Saturday, February 21, 2015


 A while back, I got a call from James Whisker, saying he was looking at two rifles, and he was sure they were from West Virginia. However, the signature on both of them, he had not encountered before.  He said the fellow that had them would be heading my way in a few days, and I should look at them.  Well, to make a long story short, we inspected the rifles and had to agree with James, that they were made somewhere  around  these parts.
Click image for larger view

 Both rifles were signed "S K N," in script. Well, a friend and fellow student of West Virginia Rifles from the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia, as well as myself started going through the census records. We followed up on every S K N we could find and eliminated the ones that just did not make any sense.  There were two that we worked our way down to, and I was favoring the one while my friend favored the other.

 When we found  a Samuel K Nelson listed as gunsmith in the 1860 census, we knew we had the maker of these rifles.

Samuel K. Nelson , was born in 1811, in Greenbrier County, WV. He moved to Pendleton County with his parents.  There, he was a Farmer, mill owner, and gunsmith.  Engraved on silver inlay, under the cheek piece of one rifle, is the name Adam Keller.  During our research, we found that  Adam Keller was born 1818 in Pendleton County.  Adam and Samuel were married to sisters.  During the Civil War, Adam joined the Swamp Dragons, a Union Guerilla group, or militia.  Samuel was accused of helping the Confederates and making statements against the Union.  He was arrested and spent some time in a Wheeling, WV Prison.  The prison was in a hotel, called Athenaeum.  We found copies of  letters from him and the Union officials relating to this matter. He finally obtained his freedom by posting  bond and pledging his allegiance to the Union.

              (partial excerpt)                                                          " Post Head Quarter,  Petersburg, VA  27 June 1862

     Deposition of Amos Shirk,
I Amos Shirk do solemnly swear that I heard Samuel K. Nelson say if any man reported him to the "Union Forces" and he should be ---- or have the opportunity he would kill the one who reported him and further that he would rejoice in the opportunity of shooting or stoning the Yankees and that from his whole conversation that he appears a very strong secession's  Amos Shirk.
Sworn before me this 27th day of June 1862  
        C.W. Sheaver Capt
          ? counseling ? Post

                      Deposition # 2
Deposition of William Shreve,
    I Wm Shreve do solemnly  swear that I was in the confederate camp, in the "Upper Tract" Pendleton Co. VA with Samuel K. Nelson, and heard him report one Adam Carr, as being a dangerous Union man and proposed to lead the rebels to the house of said Carr for the purpose of arresting him and that he expressed his regret that John Carr son of Adam Carr who had been arrested by the rebels had been released declaring that if he had been in camp sooner he would have been retained and further that the said Sam K. Nelson expressed the opinion that the "Black Flag" should be raised in Virginia and every Union man should be put to death."
        (signed)                                  William Shreve
                                                       X  his mark
Sworn before me this 27th day of June 1862
                                          C.W. Sheaver, Capt
                                            ?  Counsel? Post



 Maj Gen Halleck                                                July 14, 1862

     "Dear Sir I thank your honor of communicating to me the charges against me it is the most notorious false hood that man ever was charged with    I am able to prove by my neighbors that I am falsely accused and if you will please allow me the liberty of hiring a man to go to my neighborhood I can convince you and all who may desire of my innocence   I can prove I have kept my Union neighbors hid from the secesh and knew where they were all the time and I can prove that I was not for war in no respect and that it would be wisdom to ???? our new president   now the fact is that I can get every person

in my neighborhood to sign a petition for me as a peaceable citizen  I can hire a man here to go for me if you will be so kind as to let me have the chance  Now I will inform you the nature of that report of me threatening -- it was a company of what we call Swamp dragons who was some that belonged to the south and run off and joined the north and is new so -- of them at home in army against both sides and a man named Isaac Carr who was mad at me before the war was thought of said he would give them fifty dollars if they would catch me so I said if they came to disturb I would shoot some of them  they are not Union me but terrorists to all and my Union neighbors? they not suffer it done ? to me  Now this man is not believed on oath and is always been called a busy body  if you will give me the liberty to send I will bring certification enough to convince you that I am clear of any such thing as to disturb any Union   I beg of your ? excell?? the honor of letting me know if you will give me a chance or not  
   I am your very respectful servant
            Sam K. Nelson
   To the Hon Major Darr provost"
                                       RECOMMENDATION FOR HIS RELEASE


Adam Keller  left here while the war was still going on, possibly  fearing for his life.  Adam was  in Missouri for a while, but things there must have been as bad as here. He finally settled in Iowa.  In Iowa, he spent the rest of his days as a farmer.  Dying there in 1888.

Samuel K. Nelson died May 22 1880.

 After consulting with several collectors and students of the longrifle,  these two rifles currently are the only known work of Samuel K. Nelson. If you have a rifle signed "S K N," or "S Nelson," please contact us. We would like to see more of his work.
Note, Samuel K Nelson can be found in Pendleton, Hardy & Grant County Census. For some reason he is actually in both  the Pendleton & Grant County in 1870. Reporting at Upper Tract for Pendleton, and Milroy District for Grant.

Special thanks to James Whisker for bringing these rifles to our attention. 

Thanks to  Billie Jane McInernery  a descendant of Adam Keller for helping us with the research & helping us put the puzzle together.