“Uncle John Rutledge’s Deer Rifle” – An Exegesis by Brad Smith brad_smith@earthlink.net

October 2008

Granddad (Earl William Smith, b. 1891 in Trenton, Nebraska) provides an “Explanatory note” at the conclusion of his account of the history of “Uncle John Rutledge’s Deer Rifle,” (October 26, 1968) which states, “The patriarch of our particular Rutledge branch is Great Grandfather Jacob Rutledge (b. circa 1800), one of a dozen or so brothers bearing Bible names, and father of William and John Rutledge.”  Granddad is pictured here with the deer rifle and Brad and Bob Smith in 1947 in front of the farm house on Avenida Hacienda in Tarzana , California .

I’m going to begin this account with Jacob Rutledge’s father (Granddad’s Great-Great Grandfather), William Rutledge (b. 1770 in Baltimore , Maryland ).  I mention William because I remember conjecture in family conversations that William was the brother of South Carolina Governor Edward Rutledge (b. 1749), the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence.  My brief research into the matter several years ago failed to substantiate or disprove definitively that William was the brother of Governor Rutledge, but I was left with the impression that he was not.

Granddad’s Great Grandfather, Jacob Rutledge (b. 1805 in Hanford , Maryland ) was the 12th of 13 children of William and Margaret Rutledge.  He married Francis “Fannie” Skinner in 1829 in Perry County, Ohio.  They had five children together.  Our ancestor, William Edward Rutledge (b. 1834 near Somerset, Perry County, Ohio) was the fourth child and John Rutledge (b. 1831 in Perry County, Ohio), the “Uncle John” who is first associated with the deer rifle in Granddad’s account, was the third born.  John Rutledge was married to Mary Carlisle (the “Aunt Mary” in Granddad’s account) in 1856 in Perry County, Ohio.
Granddad’s grandfather, William Edward Rutledge, was married to Louisa Biggs in 1857 in Perry County, Ohio. They had seven children; the first born was Granddad’s mother, Mary Francis “Polly” Rutledge (b. 1858 in Somerset , Perry County, Ohio).  During the Civil War, William was a member of Company H, 160th Ohio Infantry.  The 160th Ohio Infantry organized 12 May 1864 for 100 days of service and left immediately for Virginia where it guarded trains and skirmished with Mosby’s guerrillas.  The unit continued operations in the Shenandoah Valley in charge of wagon trains and with duty at Harper’s Ferry in July and August.  William contacted a serious illness and likely returned to Ohio before the rest of Regiment was mustered out 7 September 1864.  Shortly after mustering out, William, his father Jacob, other members of the household, and another family left Perry County, Ohio in three prairie schooners to join John Rutledge in Taylor County, Iowa.  John had moved to Taylor County, Iowa in 1856.  An 1875 map of the portion of Taylor County that includes the farmsteads of John and William Rutledge is provided below:
Granddad’s mother, Mary Francis “Polly” Rutledge, married William Jarvis Smith in 1876 in Bedford, Taylor County, Iowa.  Polly’s sister, Alice Rutledge (b. 1862), is the Aunt Alice who Granddad said had possession of the rifle before it was found in his mother’s living room in Sharpsburg, Iowa sometime in the 1930s.  (The photograph below (c. 1945) taken in Sharpsburg or Lennox, Iowa is of the three Rutledge sisters: Alice Rutledge, Mary Francis “Polly” Smith, and Kate Jones.)  Granddad’s parents, William and “Polly” Smith, moved from Sharpsburg , Iowa to Hitchcock County Nebraska near Trenton in about 1886.  Granddad, born in 1891, was the youngest of six children, two of whom died in infancy.  Hard times in Western Nebraska over several years from drought, grasshoppers, and low prices for crops caused the family to move back to Taylor County, Iowa in 1894.  They moved back to Bova Ranch, near Trenton in Hitchcock County , Nebraska in 1906, but then again moved back to Taylor County, Iowa in 1911.  Granddad stayed behind a few weeks so he could graduate from Trenton High School , one of 11 pupils in the graduating class.
The Cousin Fann (b. 1859 in Gravity, Taylor County, Iowa) to which Granddad refers in his account as the rightful heir to the deer rifle, was one of Uncle John’s three daughters.  Cousin Fann is believed to be the first female to graduate from Rush Medical College in Chicago .
Granddad’s mother died in 1945 in McCook , Nebraska at which time Granddad arranged for the deer rifle’s shipment to Los Angeles , California .
Granddad bequeathed custodianship of the deer rifle to his son and our Dad, Robert T. Smith and “successive legatees.”  He died in 1969 and Dad assumed custodianship of the rifle.  Dad died in 1995 and the rifle passed into the care of his son, Robert Smith, who will in turn pass the conservation of the rifle to his son, Michael Smith.
One of the reasons Bob asked me to prepare this documentation (or provenance) is to note the use of the rifle in the 1958 Senior Play at Van Nuys High School.  I played the village idiot with the rifle in hand in the production of Green Valley .  The play also included the now well-known actor Stacey Keach, even at that time an accomplished actor with skills considerably more developed than the rest of the cast.  I can be seen in the photo below in front of the tree.  Stacy Keach is on his knee begging for his life; as I recall, he was the villain in the play.  I remember our grandparents generously granting permission to use the deer rifle in the play, while at the same time admonishing me to take good care of it while it was in my custody.

Poor Lo


Granddad writes that, “Without doubt, the old gun was exposed to the sullen features of a wandering Indian from time to time, but never aimed at Poor Lo.”  The image of "Poor Lo" first appeared in 1734 in Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Man. "


  Lo! the poor Indian, whose untutor'd mind

Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;

His soul, proud science never taught to stray

Far as the solar walk, or milky way;


No longer a significant threat to those moving west, the image of the Indian as stupid, indolent, unsophisticated, or profligate gained currency in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The tarnished Indian image conveyed by the term “Poor Lo” could be applied to an individual Indian or a tribe that had, for example, squandered sudden wealth from oil revenues.