The year of 1974 was a crossroads. I would turn 12 years old that year, caught somewhere between being a kid and being a young adult. I had been working a regular schedule of afternoons at our family-owned grocery store since I had been 10, but I still liked my days off to go play with my cousin and best friend who I simply called “Jed”.
His nickname was derived from us both watching more than a healthy share of "Beverly Hillbillies." But that year, we were struck by a different rerun—"The Adventures of Daniel Boone." This fit in with my 19th century fascination quite well. When Jed and I played together, we reenacted scenes of Boone and his side-kick Mingo (because I was older, I usually portrayed the former).
Jed and I took the time with a drawknife to shave down two 2”x4”s into rather good-looking muskets. These were great, but because I always yearned for authenticity in detail. The wooden rifles left me empty: There was no hammer or frizzen to cock and certainly no ramrod to drop down the barrel.
As luck would have it, one of the local hardware stores had a huge toy department in their basement. There, between Funmakers and Strombecker race tracks were two “Authentic Kentucky Rifle cap guns”. They were marked $7.99. To say that temptation was great would be an understatement.
You see, earlier that year, my dad gave me permission to start saving my money for something I had pestered him about for more than a year: An honest-to-goodness reproduction Model 1863 Remington “Zouave” Rifle. Century Firearms was advertising your choice of a “Zouave” or a Model 1841 Mississippi Rifle for $69.99. I knew the Zouave was not really a typical Civil War long arm, but I didn’t know of any others for sale. I had sent $2 to Connecticut Valley Arms (“CVA”) for their catalog of reproductions, but it was filled with civilian-styled longarms, some reproduction Model 1851 Colts and a Zouave rifle. But theirs cost $99.99. The higher price worked in my favor when I showed my Dad the Century Arms’ Zouave costing thirty dollars less.
As the summer drew to a close and I neared that all-important 12th birthday, I had to make a decision—I had $23 dollars in my box marked “Money for Musket”. Should I take $8 from the box for a toy? Or should I save it for a real musket? I spent countless hours considering my options.
By the time school started in September, Jed had bought one of the toy muskets. I continued in our Daniel Boone adventures carrying my “pine musket”. A few days later, my 12th birthday finally came and with it, several dollars in the form of gifts. Dad made me put most of it in the bank. A few dollars, however, he allowed to go into the “Money for Musket” box.
The days grew shorter. I had to work at the store after school. Jed and I could really only play together on Saturdays...our Boone and Mingo adventures became less frequent.
Then, one night after Dad and I locked the store at 6 p.m., he said to me, “Let’s go to La Crosse.” The Wisconsin city was about 23 miles away. I wasn’t sure why we were going, but I thought maybe a visit to McDonalds might be in the mix.
Dad drove to Holiday Sports Center—one of the best gun shops in the area. We walked over to the muzzleloaders. There were three: a Thompson Center “Hawkins”, A CVA “Kentucky Rifle” and a Model 1863 Remington “Zouave”. The man behind the counter showed us all three and answered both Dad’s and my questions. I could shoulder the Hawkins, but the Zouave was just too heavy. I couldn’t hold it up for a count of three.
Finally, Dad asked me which one I liked....of course the Zouave! Who cared if it was too big? It was a CIVIL WAR muzzleloader! The other two were just “fantasy” pieces, as far as I was concerned. So, Dad relented, and bought the rifle that I wanted, not the one that best suited me.
After we stowed the purchase in the back of our Chrysler station wagon, I climbed into the front seat. I didn’t know what to do...I was 12 now....a “young man” by everyone’s description. Nevertheless, I slid across the bench seat next to him and planted a kiss on his evening-whiskered cheek. “Thanks Dad. I love you.”
I don’t remember him saying much other than some general remarks about how I knew how to handle a weapon and that this was no toy. Nor do I remember the 23-mile ride back to Caledonia, but I am sure I burst into the house to tell my mom and older brothers and sister.
I never gave that toy musket at the hardware store another thought.
Editor, Military Trader and Military Vehicles Magazine
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