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

Context (Event Photos, Period Sources)

* 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."

​* Gilbert ill. 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?"

​* Gilbert ill. 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 ill. 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."


* 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."