Reasons Why Southerners Always
The trouble may start over a political dispute or some very trivial matter. Each loses control of his temper and does just what any other man would do if he was mad —draws his weapon. Sometimes the quarrel may begin in a court room or in church or in a store or office. The location makes little difference as to the results. One cause which has led to many a tragedy in the country is a dispute boundary line, between two farms, or the ever-present dog killing a neighbor's stock or chickens. This frequently ends in each man going off for a shotgun, if he had not got it handy, and a duel then and there.
NOT A SOUTHERN CHARACTER.
To many people who have never been beyond Mason and Dixon's line and know as little of the Southern States as they do about Asia, perhaps, this use of firearms is regarded as a species of barbarism, and the Southern people are classed by them as but partly civilized. In fact, the average Southerner is depicted in the minds of many a New Englander as an individual with long, flowing hair, with a fierce expression on his face, wearing a shirt with rolling collar, very much open at the chest, and tied with a red bandana in a sailor knot, while around his waist are strapped two or three big Colts, going about with rawhide boots reaching to his knees. The Southern people can probably thank the managers of the innumerable "Uncle Tom's Cabin" shows for this character, pure and simple.
It is rare that a pistol is ever displayed, except on some of the ranches of far-away Texas, although they are stowed away in the pistol pocket, which is frequently made purposely for them, and lined with leather. Business men who have occasion to visit the South, or who meet Southern people in Pittsburg or other large cities, well know that they differ little from the average American, although it must be confessed they have a fondness for the black slouch hat, as New Yorkers have for the silk tile. Some have the mannerism peculiar to a certain portion of their country, but this is seldom detected. Ordinarily, they differ but little from the citizens of the other portions of the United States.
NOT ALWAYS AN ARBITER.
Shooting affrays would be as common in every State in the Union as in the South, if the custom of carrying such weapons was prevalent. As many quarrels occur in the North and West, but in the country they are settled with fists, while in the cities legal measures are usually resorted to. A police officer is called in, and may arrest one or both parties, or possibly one man brings action for criminal libel, and gets his satisfaction in the jury's verdict. It is unnecessary to say that many a man outside of the South goes armed. This is known only when he shoots someone else. But the number carrying weapons in the Southern States, in proportion to the population is greater than in the North.
This is principally due to two reasons. One is that it has been handed down for generations. In childhood they have seen the horse pistols and dueling pistols owned by their fathers and by the men most respected in the community. Even the family minister might have a pistol in his house, and nothing would be thought of it. They were classed the same as other domestic articles because they were needed in many cases for defense. In many Southern families, arms which had been preserved in the family for over a century occupy a position of honor in the hall or possibly the drawing-room, just as the armor of their noble ancestors is preserved in the homes of English nobility. The sentiment is very much the same.
OFTEN ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.
There is no doubt that the revolver and ride are absolutely necessary today in many parts of the South, as they were throughout the country in the last century—as a means of protection. This is because the defense offered by the law is so little that a man must take some such measures to protect himself and his household. In the thickly populated parts of the North, where the Sheriff or Constable or the village policeman is within a short distance, this fact cannot be realized.
In many a Southern State the Sheriff and one or two deputies has an area of fifty or sixty miles to go to reach the scene of the crime, and may have to travel twenty-four hours on horseback, owing to the sparsely settled country and the lack of transportation facilities. Where a white farmer has to go four or five miles to reach his nearest neighbor, and must keep his money in the house for a week or month, until he can turn it into the bank or deposit it with some storekeeper, the temptation to rob him, even at the risk of murdering the whole family, is very great among the lawless class, which are to be found in all of the Southern States.
WHERE LIFE IS CHEAP.
Money is scarce and life is cheap in this section of the country, and many a man owes his safety to the rifle or shotgun, which stands loaded in his bedroom or hangs over his front door. When he is obliged to go ten or fifteen miles with his load of produce, along roads which may lead through long stretches of woods or swamps, with no houses whatever, except here and there a deserted cabin, he realizes how easy he can be robbed and murdered if without a weapon. On such journeys the gun is usually in the wagon box at his feet or a revolver is in his pocket. Self-preservation must be the first consideration, however, and these are the measures taken as a security for the protection which the law cannot give.
The familiarity with the rifle and revolver has caused them to be used for amusement, and manufacturers find a ready market for the very best qualities beyond the Potomac. The people realize the necessity for a good gun or pistol. A cheap weapon, which might miss fire, may result in the loss of a life, and they are as careful in making their selection as in buying furniture for their houses or harness for their animals. Target shooting is a common sport, with the result that some of the records made are remarkable.
SOME EXPERT BOY SHOTS.
The boy who has been brought up on a Southern plantation and who cannot hit a bull's eye an inch in diameter at 250 feet with a Remington is not considered of much account. He is generally as skillful with a shotgun, and the number of prize winners from the South in bird-shooting contests in different parts of the country is very noticeable. No particular make of fire arm is preferred as long as it is up to the standard. In selecting a rifle from 38 to 44-caliber are the popular sizes. A large number of revolvers ranging from 32 to 42 caliber are. sold, as the 22 size is considered a "play weapon" and not of much value for self-defense or otherwise. All of the hardware stores, especially in the country, make a specialty of firearms and ammunition, as a large portion of their revenue comes from this branch of the business. Some of them frequently sell as many shotguns in a year as plows or cultivators. and the quantity of cartridge disposed of is enormous.
So much has been said, about the colored brother and his razor, that the average newspaper reader would imagine every negro carried at least one if not more of these around with him. Far more knives than razors, however are stored away, as they can be bought much cheaper.
CHEAP WEAPONS ARE POPULAR.
These people are also fond of firearms, but buy the cheaper weapons, for the reason that they cannot afford to pay the price of the higher qualities. They frequently do as much harm however, as is indicated by the crimes which are committed through their agency. Little shoe-knives, also, what are called butcher-knives, are sold to the negroes, as well as the old-fashioned jack-knife, which has a blade four or five inches long, and which they sharpen on a stone until it has an edge which is about as keen as a razor. The knife is so handy for many purposes that it is very popular with them, although used many a time improperly.
During the last ten or twelve years, as is well known, a large number of Northern settlers have located in Georgia and the Carolinas and other States. Most of them had a prejudice against carrying weapons, for which apparently they had no use, but the writer knows of many instances where they were the best customers for firearms at the hardware stores within a few months after they came to their new homes, circumstances forcing them to realize that these weapons were necessary.—Pittsburg Dispatch.
[The Record-Union, Sacramento, Sunday Morning, August 13, 1899. Volume 97.--No. 173. Pg. 12]