Forensic Fashion
(c) 2006-present R. Macaraeg


>Costume Studies
>>1790 Angl.-Am. frontiersman
Subject: frontier rifleman
Culture: Anglo-American
Setting: westward expansion, frontier warfare, trans-Appalachia late 18th-early 19thc
Evolution1607 English militiaman > 1790 Anglo-American frontiersman

Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)

* Gerzon 1992 p19-20
"All kinds of men moved west: farmers and trappers, adventurers and misfits, ministers and schoolteachers, soldiers and miners.  But only one type of man became a national hero, only one became a cultural archetype that would embed itself in the masculine mind.  No one today knows  the names of the surveyors and the blacksmiths, the homesteaders and legislators.  But even in the Space Age, the Frontiersmen -- Daniel Boone, Kit Carson, Wild Bill Hickok, and of course Davy Crockett -- are the stuff of boyhood dreams.
    "[...]  The image was perhaps first embodied by a man named Daniel Boone.  'We have recently seen a single person go and decide on a settlement in Kentucky,' wrote Thomas Jefferson of him, admiringly.  'Though perpetually harassed by Indians, that settlement in the course often years has acquired 30,000 inhabitants.'  here, according to Jefferson, was a model of manhood worthy of America.  If other men were courageous enough to follow Boone's example, Jefferson estimated that America could claim the rest of the continent within two generations.
    "Conquest: this was the key to the image of the Frontiersman.  He took the initiative, he was aggressive, he did not settle down.  His propensity for and proficiency at violence was a vital part of his character.  He did not provoke violence, and yet he was inseparable from it.  Rifle in hand, knife sheathed on his belt, he was a solitary, restless figure on the American landscape.  Civilization, with all its cumbersome comforts and petty rules, arrived only after the Frontiersman had claimed the land and moved on.
    "As his name implies, he was obsessed with the frontier.  Although in reality men on the frontier were hunter-husbanders, the legends that emerged focused only on the former.  We revered him not because of how he nurtured the land, but because of his mastery of it.  The Frontiersman was not a farmer, but an explorer.  He did not till the land, he took it."

* LaCrosse 1989 p7
​"Often called frontiersmen, riflemen, backwoodsmen, scouts, wood-runners, over-mountain men, Big Knives, shirt-tail men -- they all referred to the same sort of man.  Two differences, however, are the terms 'long hunter' or 'woodsrunner' which denoted the man, who without wife or family, lived for periods of time west of the Alleghanys [SIC], hunting and trapping and only returning to civilization to trade for a few necessities.  Most woodsmen however, would be categorized as frontier farmers, living on the border of the settlements.
    "Many still believe the myth that the War of Independence was fought by Americans from behind trees, cutting the Redcoats to pieces.  Although this was the usual method of fighting on the frontiers, only a few battles of the Revolutionary War were fought in this manner."

* Starkey 1998 p126-127
"[George Rogers] Clark lacked sufficient men and resources to hold the country he had seized.  He was not 'the conqueror of the old Northwest'.  That feat was achieved by American diplomats in Paris.  But he was on the cutting edge of a new style of war on the frontier, one in which Americans adopted Indian ways of war.  The small settlements west of the Appalachians were nurseries of these American warriors, many of whom gained experience as 'long-hunters', men who spent much of their lives on extended hunts which might last months or years at a time.  These hunters could carry little food and depended upon their woodcraft and marksmanship for survival.  It is not surprising that their weapon of choice was what is usually referred to as the Pennsylvania or Kentucky long rifle, a firearm equally popular with Indian hunter-warriors.  Although they became inveterate enemies, the American frontiersmen and Indians came more and more to resemble one another."

* Starkey 1998 p128
"Although they adopted the Indian style of war, [Daniel] Boone and most frontiersmen held themselves distinct from Indian culture.  Pursuing a life which offered escape from the bonds of European society, they retained roots within white culture.  Nevertheless, they were a fiercely independent new breed removed from the traditional political , religious and moral authority of colonial establishments.  While they continued to consider themselves Christians, they were heirs of the Great Awakening, which had undermined formal church structures.  It is difficult to recapture the moral universe of these settlers in the wilderness, for whom survival was a daily struggle.  This hash view of life necessarily shaped their view of war.  This does not mean that their approach toward was any more cruel than that of seventeenth-century Puritans whose just war theories sanctioned many horrors.  But it does suggest that they viewed war, as they viewed life, as a simple struggle for survival free of a moral context."

​* Gilbert/Hook 2008 p

*LaCrosse 1989 p85- 


* LaCrosse 1989 p14
​"Much has been written and debated about the rifle's effectiveness in attempts to either glorify or debunk it.  Perhaps there is room for a few more words on the well-worn subject.  When one compares smoothbores to rifles several advantages and disadvantages make themselves evident.
    "The rifle was accurate to about 300 or more yards, (as opposed to 50 or 60 yards for muskets) required about half the powder and two thirds the lead of a musket.
    "Disadvantage of the rifle was that it took longer to load (about 30 seconds as opposed to a musket which required about 15 seconds), although if the patch was discarded it could be loaded as fast but at the cost of some of its accuracy.  Also it could foul up after 10 or 20 shots (depending on the arm itself) and could not normally be fitted with a bayonet.  But it should be brought up that there is little use to firing a smoothbore musket four times a minute and hitting nothing when a rifle could be fired about twice a minute and hit anything larger than five or six inches up to 200 yards every time.  Much has been made of its lack of bayonet, but where is there a bayonet with a range of 300 yards?"

* Shumway 1968 p1
"Most Americans have a small acquaintance with the longrifle, knowing it to be the trusty arm of Daniel Boone and other pathfinders as well as of the many settlers who followed afterward to make their homes in the wilderness.  In its day the old gun served admirably as a multi-purpose tool, indispensable in bringing down game for the pot, in eliminating predatory animals, in warding off Indian attack, in equipping man for duty in time of war, in qualifying man for compulsory militia duty in time of peace, and useful for sport and amusement at the commonly held shooting matches.
    "But in addition to these practical aspects, the rifle purposely was made to be something beautiful.  The stock was shaped with great care and subtlety, and rococo designs were skillfully carved upon it; handsome engraved inlays of brass and silve were set into the wood.  A handsome rifle was to be owned and used with pride."

* Fryer 1969 p8
"Kentucky (Pennsylvania) Rifle  A distinctive type of American rifle developed about 1725. It had a stock of curly maple with pronounced downward-sloping butt. The mounts were usually of brass with an elaborate patch box, and sometimes silver plaques were inlaid in the butt."

​* Gilbert/Hook 2008 p


* Chrisman-Campbell 2019 p201-202
​"In the Battle of Long Island, Captain Abraham Duryea wore a fringed linen hunting shirt instead of a uniform. A uniquely American garment first worn in the Virginia backcountry, the hunting shirt was sometimes called an 'Indian shirt,' indicating a possible link to Native American dress.  When expert riflemen from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia arrived in Boston to join the Continental Army in the summer of 1775, many of them wore similar shirts.  Unlike standard men's shirts, which were open only at the neck and went on over the head, hunting shirts were often open all the way down the front, like coats, with large cape collars and decorative geometric patterns in raveled strips of linen (likely inspired by Native American adaptations of European-style linen shirts).  They were easy to put on, remove, and layer, and could be belted tight for a closer fit.
    "As the fame of the backcountry riflemen spread, General George Washington encouraged his troops to wear the distinctive shirts, believing they gave the Continental Army a psychological advantage.  On July 24, 1776, Washington wrote that he 'earnestly encourages the use of hunting shirts,' which were 'justly supposed to carry no small terror to the enemy, who think every such person a complete marksman.'  He also found them 'cheaper and more convenient' than wool uniforms, as they could be layered over warm waistcoasts in winter."

​* Gilbert/Hook 2008 p

* LaCrosse 1989 p70-


* LaCrosse 1989 p120
​"Next to his rifle, the axe was the frontiersman's most important implement.  One felling axe was all most pioneers had when they invaded the wilderness to carve out a home for their families.  
    "Belt axes were usually carried towards the back and on the left side by most riflemen.  The belt axe was not properly a tomahawk, as it was substantially larger and was used mainly for camp duties such as obtaining firewood.
    "Tomahawks were relatively small and were primarily made for the purpose of splitting open an enemy's skull.  These were usually obtained by the Indians through the fur trade, and were found light and comfortable to carry.  The names 'tomahawk' and 'belt axe' were often used interchangeably."


* LaCrosse 1989 p135
​"All back woods men carried blades, commonly called 'hunting,' 'scalping,' and 'long' knives.  Actually the so-called 'scalping knives' or 'scalpers' which the British were trading to the Indians at the western forts had a relatively short blade, virtually the same as the common butcher knives.
    "The 'long knife' or 'hunting knife' that the riflemen carried was a much larger weapon, usually eight to fourteen inches long.  Often these knives were either homemade or the product of a local blacksmith.
    "Patch knives were made in a variety of ways, and no two of these knives were ever alike.  These knives were primarily used to cut patches, pieces of cloth or leather which were wrapped around the rifle ball to insure a tight fit against the rifling in the barrel of the weapon.  Handles were often made of either antler, wood, or cow horn, and were attached to the three to four inch blades with a mixture of pine resin.  These knives were carried in a sheath which was fastened either to the strap of the hunting pouch or directly behind the pouch itself."

* Farey 2003 p87
"In the years of struggle that symbolize the birth of modern America, both frontiersmen and natives used their working knives as weapons against each other as they fought for their very survival."


* LaCrosse 1989 p153
​"The hunting bag, or pouch, was designed to hold the rifleman's priming horn, patches, lead rifle balls, powder measures, and extra flints."