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Long Rifle

Higgins, Wiley Grover
Date Made:
maple –steel –silver –brass
__ __52″
Accession Number:
This rifle is one of the most elaborate American flintlock long rifles known. It is the only signed example of the work of Wiley G. Higgins (1799-1859). This rifle’s flintlock is inlaid with a gold cartouche with the name “Dr. Joe A. Davis.” According to the 1860 census, Dr. Davis was a surgeon-dentist in Eatonton, Georgia.

MAKER: This rifle is signed “Wiley G. Higgins ma” on its patchbox. Wiley Grover Higgins, master armorer, was born in Laurens County, South Carolina. The Higgins family included blacksmiths, gunsmiths, silversmiths, and jewelers, and it is likely that Wiley learned his trade from members of his family. In 1824 Wiley purchased 202 ½ acres in newly-formed Monroe County. Higgins benefited from rapid settlement of the Georgia Piedmont after the Treaty of Indian Springs and the forced removal of Creek and other Native American from the western part of the state. In 1838 Higgins and his family moved to Macon County. Over time Higgins succeeded as both a masterful gunsmith and planter: by 1850 he owned 1000 acres and enslaved 18 people.

At this time fourteen long rifles and five pistols by Wiley Higgins are known to survive. Higgins’s surviving work is remarkable for its elaborate decoration. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Higgins appears to have specialized in the creation of new and highly decorative rifles and pistols with one-of-a-kind decorative elements.

DESCRIPTION: Full-stock long rifle with flintlock. Stocked in curly maple. Barrel is 36” long and .43 caliber. The rifle is decorated with elaborate pierced silver mounts and inlays. Only the trigger guard and butt plate are brass. The foliate silver embellishments surround the patchbox, cheek rest, butt, and stock, have over 100 piercings. Hidden on the underside of the silver work on the cheek rest are a pair of profile portraits.

REFERENCES: “Quite a Genius in Art”: Georgia’s Wiley G. Higgins, Master Gunsmith, by Wayne T. Elliott in Artful Instruments: Georgia Gunsmiths and Their Craft (Athens, Georgia: Georgia Museum of Art, 2017)

Made for Dr. Joe A. Davis. According to a 1957 article in “The Gun Report” the rifle was acquired “from the daughter-in-law of a Yankee colonel who was in charge of the Savannah, Ga., Military District during the reconstruction of the South. After the Civil War, he stayed in the South and died in Atlanta in 1902.” Though family history claimed “he got the gun about 1840 from an Indian,” it is far more likely that it was acquired during the Civil War or in its aftermath. The rifle was acquired by Joseph Kindig, Jr. (1898-1971) for his seminal collection of early American long rifles. Kindig, who did not realize that Wiley Higgins was from Georgia and who likely assumed that the gun was made in Pennsylvania, called it, “by far the most artistic Kentucky rifle of its period that I have ever seen.” It was subsequently acquired by the Frazier History Museum of Louisville, Kentucky.
Credit Line:
Loan courtesy of the Frazier History Museum, Louisville, Kentucky