Author Topic: The Settle Rifle, Kentucky's Best-known Rifles... an Example by Felix Settle  (Read 1680 times)

Online Tanselman

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Down in Kentucky where I collect, the best-known gunmaker's name among local collectors is "Settle." They were a prolific family working in several counties out in the Barrens area of southcentral Kentucky... with Barren County being about in the middle of their sphere of influence. Settle rifles are somewhat later guns, with the large majority being percussion half-stocks, but all were well-signed, generally resembled each other, and were known for placing the nose cap a couple inches out past the rear ramrod pipe, the rear sight a couple inches behind the rear ramrod pipe, and using a "rounded" toe on many of their rifles. The KRA's annual show this June will feature rifles from Kentucky, so I thought it would be educational to show a good quality, typical Settle rifle... one that most collector down in Kentucky would rather own than a Beck, Sell, or Armstrong!

Settle rifles fall within Kentucky's "Barrens School" of gunmaking that covers about a ten-county area above the Tennessee line in central Kentucky. There were four major Settle makers, William, his son Felix, and grandsons Willis and Simon. But another half-dozen Settles also worked in Kentucky. Settle rifles are best known for their well-stamped barrels and plain appearance that decries their good workmanship and renown accuracy. In their recognized area, old stories abound about the best shooting rifles always being Settle rifles. Of course, just about everyone in the Barrens area used a Settle rifle in shooting matches, so perhaps a Settle rifle was bound to win most of the time! On the other hand, maybe we should just enjoy the old stories of shooting prowess and not analyze them too closely.

The rifle shown below is a good quality, typical 1850s Settle rifle by Felix Settle [1801-1870] who worked primarily in Barren County, Kentucky... except for a short period during the Civil War when Federal troops burned his shop, destroyed his tools, and chased him out of town. Rifles by Felix's two sons, the well-known Willis and Simon Settle, look very much like this rifle in architecture, with slight differences in guard style at times. Note the two "trademark" details repeated on most Settle rifles, the nose cap sitting several inches past the rear ramrod pipe, and the subtle reverse curl in the toe of the butt plate. Most Settle rifles were stocked in maple, but few rifles had outstanding wood. They were good quality working rifles, not show pieces. But they built a huge reputation for good shooting rifles across central Kentucky, and the Settle name lives on strongly in Kentucky today. If you ever get the itch to learn more about the Settles, or other Kentucky gunmakers, check out www.kentuckygunmakers.com.

Barrel specs: 43-7/8" long, .36 caliber bore, 7-groove rifling.

Shelby Gallien









« Last Edit: June 04, 2023, 06:31:14 PM by Tanselman »

Offline Algae

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Always enjoy these Shelby, thank you!!

Al Jenkins

Online Tanselman

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This Felix Settle rifle provides an interesting comparison to another rifle made farther south in Kentucky, the John M. Heath rifle posted back on May 8th as "A Kentucky-Tennessee Hybrid." Both rifles are well-made but lack decoration. More interesting is the spacing distance between the nose cap and rear ramrod pipe. Kentucky guns made closer to the Tennessee border became more like Tennessee rifles with more extended spacing between nose cap and rear pipe. The Settle rifle was made up in Barren County, perhaps 50 miles north of the border, while the Heath rifle was made closer to the border, perhaps 10 miles north of Tennessee, and looks more like a Tennessee rifle. Both families of gunmakers, the Settles up around Barren County, and the Heaths down in Allen County on the TN border, had very strong local reputations for highly accurate, well-made rifles... all part of the Barrens School lore and culture.

Shelby Gallien
« Last Edit: June 01, 2023, 10:18:49 PM by Tanselman »

Offline Bob Roller

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Who made the barrels?This one has fine angles and I doubt if they were hammered out.Possibly Remington Cast Steel.The rear sight angle looks like a misque but is part of the rifle.These guns are from the KISS "school".Keep It Simply Simple.
Bob Roller

Offline AZshot

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Thanks for telling us these gun's history and showing the features.  Nice to learn about.

Online Tanselman

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"Who made the barrels?" I agree the uniformity of most Settle barrels strongly suggests a commercial barrel. I have never seen a barrel-maker's mark on a Settle rifle, and of the 3 or 4 I've disassembled over the years, I also don't recall any barrel-maker's marks. I do know barrels were being imported into Kentucky by 1820 [and probably earlier], with most coming down river to Louisville. I have seen several "H Bayers" marked barrels imported from Pittsburgh and usually on better rifles, and the firm of Dickson & Gilmore of Louisville imported thousands of gun locks, gun mountings, and gun barrels for sale in their large retail/wholesale "sporting goods and hardware" store in Louisville. However, I've never seen a barrel-maker's mark on any of their locally made rifles, either.

Shelby Gallien
« Last Edit: June 02, 2023, 05:44:03 AM by Tanselman »

Offline Austin

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Shelby, Thank you for posting, you’re post are always interesting and informative. AP
Eat Beef

Offline Songwriter

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Thank you for posting this!  It is the first post I have read since becoming legit (I became a member of the forum last night), and William Settle was my 4th great grandfather.  I guess he was the patriarch of the family business.
I am descended from Felix's sister Polly and her husband Washington Smith, and their son Felix Smith.

Online Tanselman

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Songwriter,

Glad you enjoyed the "Settle" posting. If you have any "inside" family information on any of the Settle gunmakers, I'd enjoy hearing about it. I've done a lot of research on them, but all from public records, very little from Settle family members.

Shelby Gallien

Offline Songwriter

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Shelby,
I wish I did have more Settle rifle and family info, but I am too many generations (and several states) removed from them.  All I have has been gleaned from the internet in general, and from Ancestry.com in particular.
This makes me want to see about connecting with other Settle descendants, specifically of Felix and his sons.  Based on some Kentucky newspaper articles, mostly from the 1960's, there were several Settle rifles still in the family.  1964 wasn't that long ago, right?
If you are interested, I can email you some links to what I do have.
Thanks,
Gary Carter

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Forgot to mention...
An interesting story from Felix's great-great granddaughter is that, since Felix was only 7 or 8 when his father William died, he actually learned most of his trade from his maternal family, the Huffmans.

Online Tanselman

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Gary,

I appreciate your response. I've read the monograph by Dewitt Settle on the Settles in Kentucky, where he "suggests" Felix was probably trained by the Huffman side of the family based on their iron working trade. I personally do not think that was true, and it was more wishful thinking by Dewitt to try to answer the question of where Felix was trained after his father died. My thoughts are that Felix was trained in the normal manner of most young teenage boys in Kentucky when their father died young. It was common practice for the court to apprentice such young boys to local craftsmen to take the burden off the widow, who still had the younger children to raise by herself without spousal support.

I believe Felix was apprenticed in the normal manner to a local gunsmith, perhaps one his father knew or had trained, and the family knew, such as nearby gunsmiths Hezekiah and Isaac Davidson. The old thought that because the Huffman line were iron workers back in Virginia, they were capable of training Felix to become a competent gunsmith, is somewhat of a stretch... since the two trades, while both worked with iron, had separate skill sets... with the gunsmith having the more intricate skill set. Perhaps someday we will find an apprenticeship indenture for Felix Settle and know the answer... but so far no such indenture has been found.

Shelby Gallien
« Last Edit: June 16, 2023, 04:02:40 AM by Tanselman »