revolution. Few brought extensive provisions, but almost without exception they carried the rifles and muskets with which they had helped to win independence for their country. Most cleared and farmed land given them by land warrants for their services in the war. At first the Indians avoided them, but when it became plain that the intruders intended to stay, the tribesmen defended their land. Between 1787 and 1793 eighty-three settlers in the county are known to have been killed by Indians. The number of Indian dead is not recorded.

Edmund Browning, Jonathan’s father, was born November 14, 1761, in Culpeper County, Virginia, the descendant of a long line that went back to Captain John Browning, who came to America in 1622 aboard the Abigail and established one of the first families of Virginia. Following the war, Edmund married and moved to Tennessee with his new bride, cutting out a small farm near Brushy Fork. The seven children of Edmund and Sarah Browning were born here.

An old Sumner County history notes: “From the beginning the men of the county were in constant peril. They seldom ventured from their homes without arms…” Every home by necessity had a gun. Other than providing the bare essentials of living, the farms were not successful. However, there was much game, and Jonathan probably learned to shoot almost as soon as he was old enough to shoulder a musket.

There was no school, no church, no community as such, only a number of widely scattered farms. Jonathan’s early education was self-directed. At the age of thirteen or fourteen he was given an old flintlock rifle for a week’s work on a neighbor’s farm. Since the gun did not work and there was no gunsmith closer than Nashville, the farmer had discarded the gun as worthless.

About a mile from the Browning farm was the shop of a good-natured blacksmith. From hanging around the shop and watching the smith at work, Jonathan progressed naturally into lending a hand. The smith wasn’t averse to using this “big chunk of a boy” who could use his head as well as his hands.

When the smith saw the old gun, he thought, like the farmer, his helper had made a poor bargain. But as the results of the boy’s tinkering began to appear, he gradually changed his mind. When Jonathan sold the gun back to the farmer for four dollars, cash, he was visibly impressed.

Out of the transaction Jonathan got an idea and working capital. He placated his easygoing father by doing his chores on the farm early in the morning and late at night. In the intervening hours he worked with the smith. For remuneration he received the freedom of the shop, a dollar now and then or a sack of corn. The smith himself was paid more often with produce than cash. Jonathan expanded the smith’s business, along with his own knowledge, by combing the countryside on horseback gathering repair jobs. There was no competition for miles around. In the shop he learned the fundamentals of hand-forging, welding, brazing, tempering and soldering, before long becoming a pretty fair blacksmith.

By the time he was nineteen Jonathan considered himself a competent gunsmith. Of course, he had never seen a real gunsmith, but he had repaired a lot of guns using tools of his own design. He was also earning his living and saving money. As his increasing skill stimulated his imagination, he began to think of making guns as well as repairing them. The mechanisms did not bother him; they were so simple, he would later say, all it took was a little figuring. But he did need lessons in the making of the barrels. His vague plan took form when he was shown a gun bearing the stamp of Samuel Porter, Nashville.

A few days later Jonathan borrowed one of his father’s horses and jogged off to Nashville, some thirty miles away. It was easier for him to make the trip than to write a letter. He was sure he could get along with the gunmaker, just as he had with the blacksmith.

Jonathan at nineteen was over six feet tall and well-muscled. He prepared himself for the meeting by setting a serious face and forging a calm self-confidence. But the moment he entered Porter’s shop he forgot his act, unable to hide his amazement. He could not imagine uses for so many tools! Actually, the shop was crude, as were all frontier shops, but by Jonathan’s standards it was all a mechanic could ask for on earth.

Perhaps it was his intentness that won Porter’s immediate approval. Jonathan stated the purpose of his visit in his slow manner of speaking: He had repaired a good many guns, and nearly everything else, and proposed to do, as well as he could, whatever Porter might set him to in exchange for lessons in the making of barrels. If Porter harbored any doubts, they were probably dispelled by Jonathan’s offer to forego wages. Jonathan made it clear he was not seeking a permanent job. His lessons learned, he intended to return home and set up his own shop.

The two shook hands, and Jonathan set to work. Within a short while Porter began paying him two dollars a week, which he was able to save, since his employer also gave him his meals and the use of a hayloft. At the end of three months, Jonathan announced he was ready to leave. Porter urged him to stay on, promising him a share of the business, arguing that Nashville was a growing town with possibilities for a young man, while the region of Bledsoe Creek would never be more than a scattering of starving farms.

Jonathan was probably tempted. But he had got what he came for. He could, Porter had to confess, “make a pretty good barrel,” and there was, in addition to his parents, a girl waiting back at Brushy Fork. The money Porter had paid him had been converted into tools. As a parting gift, Porter gave him some additional tools.

Jonathan was returning to a girl he intended to marry and a business he intended to create. But even more important was the knowledge he had gone to Nashville a tinkerer and was returning a gunsmith. As proof, the rifle he carried was one to which he had fitted a barrel made entirely with his own hands. On it Porter had slyly stamped JONATHAN BROWNING 1824.

Jonathan settled down to making guns. He acquired a small house to live in, as well as a shed which he used for a shop. On November 9, 1826, a month after he became twenty-one, he married Elizabeth Stalcup. Their first child was born in August of the following year.

His work and the increase in his family, with attendant responsibilities, might have kept Jonathan in Brushy Fork for the rest of his life had not the population of that region begun to move away. Reports, more and more enticing, were singing siren songs of the West; there was land, limitless land, free for the taking.

At first his business did not diminish but grew; no man set forth on such a venture without a perfect gun, either his old gun repaired or a new gun hammered out with incredible speed. Hammer marks might be left on the rifles he turned out, but the lands and grooves were clean-cut, the locks worked smoothly.

But Jonathan was making plans as well as guns. Self-preservation, if nothing else, forced him to join the exodus. Before long he found himself considering the move with growing excitement. Several of his brothers had moved away, then his parents. Jonathan especially felt the loss of one of his younger brothers, a cooper by trade and a mainstay of the early shop. His brother agreed to keep his eyes open and write Jonathan as soon as he found a likely location for a gunsmith.

In September 1833, Jonathan received word that his father had died in Wayne County, Illinois, at the age of seventy-three. Several months later, a happier letter arrived, an enthusiastic message from Quincy, Illinois: A good location had been found! Jonathan closed the shop, then loaded two wagons with his family and the contents of his shop and home.

From Brushy Fork to Quincy was about 400 miles, a good journey for that time. Jonathan and his family took longer than most to travel the distance, for it is only a slight exaggeration to say that, while passing through the communities along the way, Jonathan heard no new metallic sound without stopping to investigate, and he visited most of the shops he saw, often picking up a new knack, another skill to be developed.

Jonathan had plenty of time for reflection and thought about the future. It was perhaps best he could not see too far into it, however, for waiting there, among other things, were persecution, murder, hardship, repeated exodus and the taming of a land much harsher than Sumner County. The 400 miles would be only the start, the first quarter of his eventual wandering. That he would in time be the father of one of the world’s greatest gun inventors would probably have seemed more believable to him than the knowledge that his family, too, was only a start. Now, at twenty-eight, he had a wife and five children; before his death, he would have three wives and twenty-two children, eleven boys and eleven girls, the last child born when Jonathan himself was seventy-one years old!

Quincy, favorably located on the Mississippi, was small but flourishing. The population of the city in 1834, the year of the Browning family’s arrival, was 753; that of Adams County, in which Quincy was located, was 7,042. Within a few years both figures would double, then triple.

In Quincy, Jonathan had the advice of relatives and friends, but beyond that he needed little help. His savings were ample to provide him with a home as good as the one he had left; his new shop was much better. During this period Jonathan invented a repeating rifle, one of the first.

Jonathan was one of many gunsmiths who, stimulated by the novelty and seductive superiority of the percussion cap, were struggling to produce a multi-shot rifle. In his first attempts, he simply adapted the cylinder of the cap-and-ball revolver to actions of his own devising, as others were doing. Jonathan was not satisfied. What he really wanted was an efficient repeating rifle that could be hammered out easily and rapidly.

What he finally brought forth is, in all probability, one of the simplest practical repeating rifles ever made. It is doubtful if any other rifle of its kind ever contained so few parts, all of which could be easily made and assembled. Today it is a curio; in its own time it was capable of continuous fire unequaled by any contemporary arm. The rifle brought considerable local fame to its inventor, plus so many orders he was never able to fill more than half of them. The system, which Jonathan did not bother to patent, would doubtlessly have been widely used had not the metallic cartridge replaced the percussion cap, just as the cap had replaced the flintlock.

The magazine of this gun was simply a rectangular bar, chambered for powder and ball, with cut-in nipples integral with the metal, one at the rear end of each chamber. The length of the magazine, and its consequent capacity, was limited by convenience. Jonathan considered five shots about right, although he frequently made magazines of greater capacity to special order. At least one extra magazine was sold with each gun. The receiver was a frame which housed the magazine, and on which the hammer and trigger were hung. Everything was in plain sight. An ingenious small lever, thumb-operated, moved the magazine to successive firing positions, not only locking it but camming it forward to a gas-tight fit against the bore of the barrel. The receiver was tapped at one end for the barrel; sideplates, hand-forged in one piece with the receiver and nicely finished, held the stock. Jonathan loved simplicity and despised complexity, attitudes he passed along to his sons and which he brought to concrete expression in this gun.

Jonathan was energetic, and his business thrived. He now entered a period of comfortable prosperity. He was able to build a new home of logs, spacious and comfortable. He invested in land. He could sit under his own “vine and fig tree” and talk with men of varied experience. Quincy grew and, with it, Jonathan’s knowledge and outlook on life. At the insistence of his cousin Orville H. Browning, he ran for and was elected justice of the peace, which office gave him the title of judge and a certain standing in the community. By the time he was thirty-five he had eight children.

Orville Browning was one of a number of Brownings residing in the vicinity of Quincy. Jonathan took particular pride in this young cousin from the Kentucky branch of the widely scattered family who was already well established in politics and the practice of law. In 1843 Orville ran for Congress against Stephen A. Douglas, their debates being famous in Illinois history until Orville’s friend Abraham Lincoln faced the same opponent. When Douglas died in 1861, Orville filled out the remainder of his term as U.S. Senator. In 1866 President Johnson named Orville Secretary of the Interior.

Jonathan saw Orville often, and through him made the acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln. Orville, whose home was too small to accommodate a guest, twice brought his friend to Jonathan’s home for the night. During these visits, Jonathan and Lincoln had many discussions. (One very interesting one is in the box on page 00).

In Quincy, Jonathan again seemed to have found his place and to be permanently rooted. During his middle thirties, however, he became interested in religion, with more ramifications than he could possibly have foreseen.

Forty-three miles to the north of Quincy lay the newly formed Mormon town of Nauvoo. The Mormons were a proselytizing people then, as now, and Quincy was not long immune to their attention. Sometime in the year 1840, while the city of Nauvoo was still under construction, a Mormon came into Jonathan’s shop with a repair job. Like most of his fellows, he was fired with zeal. Encouraged by Jonathan’s interest, he returned the next day with some tracts and a copy of the Book of Mormon, asking Jonathan’s permission to call at his home some evening to clarify any points of doctrine that might seem obscure.

Jonathan read at first idly, but soon with concentration; and through his scant and foggy knowledge of dogma and precept, he began to see a light. Continued reading and long discussions with his widening circle of Mormon friends caused that light to grow brighter; he seemed to perceive a clearly marked road to salvation. Jonathan Browning followed that light through more than a decade of hardship and danger, and it finally led him across the Great Plains to Utah.

In 1842, Jonathan again sold his property, loaded his family and belongings into several wagons, and moved to Nauvoo. Again he set up shop — building on Main Street a two-story brick residence, with the first floor serving as his shop — and began the manufacture and repair of guns. But there was little time for inventing new weapons. Though the new temple on which Jonathan frequently worked was well under construction and the city itself was the fastest growing in the country, these were not creative times. Each day new converts arrived, bringing, in addition to the endless repair jobs, new tales of hardship. There were repeated attempts on the life of the Prophet (Joseph Smith), who had started the Church.

When Jonathan and his family first arrived in Nauvoo, the Prophet would stop and talk to people on the street. But even when he addressed the members in church, there were armed men near or around him. When Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were arrested on June 25, 1844, and lodged in the jail at Carthage, Illinois, on an unfounded charge of treason against the state of Illinois, most Mormons were not particularly fearful; such things had happened before, ending each time with Smith’s release. Moreover, their fears were lulled by a promise of protection from the governor, Thomas Ford.

Late in the afternoon of Friday, June 27, a mob of more than 200 men armed with rocks, boards, muskets, revolvers and bayonets surrounded the jail. That evening a horseman galloped into Nauvoo, some eighteen miles from Carthage, crying that the Prophet and his brother had been assassinated. (In one of those strange twists of fate, Orville Browning was the lawyer who defended and won acquittal for the two men charged with the murder of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.)

In the days that followed, the Mormons were rescued from panic and possible dispersal by Brigham Young, who with a rare combination of zeal and common sense, gave himself over to the task of restoring faith and confidence. From the very first it was evident to Young the Mormons could not find peace within the United States. As mob violence continued, the church leaders began making plans for an exodus from Illinois.

Young had planned to make the move in the spring of 1846, but attacks by Illinois and Missouri mobs forced the Mormons to leave early that February, fleeing across the Mississippi on the ice with a bare fraction of their possessions. Jonathan got nothing for his home and shop. Only a few of the Mormons were of hardy pioneer stock, and a great many of the converts from the eastern states, England and Wales were city dwellers. For nearly a month they camped at Sugar Creek on the Iowa side of the river, until threats of renewed persecution forced them to move on. In June they reached the banks of the Missouri. There was fresh water and some good land, and the Omaha and Pottawattamie Indians proved friendly. The Mormons settled temporarily in the vicinity, Jonathan and his family choosing a spot eight miles south of Kanesville (Council Bluffs) on Mosquito Creek.

Brigham Young was looking for a new Zion, a haven for the Mormons outside the borders of the United States. Within U.S. boundaries the church had met little but persecution; over the years repeated appeals for protection to the state and federal governments had, except on rare occasion, been either ignored or denied. It must have surprised Young, then, when a United States Army officer arrived in July of 1846 with a message from the President requesting four or five companies of volunteers for the war against Mexico.

Young reacted with characteristic diplomacy. He called a meeting of the Mormon men at Mosquito Creek and, addressing the group himself, asked for 500 volunteers. Jonathan added himself to the line of men, but Young surveyed the line and, coming to the tall gunsmith, took him by the arm and led him aside, saying in a low voice, “Brother Jonathan, we need you here.” Jonathan, obedient, but with his heels still itching, watched the Mormon battalion depart — 500 undrilled men who were to make one of the longest infantry marches then recorded.

The scene was repeated the following spring, when the first companies were formed for the move West. Again Jonathan volunteered to go with the first scouts, and again Young, who seemed to know where every man among his thousands would best fit, told him it was his mission to remain and lend his specialized knowledge and skill to the labors of preparation. Young’s arguments were convincing. Each wagon train had to be equipped not only for survival on the way but for survival in whatever abiding place the Lord should choose. The travelers must be provided with guns, and they would need every gun that could be made or obtained and made serviceable — work for which, Young noted, Jonathan had no equal. He might have added had he been less the diplomat, that Jonathan’s large family, without him, would become a charge on relatives and friends. Jonathan was again an onlooker as the party of pathfinders and homeseekers creaked off into the vast, mysterious and beckoning West.

Jonathan again established his business, manufacturing “improved firearms” (revolving rifles and pistols; also slide guns, from 5 to 25 shooters), all on an improved plan…” as he worded it in an advertisement in the Kanesville Frontier Guardian. Business was good. The repeater gave the pioneers much greater protection from Indian invasion than the slow single-shot. Among the most famous tales of the West are those concerning the advent of these guns. The Indians over the years had developed a simple but effective tactic. After surrounding a wagon train, several Indians would stand and charge, making themselves clear targets. The pioneers would invariably shoot their single ball; then, while they were reloading, the Indians would attack in force. Owners of the early repeaters turned this trick to their own advantage. They would fire a single shot, then, when the Indians attacked, continue firing, to the fatal amazement of the red men.

On the twenty-fourth of July, 1847, Young led a party of 143 down through the last canyon of the long journey. Weary and ill with hardship and the weight of responsibility, he alighted from his conveyance on a rough hill dominating the valley and the Great Salt Lake. Leaning on his cane, he stood with uncovered head, staring at the bleak scene below. Finally, he thrust decisively with his cane and said, “This is the place.”

It was not until 1852 that Jonathan was permitted to load his wagons and follow that westward trail, now deeply rutted. By this time it had been traveled by thousands of Mormons and the gold rush to California had been racing over it for four years. Not for a long time, however, would those thousand wild miles be tamed.

 

Look for another installment from this book that reveals the life of John M. Browning, the world’s greatest gun inventor, in the upcoming issue of Shotgun Sports. Curt Gentry is a Western historian and author of 12 other books. John Browning, eldest son of John M. Browning, also took part in producing this biography. You can purchase this book from Shotgun Sports by calling 800-676-8920 or visit www.shotgunsportsmagazine.com (see ad on this page).

 

 

 

Photos & Sidebar Notes (letter, advertisement, etc.)

(Separate Box)

GUNSMITHING

The subscriber is prepared to manufacture, to order, improved Fire-arms, viz: revolving rifles and pistols; also slide guns, from 5 to 25 shooters. All on an improved plan, and he thinks not equalled this far East. (Farther west they might be.) The emigrating and sporting community are invited to call and examine Browning’s improved fire-arms before purchasing elsewhere. Shop eight miles south of Kanesville on Musquito Creek, half a mile south of TRADING POINT.

JONATHAN BROWNING

 

Advertisement in the Frontier Guardian, Kanesville, Iowa, September 19, 1849.

 

* * *

 

THOM, PLEASE SCAN THE ORIGINAL PHOTOS FROM THE JOHN M. BROWNING BOOK WE SENT YOU FOR OPTIMUM RESOLUTION. THE SCANS ARE PROBABLY NOT HIGH ENOUGH QUALITY BUT THEY SHOW THE PAGE NUMBERS. IF THERE IS NOT ENOUGH ROOM FOR ALL PHOTOS, WE MAY OMIT ONE OR TWO…WE’LL SEE HOW IT FITS. THANKS!

 

 

Scan 3FEATURE — (Page 168 in book)

(no caption: John M. Browning kneeling with gun)

 

 

Scan 4 (Page 7 in book)

Jonathan Browning’s home (right) and the first Browning gunsmith shop (left), Brushy Fork, Bledsoe Creek, Sumner County, Tennessee. The young gunsmith lived and worked here from 1824 to 1834.

 

 

Scan 5 (Page 10 in book)

A closeup of Browning’s slide gun, one of the earliest American repeating rifles, invented by Jonathan while he was residing in Quincy, Illinois, during the period of 1834-42. Note the extreme simplicity of the mechanism.

 

 

Scan 6 (Page 16 in book)

Deserted by necessity, the Nauvoo, Illinois, home that was Jonathan Browning’s between 1842 and 1846. The first floor served as the gun shop. The mob violence which followed the murder of the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith forced the Latter-Day Saints to abandon their homes and flee westward across the Mississippi ice.

 

 

Scan 7 (Page 21 in book)

Map of Exodus (no caption)

 

 

* * *

(Separate Box)

Living expenses in Quincy reflected its frontier location. The following are examples of prices for commodities in that city in 1835:

 

Bacon/Ham, per lb. $.05

Beef, per lb. $.04

Butter, per lb. (scarce) $.16¾

Iron, bar, per lb. $.08

Flour, fine, per bbl. $3.50

Corn in ear, per bushel $.25

Nails, cut, asst., per lb. $.10

Coffee, per lb. $.20

Deer skins, per lb. $.10

Potatoes, Irish, per bushel $7.00

Sugar, Havana white, per lb. $.16¾

Sugar, brown $.12½

Shot, per lb. $.12½

Whiskey, country, per gal. $.30

 

 

* * *

(Separate Box - highlighted background - different color?)

 

Jonathan Browning Meets Abraham Lincoln

Through his cousin Orville, Jonathan made the acquaintance of Abraham Lincoln, then a young lawyer in Illinois. Lincoln sometimes stayed in Jonathan’s home when in the area. The first of these occasions stuck very clearly in Jonathan’s mind; it was more than a twice-told tale years later when he repeated it to his sons. Allowing for the passage of time, which is perhaps too kind to some recollections, we must also note Jonathan, while he had imagination and a fine sense of humor, was not given to exaggeration. It probably occurred much as his sons remember his telling it.

 

On this night Jonathan and Abraham had the evening to themselves. With chairs tilted comfortably against opposite walls of the kitchen, they chatted of one thing and another. The two had more in common than their height. Their birthplaces were not far apart — Tennessee and Kentucky; neither had spent a full year in school; and although Mr. Lincoln was more fluid in speech, he used the same easy words.

“Judge,” Lincoln said, “somebody told me a youngster in the neighborhood broke his arm yesterday and you set it. Do you fix anything that breaks — plow, gun, bone?” He smiled broadly.

Jonathan grinned back. “Well, a doctor would have charged a dollar for the job, but I couldn’t charge a neighbor for setting a bone any more than for helping him pull his wagon out of a mudhole. Fact is, I nearly turned doctor one time. When I was learning to read and poking around the countryside to find a book or two to practice on, I picked up a doctor book. Traded a gun for it that I’d fixed up. Fact is, that’s the way I got my first Bible — traded a gun for it.”

Mr. Lincoln slapped his leg, and the chair snapped upright. “Now hold on, Judge. Give me a minute to figure that one out. It’s tangled up in my mind with the saying about turning swords into plowshares, or is it pruning hooks?”

“Plowshares,” Jonathan answered. “Isaiah.”

“Well, that’s what you did in a way, turned a gun into a Bible. But the other fellow — he canceled you out by turning a Bible into a gun. Looks like the trade left the world just about where it was.” The two men enjoyed a chuckle.

“Well,” Jonathan said after a moment, “there was something else funny about that trade. To tell the truth, the mainspring in that old gun was pretty weak, and the stock…”

Lincoln interrupted with an upraised hand. “Judge Browning!” he rebuked in an exaggerated courtroom manner. “You mean you cheated in a trade for a Bible — a Bible!”

“Not exactly,” Jonathan replied, his face as sober as Abraham’s. “When I got to looking through that Bible at home, I found about half the New Testament was missing.” The mirth of the two frontiersmen, as Jonathan later described it, “near to shook the logs.” When they had both stopped laughing, Jonathan rose.

“Mr. Lincoln,” he said, “I hate to end a pleasant evening like this, but you’ll be wanting some sleep, I reckon. I’ll light a candle for you. There’s a water bucket and dipper, and your bed is right through this door. I hope you’ll find it comfortable.”

Mr. Lincoln stepped to the corner and took the dipper from its nail. “I hope your little patient is comfortable tonight.”

“He’ll be strutting around in a day or two with his arm in a sling. Nice, clean break.”

“It’s a fine life you’re leading here, Judge,” Lincoln said thoughtfully, “mending anything that breaks. Looks funny at first glimpse to see a man welding a broken gun part for a farmer one day and next day setting a bone for the farmer’s son. But the two jobs are somewhat alike.”

“No difference,” Jonathan smiled, “except the bonesetting’s a lot easier. Nature does most of that welding. But if it’s two pieces of iron, you’ve got to blow up the forge and pound. Nature won’t help with that.”

Lincoln nodded soberly. “Hammer and hammer,” he repeated, swinging the dipper to and fro. “I can’t weld, but I’ve seen it done. Heat and hammer, heat and hammer. Whatever man makes, man breaks. And then somebody must mend. Judge Browning, there’s a lot of mending to be done in these United States — a lot of mending.” He swung the dipper like a hammer, striking the palm of his left hand with such force Jonathan expected the handle to snap. A quick smile of apology crossed his face; then the voice continued, quieter now.

“I’ve knocked about a good deal — even made a couple trips down the River on a flatboat, clear to New Orleans. And wherever I go, I hear sounds of little things breaking and I see big things bending dangerously near to it. You see the signs all around you, hear the sounds. Fact is, I’m so worried I have nightmares, and not all of them when I’m asleep. I get plain scared to death when I look a few years ahead.” For a long time he seemed to be doing just that, trying to look into the future. Jonathan nodded politely, but he was puzzled and worried, too. He wondered if his guest was going into one of those moody spells Orville had mentioned. But with another swing of the dipper the shaggy giant continued.

“Judge Browning, the United States ought to become the greatest country on earth. But what if the hotheads break it in two, right down the middle? That would be a welding job! It would need the fires of the inferno for the forge. And where is the anvil? Where is the hammer? Where is the blacksmith?”

The swinging dipper struck the low ceiling, and again an apologetic smile touched the rugged face. “It was the talk of your bonesetting and welding that started me off, Judge; maybe I’m just seeing stumps and gnarled limbs in the dark, and imagining bears. Hope so.”

He took a drink of water, accepted the lighted candle and stepped toward his room. “Good night, Judge Browning, and many thanks for your hospitality.”

“Good night, Mr. Lincoln.”

“That’s about the way it happened,” Jonathan would say some thirty years later in Utah. “Two frontiersmen yarning. Only I’m just beginning to realize that I was listening to prophecy.”


Book excerpts from the above title are reprinted with permission from the book publisher about this fascinating history of the pioneer gunmaker John M. Browning. Chapter 1 is printed in this issue. Look for more chapters in upcoming issues.

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