Guns in the good old days

Jerry Tomkins had every reason to be proud when he pointed to the steering wheel attached to the side of Burlington’s livery barn.

The sign advertised a shooting contest to be held the coming weekend of July 4, 1855.

“John Smith at Distillery Point will host a beef hunt,” the sign declared. “Ten cents a shot at a distance of 100 yards. Free for all guns with a barrel shorter than four feet and free for everyone except Jerry Tomkins.”

Tomkins had been “banned” from the shoot. His prowess with a firearm had become so famous that he was no longer welcome at the many local marksmanship contests that were a feature of every Pioneer Burlington vacation.

Being banned was a great source of personal pride and gave the rejected party ample bragging rights.

Around Burlington

And the Iowans on the frontier loved to show off their guns and their own shooting skills. In those turbulent days, a good weapon provided not only protection and food, but was often a source of entertainment.

By the 1850s, virtually every household had at least one gun, and the most popular weapon was the rifle.

Small arms were still 10 years away from becoming an effective weapon and pistols were suspected to be somewhat harmless.