Vincennes, Indiana – March 7, 2012 – The first sheriff in what became the State of Indiana, John Small (1768 – 1821), was not only a militia captain, tavern-keeper and territorial legislator; he was also a master artist and craftsman, particularly as a gunsmith.
Grouseland Foundation, stewards of the President William Henry Harrison Home, “Grouseland,” in Vincennes, Indiana, is proud to own one of only six known remaining long rifles made by John Small, the first sheriff of Knox County, Indiana, at a time when Knox County extended across the current states of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan.
House Bill 1283 in the Indiana General Assembly, which passed on March 6, 2012 by a vote of 78-2, was amended by Sen. John Waterman (R-39,Sullivan) to designate the “Grouseland Rifle” as the official rifle of Indiana. The legislation was co-authored in the House of Representatives by Rep. Kathy K Richardson (R-29, Noblesville), Rep. Matt Pierce (D-61, Bloomington), and Rep. Thomas E. Saunders (R-54, Lewisville). Senate sponsors were Sen. Beverly Gard (R-28, Greenfield), Sen. Vi Simpson (D-40, Bloomington) and Sen. Lindel Hume (D- 48, Princeton).
State Senator John Waterman (R-Shelburn), stated, “What makes this story particularly interesting, and why I believe the Grouseland Rifle is worthy of being named the Indiana State Rifle, is because John Small was also commissioned by William Henry Harrison to design the Seal of the Indiana Territory – which later became the Indiana State Seal.”
Waterman continues, “We do not know if this rifle was carried in a famed frontier battle, but it most certainly provided food and protection to a pioneer family of early Indiana. This rifle and its maker are both integral parts of Indiana history and as such, the rifle is worthy of its designation as the Indiana State Rifle.”
John Small came to the American colonies with his family from Ireland in 1768 and was raised in Pennsylvania. At the age of 14, he had begun his career as a gunsmith, serving at Fort Pitt and as a militia soldier during the American Revolution.
Small moved to Vincennes by 1785 and established himself as a merchant and gunsmith. He was appointed an officer of the local militia and in April 1786, led a force of mounted militia into a fight with Piankeshaw Indians, which became known as the Battle of the Embarras.
In 1788, Small opened a tavern on the banks of the Wabash which was eventually used as the first Knox County Courthouse between 1790 and 1794, and the Indiana territorial legislature met there before the territorial capitol building was built around 1805. In 1797, Small established the first ferry across the Wabash River from his tavern property.
In 1799, Small was the last representative of Knox County to the Northwest Territory Legislature just before the Indiana Territory was founded in 1800. The following year, he was appointed Surveyor of Lands for Knox County and served as Adjutant General of the territorial militia under Governor Harrison.
John Small made the “Grouseland Rifle” sometime between 1803 and 1812 during the “Golden Age” of these long barreled rifles. Small’s Grouseland Long Rifle is unusually long (61 ½”), slender and graceful. It has elaborate pierced silver and brass inlays. The octagonal barrel has a silver plate on the top marked “Jn. Small Vincennes.”
John Small was considered a master woodworker, ironsmith, and his brass and silver work show he was the equal of any artisan of the period. As a silversmith he has been called the Paul Revere of the frontier.
Special features on the rifle include the round silver medallion engraved with the emblem of the United States and the angel Gabriel on the brass patch box (opposite the medallion). The delicate silver inlay strung atop the gun butt is representative of only the finest craftsmanship.
The rifle was purchased by the Grouseland Foundation in 2004, and is on display at the Harrison Mansion (3 West Scott Street, Vincennes). One John Small Rifle, which was owned by William Clark (of Lewis & Clark), is on display at the Missouri Historical Society and was possibly carried throughout the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
For more information or for interview requests contact Grouseland, c/o Daniel Sarell, 3 West Scott St. Vincennes, IN 47591; Grouseland@sbcglobal.net; (812) 882-2096.
William Henry Harrison’s “Grouseland” is open for tours daily from 10:00 – 5:00. The Mansion was the first brick home built in Indiana (1804), and is a National Historic Landmark.