Author Topic: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle  (Read 23953 times)

PGosnell

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Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« on: January 27, 2009, 04:36:12 AM »
Several months back, I started a search to increase my understanding of early gunmaking in the Lancaster area and its connection to early German and Swiss immigration to Southeastern Pennsylvania.  You might have seen my post regarding late 17th century Swiss rifles of the Basel / Bern area.  Of course no research or discussion of this period and location would be complete without including Martin Meylin, aka:  Martin Mylin, Martin Meillin, Martin Meili, Martin Maily.

In my reading I have used two primary sources.  The first, The Curious Case of Martin Meillin, Gunsmith?, Richard Headley, KRA Bulletin, Winter 1978.  The second, Historic Background and Annals of the Swiss and German Pioneer Settlers of South Eastern Pennsylvania and their remote ancestors from the middle of the dark ages down to the Revolutionary War, H. Frank Eshleman, 1917, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  Not too surprisingly, there is a conflict between these two sources as to the county (Canton) of Switzerland from where Martin Meylin originated.   Headley states Zurich, whereas Eshleman states Bern, but both have the same port of entry and date, September 1710.  You could simply dismiss this conflict, if you otherwise had verified rifles that could be attributed to Meylin.  But in the absence of said rifle, the next best thing I could hope to accomplish was to find examples from these two areas from the time period that Meylin lived, prior to 1710, as an example as to what a rifle stocked in this first wave of immigration might has looked.  Arguing that all Swiss rifles look alike would be comparable to saying that a Lancaster was the same as a Lehigh.  Certainly, the Vienna had an overarching influence on the ďGermanĒ schools and radiated out through Bavaria with lowland Bavaria influencing the Rhine and south into the Swiss areas. But a Bern is still not the same as a Zurich rifle. That search continues separately from Martin Meylin, himself.

That brings me back to Headleyís article and the mysterious and contentious Martin Meillin rifle from Germantaun in 1705, which by the way is 5 years early than a record of Martin Meillinís arrival to Philadelphia on the Mary Hope from London.  The article has some interesting facts and a few pictures that give some insight but does not fully define the architecture of the rifle as I might hope.  The article does not fully eliminate that the barrel markings might have been added to the rifle and for that reason it does not fully attribute the rifle to Martin Melllin.  But the rifle has a lot in common with the Edward Marshall rifle so it seem legitimate to assume that the rifle was stocked during that early period of German / Swiss immigration, with the barrel, butt plate and trigger guard being very similar.  That by itself makes it interesting.

Now, certainly I do not think that I have discovered something that was not previously discovered by those that came before me.  Certainly earlier scholars and students of the American Longrifle have explored this same topic.

So what other information is out there about the 1705 rifle?  Are their pictures? Where does it reside? Has it surfaced again since the 1978 article?   Anyone interested in continuing this conversation may contact me directly or post a reply.

Thanks,
Paul


Offline JTR

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2009, 01:41:05 AM »
I saw and fondled this rifle last year, but didnít take any pictures. It was being offered for sale, and came with all the documentation that had been compiled by Richard Headley and others.
If Iím not mistaken, I think one of the KRA bulletins last year had an article about it. I believe it mentioned Meylins bible had been found after the gun was found, and that the name in the bible matched the name on the gun. I donít know if this information was included in Richards research papers.
I donít know who has the gun is now.
Perhaps others can shed more light.
John 
John Robbins

Offline Eric Kettenburg

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2009, 03:42:31 AM »
I have not seen the rifle so I can only go by the photos and what the few who have seen the rifle have described to me.  I have a big problem reconciling that furniture - w/ rococo 1760s-70s 'import style' engraving - w/ the date on the barrel.  I would be more inclined to believe that the gun is a European import  piece and someone during its period of use replaced the barrel with an old barrel.  However, if the barrel is unquestionably original to the piece, then I suppose the signature has to be questionable.  It's an odd piece which certainly would be deserving of good photography and a fresh examination.
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PGosnell

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2009, 05:15:40 AM »
Excellent information and links.  Thanks Guys.

From what Richard Headley says in his article.  The Meylin rifle could either be a restock or an imported original.  Too many parts lined up for it to have been pieced together. 

Signature on the barrel ?  Headley does not sound convinced in his article that it is real, in spite of the historic styling of certain letters that match the family bible .

The 1705 date is also a puzzle, so much detail has been captured in the Mennonite church records, but no mention of Meylin as part of a land charter exploratory trip.

Offline Karl Kunkel

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #5 on: January 29, 2009, 05:26:56 AM »
Jim,

Thanks for sharing the links.
Kunk

Offline AMartin

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #6 on: January 29, 2009, 03:27:33 PM »
Thanks for the links Mr Jim ........

I really feel a direct connection as being raised Mennonite and my early ancestor "David Martin" landed in Philly on Sept 30 1727 on the ship the "Molly" David was born 1691 in Bern Switzerland and died 1784 and is buried in Weaverland graveyard .......

something tells me that Martin Meylin & the Martin clan knew each other ...... !!

Allen


PGosnell

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #7 on: January 30, 2009, 04:51:14 AM »
Several Observations:

1)  Many references that mention early Lancaster gunmaking seem to almost reference each other in some sort of circular argument.
2)  Most, prior to Whisker, Kindig and Shumway seem to do as much harm as good, by propagating Dillan's mythology of the American Longrifle, including that rifling was invented in American, patched ball was not known before the Pennsylvania rifle and that long graceful rifles did not exist prior to the Pennsylvania.   I say mythology because like mythology these stories were invented to explain what someone did not understand.  Today most students of the ALR recognise these as myths, knowing that rifling was invented in Europe, patched ball was recorded as being used by Swiss shooters in the 16th century. and anyone that has seen a 17th century Dutch rifle recognises it as a long and graceful piece.
3) Never bring a questionable rifle out in public until you have vetted it with colleagues.  The description of what happened at the 78 meeting sounds as though it was a horrible experience for Richard Headley.

Offline mr. no gold

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #8 on: January 30, 2009, 08:52:35 AM »
This is an old trail we are treading (once again) and the subject was well worked over some time back in this Forum. Since Richard is no longer here to speak for himself, perhaps I will qualify to put in a word or two. He was a friend and acquaintance of 20 years and we socialized on occasion at guns shows, his home and the KRA.
I am very familiar with the Meylin rifle and have held it a number of times. How many others here have this record with him? Probably far fewer than those who speak boldly here about him and his feeling over the aforesaid rifle. Matter of fact, Richard was fully convinced to the point of certitude that the gun was by Meylin.
He did a mountain of research on it and on Meylin; Richard was a consumate researcher whose interests led him down many roads. To my knowledge, he never equivocated over the authenticity of the gun. To say that he was abused at the KRA over his stand is preposterous. The Association has its warts, and some follies, but members are above board on such issues. They do not seek to impeach the work of fellow members.
Fact is that the rifle is published based on sustainable facts which probably will stand until someone else is able to demonstrate factually that it is not what it is purported to be. So......
Dick 

PGosnell

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #9 on: January 30, 2009, 02:29:03 PM »
Dick,

I will defer to your first hand experience in this matter. No disparaging remarks about the KRA were intended. Obviously myself and many of the members of this forum did not have the opportunity to attend that meeting.  However, I say that mixed opinions have been communicated of that event and the 1705 rifle.  As even my posting demonstrates, the words one uses, can be easily misconstrued by others.   Add 30 years and the problem is multiplied.

This subject is contained in past postings of the forum.  But if I were  to say that this discussion has been exhausted and that Archives contained conclusive evidence, I would be incorrect.  Nothing substantially revealing surfaced in or since the 2005 postings and to this student the Curious Case of the Meylin Rifle appears to be unsolved.  Even if the rifle proves to have no connection to Meylin whatsoever, the rifle be it of early American manufacture, a restocking or an import, is worthy of study.

Since did you have the chance to observe the rifle firsthand, your impression and description would be warmly received by this student.

Paul

PINYONE

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #10 on: January 30, 2009, 07:10:38 PM »
Ole Joe Kindig put it best- "there is room for study" know one knows it all. As a KRA Member since 1985, I have been able to many great rifles, horns all types of accoutrements., most of all the interesting people I have met that are members, some gone and some still here. The bottom line though is  the KRA was set up a a Research Group first and Collectors Club secondly. People like Richard Headley and others took the time to research History that most would never have known. We all should spend the time , follow the roads, climb through the attics and do the foot work like Dick did. One of my favorite photos ever is published in a Collonial Williamsburg book of young Wallace Gusler in an old attic in Southwest VA in a plaid suit discovering a chair from the first Governor of Williamsburg's home. The chair belonged to Lord Dunmore. This is living history and not reading about it. My views are that it is much easier to read and disagree with someones findings than it is to get out and do the finding. I have seen the Meylin rifle and believe it to be real, the reason is, even with all we have done to research and document all we can, no one can ever step back 200-300 years ago and really see what happened, all we can do is be glad to see what little that has survived. We have only a drop to study of what was once here. More is disappearing all the time. I have always thought that rifles were built here much earlier than what most think. We try to be to logical and think of how we would have done things, if any one of us could step back then most would not have a clue what to do. The KRA is a really great Organization, my only beef with it it its to easy to get into now, many new comers are just lookers and will never do any research as Ole Dick did. That's my 2 cents on the topic. The Great Pinyone

PGosnell

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #11 on: January 31, 2009, 02:03:49 AM »
Pinyone,

I agree there is always room for study and the willingness of persons on this forum and the members of the KRA and CLA to share with others that come seeking knowledge is the glue holds us together.  For me is has not been the collecting, it has been the research.  The fact is that there is so much undocumented information that has passed through the minds of those that have gone before us that if it was all spelled we would amazed at the picture it would paint.

As to this thread, I think that it needs to end.  The documentation is interesting and I will continue to read through it, if I find a fact that is new I will post it here as a new thread.  Many perons emailed me outside of this forum and provided me with links, they took the time to scan in documents that they have and are not available on line and they shared with me their personal knowledge of the rifle and events.  For that I am most grateful and in their debt.

Paul

Offline mr. no gold

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #12 on: January 31, 2009, 05:26:02 AM »
Hello Paul-Well, now, you have put me to the test; my inclinations about the Meylin rifle tell me that it may well be a later gun. It does fit into later profiles. But, in viewing military guns of the time and other long guns, I go back the other way. Guess we will all just have to wonder. Every so often, a piece comes along that challanges us to the max. Twenty five years ago it was this rifle; today, it is a gun said to be associated with Daniel Boone. In terms of facts the odds are probably better on the latter gun, rather than the Meylin, but without solid proof you have to go with the known facts. So, I will stay with Richard's conclusions about the gun. It was sold shortly after his passing and I do not know its whereabouts today. It would be nice to see it again. Perhaps the present owner will discover us and let us take a look at it.
As to the Meylin gun, it has at least a 48 inch barrel, it is full stocked although it has a later forestock held in place by a metal sleeve at the rear pipe (an old repair). It has uncomplicated carving, a thick butt, and as I recall, a slightly stepped wrist. The gun is old and dingy, and it is signed and dated on the top flat of the half round barrel. Richard was probably prouder of that gun than any of the other fine rifles that he owned. Don't know what else I can add here. If anything comes to me, I'll post it to further the discussion.
As to comments about the Association Paul, no offense taken and if you are a collector of Kentucky Rifles, you might want to get in touch with me. The KRA is a fine organization and is recognized nationally as the premier
collectors' association in the country, ( I know the Colt, S&W, Winchester, Arms Society people, et al, will have fit over this statement). I am one of those folks who don't collect any of those guns, but......
All the best-Dick 

Offline jim meili

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #13 on: February 02, 2009, 10:50:19 PM »
Allen, your connection to the Meylin family is probably alot closer than mine would be. When I first read of Martin Meylin and the possible corruption of his name to Meili I was rather excited but my people came from the city of Schaffhausen, Switzerland about 90 miles north and east of Bern. Their name was Meili from the git go. Also they landed in the Carolinas and joined the colony of James Oglethorpe. No need to say, that in the early 1700's it was quite a horseback ride to Lancaster, PA. Some of them fought for the south in the War for Sucession, but really don't know how they ended up in Wisconsin. Guess they must have thought it was better to grow corn up here rather than rice in the poor south of the time.

PGosnell

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Meili Family
« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2009, 04:28:38 AM »
Well Schaffhausen, is just north of Zurich.  Martin Meili  lived in Canton Zurich with his father and brother before being driven to Canton Bern, Emmental Valley area to be more specific.  What I mean by driven, is that jailing and drowning Mennonites in the river was a common practice and Hans Meili was thrown into prison just for being a Mennonite.  Martin and his brother escape the sheriff for a few years but were eventually captured and imprisoned.  Soon after that the authorities ordered all Mennonites to surrender their property and leave.  So off to Canton Bern they moved, there for a time things seemed peaceable.  Bern had been an area that had been tolerant to Mennonites for several generations.  Then things changed, the sheriff of Bern ordered all Mennonites exiled.  Thus started the migration down the Rhine, first to Strassbourg then on to Holland and finally to the New World.

« Last Edit: February 04, 2009, 03:57:52 AM by PGosnell »

Offline jim meili

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #15 on: February 03, 2009, 08:29:07 PM »
Paul, thanks for that information. Interesting! I have always been proud of my Swiss heritage, but so much for the peaceful neutrality. I will have to look more into the earlier history there.
Jim

Offline Stophel

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #16 on: February 04, 2009, 12:24:34 AM »
The gun has the appearance of a German gun from the 1770's-1780's (same with the similar gun that supposedly came from the Marshall family).  In RCA, there is a similar German gun of that vintage with the same type of mass produced hardware (though it's not so nice an example).  I've seen others here and there.

Also, something I find quite interesting.  Other than this supposed instance, I have never seen "Fraktur" print engraved on a gun until sometime in the mid 19th century, which actually surprises me.  It is always script or block lettering.
« Last Edit: February 04, 2009, 12:30:46 AM by Stophel »
When a reenactor says "They didn't write everything down"   what that really means is: "I'm too lazy to look for documentation."

Offline Eric Kettenburg

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #17 on: February 04, 2009, 12:54:18 AM »
Dick I don't think anyone is was or is attacking Richard Headley.  I was fortunate enough to speak to him once or twice a few years ago and found him to be a wonderful man - very friendly.  Nevertheless, he wrote a relatively involved article concerning his rifle and put it 'out there' for all to read (or I should say, the KRA did by including it for publication in the big brown book) and I think that qualifies it for intelligent debate - nothing nasty about that as I see it.  Despite his contentions regarding the signature and date engraved upon the barrel and their similarity to the family hymnal inscription, much of what he published seems - from my perspective - to be speculative rather than factual.  He may have genuinely believed it to be 'the real deal' yet that doesn't make it so.  'We' as a collective group of individuals definitely do not know it all, however we can view signed and dated German arms - European pieces on the whole certainly being generally more documentable within a sketched timeline than early American pieces - with similar engraving, furnishings, carved designs etc. and I think one would be hard pressed to find such which was dated any earlier than the 1760s.  Perhaps 1750-something at the absolute earliest, although off the top of my head I cannot recall any such examples.  And amongst American-stocked arms?  While we can't point to dated examples to my knowledge, it would be an extremely hard sale to most collectors to objectively date any of the American pieces bearing such hardware to the Rev War period and personally I think that's pushing it.  So how does one reconcile full-blown rococo art form upon a 1705-dated rifle?  How does one reconcile European walnut with a proposed American stocking save via wishful thinking?  Those are my thoughts on the subject.  I certainly don't mean any disrespect to Richard, and I don't believe I'm showing any disrespect in voicing a contrary opinion and providing an outline of my own reasoning. 

Should also mention as Chris pointed out above, it does bear some resemblance to the so-called 'other' Marshall family rifle and in fact there seem to be a small number of these arms floating about.  I know I've seen maybe 4 or 5 of them over the years in various states of condition.  One area of early American arms study which seems to be a big gray fog is the realm of German import arms.  We certainly have much information available re: English arms, and French arms, and even to some extent Dutch arms.  However, it would seem that arms from somewhere in the German-speaking lands were being made for sale in the colonies in unknown numbers (probably not huge) but I'm not aware of any real information concerning them or their makers. 
« Last Edit: February 04, 2009, 03:52:54 PM by Eric Kettenburg »
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Offline Stophel

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #18 on: February 04, 2009, 07:37:22 PM »
Actually, now that I think of it, there are two guns in RCA that compare roughly with the gun in question.  I don't recall the numbers, I don't have the book in front of me.  The second one has a replaced lock which I think is marked "Wilson".  I think Shumway lists it as "possibly Southern".....  This gun is not exactly the same, but it is comparable in hardware and "period feel".
When a reenactor says "They didn't write everything down"   what that really means is: "I'm too lazy to look for documentation."

jwh1947

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #19 on: March 16, 2009, 07:12:01 AM »
Hi, Paul. As others have stated, this is an old, old topic.  What I can tell you is that when I did the research for my book, I looked at this as rifle as well as the stories surrounding it.  In sum, there isn't one thread of reliable evidence that Martin Meylin was ever a gunsmith.  The best that we can come up with is the presence of blacksmith's tools in his estate inventory.  The gun isn't much and if you turn it around it reads W.W. rather than M.M.  Maybe we should be searching down Willy Wonka. 

Sam Dyke, Lancaster researcher extraordinaire, his wife (a genealogist), and professor Kauffman, all dismissed it as local lore based on oral testimony and stretches in judgment. Unless you are willing to follow Kierkegaard and make the leap of faith, you are going to examine a lot of material and end up in doubt.  See 'ya at Lexington.  JWHeckert

mkeen

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #20 on: November 26, 2009, 08:03:04 PM »
Hello: I'm not a collector, but I am interested in the history of gunsmithing in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Currently I'm working on an article about the 1710 Mennonite migration to Lancaster County of which Martin Meylin was a member. The article will be published next year in Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage. The subject of the Martin Meillin 1705 rifle  and Martin Meylin in general has been widely discussed and published. Unfortunately about half of the information presented by Wood, Whisker and Dyke is false and this information gets repeated over and over. It is certainly possible that Martin Meylin was in Germantown in 1705. A Hans Milan was living in Germantown as early as 1689. Travel between America and Europe was not as uncommon as most would think. I'm interested in detailed analysis of the 1705 rifle from those who have handled and seen the gun. Please be as factual as possible, your remarks might be used in the article. I'm interested in both viewpoints, pro and con. You may post your analysis on this forum or send them to me directly. I would also be interested in current photographs if anyone knows the whereabouts of the rifle.

There is also another gunsmithing connection with the 1710 Mennonite migration to Lancaster. The early land transactions of the group were handled by a Hans Rudolph Bondeli of the Germantown area. The name Bondeli is most likely an English interpretation of the actual name. In a 1704 letter Bondeli and his brother are listed as sons of the gunsmith Bondeli. The father is not listed as living in America and Hans Rudolph Bondeli is believed to have returned to Switzerland. The family is supposedly from Canton Bern, Switzerland. Does anyone have information on Swiss gunsmiths from Cantons Bern and Zurich during the period of 1680 to 1710? Do any have a name similar to Bondeli? Thank you for any information you might have.

Mart

jwh1947

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #21 on: November 26, 2009, 11:50:22 PM »
My recollection of the piece is mentioned above.  Those are the only things I vividly remember.  The last time I saw it, it was held by the Lancaster County Historical Society, Marietta Pike, Lancaster.

 The WW/MM question is looming, and all too real.  I can only say it is a gun of unspecified origin, not overly descript, with stories attached that even the Historical Society wouldn't endorse, at least in 1990.  My notes from that period include a staffer there saying, "this piece has been presented as a possible Meylin product."

 I chose not to photograph it for my work and dismissed other guns, too, that were based on dubious stories and scant or missing provenance.  Incidentally, as mentioned elsewhere, some made the cut that probably shouldn't have. 

 I would suggest examining it yourself if you are going to do any writing about it.  I would also recommend spending effort on developing a paper trail on Meylin rather than trying to link this piece to the man.   

jwh1947

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #22 on: November 27, 2009, 09:21:15 PM »
As stated in different terms, historians worthy of identifying as such, attempt to build cases for their hypotheses that would stand up in a court of law as more than circumstantial.  While scientific controls are rarely able to be applied in historical literature, there is an understanding and respect for this type of thinking ,too, and primary historical positions cannot fly in the face of it.

Unless there is a true evidentiary chain, unbroken and untainted, replete with verified documentation, then any attempt to associate an antique to a specific historical figure is of no more value than jousting at windmills.  

It does not surprise me that people easily fall into the trap of setting out to "prove" something and ending up doing just that, at least in their own minds.  What amazes me is how susceptible many others are to jumping on the bandwagon, beating drums, and doing a communal dance.  It might be good for business, but it neither pushes back the boundaries of human ignorance, nor adds to verifiable knowledge.  Consumers of information need to be able to discern between education based upon supportable arguments, and  smooth-sounding but baseless vacuity.  So should any organization that professes to promote education as a basic goal.



  
« Last Edit: November 27, 2009, 09:38:56 PM by jwh1947 »

Offline smart dog

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #23 on: November 27, 2009, 10:25:41 PM »
Hi Wayne,
You are correct.  History is not, nor ever will be a science.  You cannot test historical hypotheses with controlled experiments or even models that control for several variables. That is why historians are limited in what they can teach us and history never repeats. The best you can do is to adopt a procedure in which you pose an answer to an historical question, and then seek evidence that refutes your answer rather than that which supports it. With that mindset, you will largely avoid "cherry picking" the facts.

dave   
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jwh1947

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Re: Martin Meylin's Mysterious Rifle
« Reply #24 on: November 28, 2009, 02:00:14 AM »
Thanks, Dave.  It's this type of thinking that brought us out of the Dark Ages, but the light only flickers.