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. Here is the 1872 price list of the Great Western Gun Works. 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. Below that are detailed photos of the rifle. I received this rifle as a college graduation present in 1974 and passed it on to a member of a younger generation in 2018.

Here's an 1867 J. H. Johnston advertisement from the Pittsburgh and Allegheny County almanac that doesn't mention "Great Western Gun Works":

Here's the 1870 advertisement from the Putnam magazine that mentions the "Great Western Gun Works":
1870 Great Western Gun Works advertisement

Here is the message to the new owner of this rifle:

You are the ninth owner of the JH Johnston Great Western Gun Works rifle. The first owner was Ephriam Geiger, the brother of your great-great grandmother Mary Elizabeth (Geiger) Korns. Ephriam Geiger married Mary Dietle, the daughter of your ancestors John Adam and Margaret Dietle, on March 31, 1887. ... The wear on the forestock, with no corresponding wear on the wrist, proves that Ephriam carried this rifle a lot with it balanced on a bouncing saddle. (The wear is nowhere near the balance point for one handed carry.) Ephriam Geiger was born on August 9, 1859 and died on Dec. 17, 1919 after his son died, leaving only Mary to survive him. After Ephriam died, his wife Mary became the second owner of this rifle.

In 1920 Harry Dietle was living at the farm of Mary Geiger, He bought the farm in a deed dated January 7, 1925, and the deed let her use the house jointly with Harry as long as she lived. In this manner, Harry became the third owner of the rifle. Harry died at age 32 on Nov. 5, 1926 in a horrible accident at a sawmill which he and his brother Irvin Henry Dietle owned. Their business was known as the Dietle Bros. Lumber Company. They had recently finished sawing at Harry's farm, and had moved the steam driven mill to the Joseph Bittner tract. Harry was working in the pit under the mill at about 5:30 PM on a Friday, and was apparently drawn into the revolving saw blade by the "drag" which carried the sawdust to the sawdust pile. He was in the pit to apply grease and oil, and the accident split his head in two. With his death, the farm went to Harry Dietle's parents (and your ancestors) Adam Dietle & Susan (Werner) Dietle, and through this inheritance they became the next owners of the rifle. Your great-grandfather Irvin Henry Dietle bought the farm from them and became the sixth owner of the rifle.

My Grandpap Irvin Henry Dietle never fired the rifle. He kept it on the floor under a dresser in the bedroom which our family always stayed in when we visited. This rifle stimulated my curiosity as a little boy. When I was yet too small to lift the rifle, Dad would drag it out from under the dresser, then hold the front end while I held the stock to my shoulder. It has a very deeply curved butt-plate, and Dad always used to joke that the gun "killed at one end and crippled at the other". When my dad was young he took the cap box off and put it on his .22 Hornet rifle, but eventually felt bad about it and put it back on the original rifle so it wouldn't be missing its cap box. That's probably why the screws look out of place, I don't think they are the original screws that the cap box was mounted with.

I wanted this rifle for years, but grandpa wouldn't sell it. Finally, when I was nearing college graduation, he sold it to dad for $60 so dad could give it to me for graduation. That made dad the seventh owner of the rifle, and me the eighth. I really enjoyed owning this rifle because it brings back good memories from Grandpa Dietle's farm when I was little. It was bittersweet giving this old friend to you, but I am very glad you wanted it.

L. Dietle January 18, 2020

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