Early Settlers of
Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements
Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life
By: Ethelene Dyer Jones
The privilege of owning old Gillespie-made rifles
Butts and Billy Harkins are not the only two current citizens of
These two are
proud owners of tried and true firearms made by descendants of the
Gillespie gunmakers of East Fork,
column told of how James Butts became the privileged owner of a rifle
which had been made for his grandfather, Sydney Harshaw.
It was made by John Gillespie who migrated to
also owns a Gillespie-made rifle which was fashioned specifically for a
W. W. Carland who lived in the area of
It sounds easy
to say, "Harvey Gillespie made these rifles," even though his
signature, other than some characteristic "code" markings, does not
appear on either of the rifles now owned by Billy Harkins. You see,
there were several named Harvey Gillespie who made guns. One was John
Harvey Gillespie (1810-1891), son of William, grandson of John, Sr. and
Jane Harvey Gillespie (Jane's maiden name "
Gillespie whom Billy Harkins believes made the guns he owns was a
brother to John R. Gillespie and James A. Gillespie who migrated to
Gillespie (June 18, 1820-August 19, 1877) was the son of Mathew
Gillespie and his wife, Elizabeth Sitton
Gillespie, their seventh of twelve children, five sons and seven
Sitton's father, Phillip Sitton, owned an ironworks located on the
Billy Harkins is grateful to Vesta Waldroop Byrd who found the old Gillespie-made hog rifle stored in a building at their home. Knowing that the old rifle belonged to Billy Harkins' great grandfather, Bill Bowers,Vesta gave the rifle to Billy. Stories Billy heard in his childhood make the rifle very personal and treasured. One he especially enjoyed hearing was how his grandfather went out into the woods near Owltown Gap where he lived looking for wild turkeys. Bill Bowers found a flock, and giving good aim, shot and killed two turkeys with the same shot. Whether that happened near Thanksgiving or not, we don't know. At any rate, the Bowers family enjoyed a feast of wild turkey with all the fixings.
Billy is amazed at the true aim of both old rifles he owns. As he makes replicas of them, he is careful to get the best materials with which to make his copies and to craft them with precision as did the Gillespie gunmakers of long ago.
"Why did you decide to start making replicas of the rifles?" I asked Billy.
the tedious and precise work the Gillespie and other gunmakers did in crafting their guns. It took
skill, patience and perseverance to make them. I am interested in
helping to preserve old fire arms and other antiques from the folk art
point of view. I enjoy attending gun shows and recently attended the
annual show in
Billy Harkins is a carpenter and especially enjoys custom carpentry such as making rails of laurel wood and custom-ordered furniture. Mantels are another of his specialties. "I've crafted and hung several mantels," he said. Toward the end of our conversation, he invited me to call him and come by to see his gunshop, his antique guns, and the replicas he makes. I asked if he would be willing to accommodate other interested persons and he gave me permission to list his telephone number. Just call him in advance at 706-745-9405 for an appointment. He also owns a very old powder horn and hunting bag, as well as the attachment to measure the amount of powder needed for the guns.
On October 19,
he took Dennis Glazener of Midlothian,
Virginia, author of the book, "The Gillespie Gun Makers of East Fork,
NC" (2006), another descendant of the gunmakers
of fame, to meet Mr. Odell Plott of Young
Harris. Mr. Plott, up in years now, is
still alert and active, and related to the Gillespies
through marriage. He took Glazener and
Billy Harkins to the spot just off Georgia Highway 76 near the
Towns/Union line, almost directly in front of
I've traced the Gillespies and their descendants through four lengthy columns. My deep gratitude goes to Dennis Glazener, James Butts and Billy Harkins for taking the time through published book, emails, pictures and telephone calls to give rich information about the family who, through several generations, crafted a product of necessity and recreation. These men generously shared their knowledge of the guns and their makers with me I feel almost as if I have walked in the footsteps of the John Gillespies, James, Harvey and others. Dennis Glazener and Billy Harkins have learned to build replicas of the famous guns. All, including James Butts, appreciate the guns that have lasted far longer than a century. They save the real implements. I like to think I save a portion of this rich heritage through words.
c2006 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published
Dyer Jones is a retired educator, freelance writer, poet, and historian.
She may be reached at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org;
phone 478-453-8751; or mail