Lock and Load: the Museum’s Firearm Collection

By Marlene Gray, Conservator

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FGCU Intern, Silas Pacheco removes dirt and corrosion from a pistol on left. Museum Conservator, Marlene Gray applies protective wax to a rifle on right.

As the Museum’s Conservator, one of my large projects this year was to examine and assess the firearms in the Museum collection. While some of our exhibits have replica weapons on display, the real action is found in the vault where the historic objects are stored. Thirty-eight pistols, rifles, carbines, muskets, and revolvers are safely kept in storage (and are available for viewing by making an appointment for a behind the scenes tour if I have peaked your interest!) I had to determine whether the weapons were still loaded with gun powder or bullets, remove harmful corrosion and dirt, and complete an overall condition survey of that specific collection.   Once it was confirmed that the firearms were safe to handle, each one was inspected and lots of interesting things were discovered.

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The oldest firearm in the collection is a 1750’s French Officer’s musket. French designed weaponry was the inspiration for early 19th century American-made firearms at both armories in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and Springfield, Massachusetts.  The majority of the Museum’s firearms collection was manufactured at one of these two armories.  This musket is one of few that contain a leather-wrapped piece of flint in the lock.  As the trigger is pulled, the flint makes contact with the frizzen to create sparks that hit the priming powder in the pan, causing it to burn and release enough gases to project the ball from the barrel.

Muskets from the 18th and 19th centuries were known to misfire and not work well in humid and damp conditions.  Percussion cap systems were invented in the early 19th century to remedy these problems, but it was the Maynard Tape Primer System that helped increase the rate of fire.  Dr. Edward Maynard’s tape primer consisted of two thin strips of paper embedded with pellets of priming material.

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Model 1855 U.S. Percussion Rifled-Musket dated 1858

Compared to the manual loading needed with prior percussion cap systems, when the musket’s hammer was cocked, the tape automatically advanced through the lock.  While it was a neat idea, Maynard’s system still did not do well in humid climates, like Florida.  The U.S. Model 1855 Percussion Rifled-Musket in the Museum’s collection is an example of this tape primer system.  This particular musket dates to 1858 and while cleaning, the tape primer was found rolled inside the patchbox.

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Clockwise from top left: Quality mark and flint from New England style Fowler Flintlock Rifle; U.S. Model 1840 Hall-North Breech-loading Percussion Carbine with fishtail lever; tape primer found in patchbox of U.S. Model 1855 Percussion Rifled-Musket.

For something a little rarer, the Museum holds two firearms that were both limited productions. Manufactured by Simeon North in Connecticut, the U.S. Model 1840 Hall-North .52 caliber, breech-loading percussion carbine, Type II is one of just over 6,000 that were made between 1840 and 1843.  It has a fishtail-shaped lever that releases the breech, which is why it was called the fishtail model.  Then there is the .56 caliber Colt Model 1855 revolving rifle that would have been used during the latter years of the Seminole War and during the Civil War.  Only 9,310 of these rifle models were created.  Samuel Colt’s big break came during the Seminole Wars when the U.S. Army purchased his earlier versions of revolving rifles which deterred Seminole warriors from immediate retaliation after U.S. soldiers used their single-shot weapons.

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Lastly, there are the materials and intricate designs that make each firearm a work of art. The New England style Fowler flintlock rifle was the first American-made firearm manufactured in the 1770’s and 1780’s and used by early American settlers to hunt.  The Museum’s rifle has a mark on the barrel consisting of a crowned X, which was an indication of the quality standard for pewter.  Our 19th century Spanish smooth bore percussion rifle uses a Miquelet lock system that was often used in Florida’s Spanish settlements.  The ornate gold inlay and shell patchbox make this one of the most decorative weapons in the collection.2003-317-1  Spanish smooth bore percussion rifle

Patinas of blue and brown were historic chemical treatments applied to firearms as both decoration and to prevent metal corrosion.  In the early 19th century, bluing was done with charcoal and heat to form a blue-grey color.  The practice is still done today with different chemicals to create a more blue-purple color.  Bluing can be seen on the U.S. Model 1816 flintlock pistol, manufactured by Simeon North for the U.S. War Department in 1813.  Care must be taken not to remove the bluing or browning patinas on historic firearms since it is an example of historic practices.

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From top to bottom: Oldest firearm in the Museum’s collection, 1750’s French Officer’s Musket; detail of gold inlay on 19th century Spanish Smooth Bore Percussion Rifle; “bluing” on the barrel band of Colt Model 1855 Revolving Rifle.

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Our collection of weapons represents not only the American-made examples that would have been used against Seminole people during the war torn 19th century in Florida, but also one example of the lighter and more versatile Spanish-made weapons that Seminoles acquired through trade during the same period.  Such Spanish guns, as well as the local knowledge and cunning resourcefulness of the Seminoles themselves, helped the Seminole people and their allies resist American soldiers and their guns in order to emerge The Unconquered!

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You can look into these subjects at the Museum research library, where our Research Coordinator can help you find the information you need. Please call ahead for appointments, so that we are better prepared to help you!  To see the historic guns, ask for a behind-the-scenes tour during your next visit to the Museum.  Hope we see you soon!

Seminole Story Days

By Alyssa Boge, Education Coordinator

Hello!

My name is Alyssa and I am the Education Coordinator at the Museum. I am very excited to tell you about an upcoming program–you’re all invited!

I wish I could say that I planned everything out myself, but the truth is I couldn’t have planned everything so perfectly. The Museum has an internship program with Ahfachkee, the local Tribal school, that’s been going on for several years. Typically seniors who are able to participate visit the Museum to learn what different employees do. Depending on their personal and career interests, they decide what they would like to learn about and who they would like to work with.

This year Eden Jumper decided that he wanted to hone his skills with Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator while learning about marketing principles. This is not Eden’s first time working with the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki- in the past he worked with the Exhibits Department to help create a series of interactive cases within the galleries. This year he decided to work with Virginia Yarce, our Development Assistant. Virginia let Eden drive the internship. Eden decided to market our current West Gallery exhibit “Struggle for Survival, 1817-1858” which discusses the Seminole War and features the important Buckskin Declaration, along with “Telling Our Stories” which highlights the Museum’s unique Oral History Program.

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Ahfachkee intern Eden Jumper working on his Photoshop skills

In order to showcase these exhibits, we decided the Museum should offer a variety of activities and presentations. Eden, assisted by Virginia, developed a marketing plan to promote the programming which he presented as a PowerPoint to me, Carrie Dilley, Visitor Services and Development Manager, and Kate Macuen, Assistant Director. He outlined what types of audiences we could market to, what types of marketing we would do, and what promo items we could feature. Eden did a fantastic job with his presentation and got the green light to proceed with planning the event.  Since that time he has worked to develop a program flyer and postcards to coordinate with the event. He brainstormed and wrote a VIP letter with Carrie Dilley and is currently working on the design for a promotional button. Wondering what other materials will he develop next? You’ll have to come to our event to find out!

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Postcards!

We decided on the name “Seminole Story Days” for the event, which will take place May 5-7. Each day we will have different activities that highlight topics from both our “Struggle for Survival, 1817-1858” exhibit and our Oral History Program. Tour guides will provide short tours of the exhibit throughout the day. Reinaldo Becerra, our Outreach Specialist, will provide period weapons demonstrations.  Our Oral History Coordinator, Eric Griffis, will talk about the Oral History Program and the exhibit he developed while Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits, will talk about how oral histories are used in the development of exhibits. The Big Cypress Martial Arts group will demonstrate tactics Seminole warriors used against American soldiers. Finally, Eden Jumper will do a short talk about his project and his grandmother, Carol Cypress (wife of the late Museum founder Billy Cypress), will present alongside him.

We have a great line-up and we hope you’ll come out to support Eden and his internship project. Because really, this is Eden’s project and I am so excited that the museum was able to support him to make it happen.

Share about the Event! Here are some links to learn more about the event.  Also, watch for the program details on our website, Facebook and Twitter!

https://www.facebook.com/events/190902474632814/?active_tab=posts

http://ahtahthiki.com/Seminole-Story-Days.html

https://www.cultureowl.com/miami/events/view/struggle-for-survival-1817-1858-exhibit-1

 

 

THPO Comparative Collection

By Domonique deBeaubien, THPO Collections Manager

What is that?” It’s one of the most common questions we ask ourselves when working with archaeological artifacts.  Most of the artifacts that come into the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) Archaeological Lab are highly fragmented pieces of animal bone that were left behind by human activity at archaeological sites.  We call these tiny pieces of animal bone faunal remains.

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Collections Assistant Patricia Rodriguez pondering the identification of a tricky faunal bone. 

People often wonder why we spend so much time studying what is essentially, trash.  But you can learn a great deal about an archaeological site by understanding the remnants of what was left behind.  A trained analyst (or bioarchaeologist) can look at a pile of broken up pieces of animal bone and construct an elaborate picture about the people who created it.  For example: what were people eating?  How far did people travel to get their food?  What animals were the most valuable for nutrition and tool making?

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Faunal material excavated from an archaeological site.  Can you identify any animal species?

In order to answer those questions we first need to understand what we’re looking at, and that’s why we have the THPO Comparative Collection!   This is essentially a reference collection made up of many different animal skeletons that help us identify the fragmented faunal remains that come into the lab.  Since the fauna of Florida is extraordinarily diverse, we have a wide collection of creatures ranging from alligators to armadillos and stingrays to snakes; we endeavor to have an example of most of the major animal species that live in our domain.

You may currently be wondering where these skeletons come from.  I’ll be the first person to admit that you don’t go into bioarchaeology if you’re squeamish.  There is a pretty high level of ick factor when acquiring comparative specimens, and it requires a serious level of dedication from our Collections staff.  Most of our specimens come from road kill, where they are collected and then buried in a discreet corner of the museum parking lot. Most people endearingly refer to this location of our campus as the Pet Cemetery.   Burying the animal allows the organic matter to decompose naturally, while leaving the skeletal remains behind. Other researchers use different methods like dermestid beetles to clean their specimens, but this process works the best for our environment.  It is also significantly friendlier to the eye (and nose) since everything is placed underground. After a number of months (sometimes years!), each specimen is carefully excavated and all of the bones are cleaned and organized anatomically.  We’re extra careful to gather all of the smaller bones, as these are often what survive the best archaeologically.

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THPO staff Josh Ooyman and Domonique deBeaubien excavating a faunal specimen

Whenever a new specimen is brought into the lab, our goal is to ensure it becomes a valuable asset to our collection, so every individual bone is identified by skeletal element, labeled, and stored accordingly.  That way, when students or interns come into the lab who aren’t familiar with comparative anatomy, they have a vast resource right at their fingertips.

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Out of the field and into the collection
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A small sample of archaeological faunal bone from a site on the Big Cypress Reservation

Let’s take a quick look at the comparative collection in action. This photo is a classic example of what comes into the lab: tiny little pieces of mystery faunal bone!  Our job is to take those tiny fragments, and identify what they are by comparing them with intact bones from our comparative collection.  Can you tell what kind of animal bone these might be?

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If you guessed alligator, that is correct!  The archaeological fragments pictured above belong to an alligator scute.  A scute is a piece of bony armored plating that runs down an alligator’s back.  Alligators have hundreds of them, and they fit together to form a protective layer of osseous body armor.  As you can see, they are approximately the same size, and share the same markings as the alligator scute from our Comparative Collection.  Even though we just had a few tiny pieces, our amazing lab staff was able to accurately identify what animal species the fragments came from!

For us, each fragment of bone tells a different story; whether it’s a family meal shared hundreds of years ago, or how far hunters journeyed for their catch.  Each story is unique, and thanks to our comparative collection, we can help bring that story to life.

 

The Struggle of– Struggle for Survival

Writer and Meme Generator: Nora Pinell-Hernandez

Comedic Editor: Natasha Cuervo

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Our new exhibit, Struggle for Survival, is perhaps the most ambitious exhibit the team has ever developed. Walls were erected, the swamp was recreated, the back of a boat was fabricated, a backlight map interactive was engineered, a web app was developed and a Seminole camp was reconstructed.

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We installed on the first two weeks of December but began fabrication in late October. The monumental task of leading a team to fabricate the exhibit doesn’t come without a few headaches and a couple of tears. Working in the swamps means that if anything needed to be ordered from the hardware store it would take a total of 3 hours of driving, 30 minutes of waiting at the cashier, 30 minutes filling up the cart, 10 minutes to submit the PO to my supervisor and 8 hours to have the Purchase Order completed to actually pay for the items. I had to account for each wood screw, each gallon of paint, each foot of blue tape, and each square inch of plywood to create what we have in the galleries now.

Things got hectic in the sardines tin-sized shop I worked in.

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My stress level peaked when I almost cried in front of a volunteer. It was a week before installation and we still had a lot to complete. The wind was not cooperating as I was painting the 4’ x 8’ wood scrims outside with a paint gun. Everything kept clogging; the tarp kept hitting the blotches of wet paint that spewed out of my paint gun.  Heather Billie volunteered to help me sand the wood scrims –there was a lot of sanding to be done.  Her shift ended at 2 and at 1:45 seeing all the work to be done I whispered under my breadth, “I think I’m about to cry”. To my embarrassment, Heather heard me and responded, “Please don’t cry Nora. I can stay a bit longer”. “Just leave and don’t ever look back Heather. It’s over. We are doomed” – is what I wanted to say. But instead I mustered a batch of optimism and reassured her that we were going to be alright.

I let a little tear go after she left.

After letting my internal walls collapse I reorganized myself and had a talk with Rebecca Fell, Curator of Exhibits. “We need more souls.. I mean people – to help out”. Thanks to many people from all departments we were able to fabricate and install the exhibit. Fabricating is my favorite part of my job and I was not going to let my anxiety get in the way of enjoying what I love to do. Along the way the team took photos of the process. I decided to create a couple of memes to remember these wonderful experiences even if it means poking fun of myself because once you cry in front of a volunteer you don’t have much to lose.

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But now that the mayhem is over, it’s time to enjoy the result!  Come out this Saturday, January 16, from 1-3pm to enjoy our exhibit, refreshments, and entertainment!