Four feet long with 32-inch barrels and a walnut stock, a rifle that was handcrafted in Arkadelphia, Ark., has now returned home 140 years after it was made.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Lawrence B. “Larry” Smith donated the gun to Ouachita Baptist University to be added to the Riley-Hickingbothom Library’s special collections. It joins other memorabilia significant to the university, to Clark County and to Baptists as well as historical documents and political papers from the late Sen. John L. McClellan, former Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Rep. Jay Dickey.
“Homecomings are always special events, and this is no exception,” said Dr. Ray Granade, Ouachita’s director of library services. “We’re grateful to Larry Smith for making it possible.”
Smith’s father acquired the gun in 1966 from a family member and displayed it in his home office desk until his death in 1989, when Smith took possession of it and moved it into storage.
The firearm was made by Barney Paynter, who moved to Arkadelphia in 1853, at the age of 25. He was an artisan who taught at least two others his craft sometime before his untimely death in 1869. Paynter was the only gunsmith in Arkadelphia at that time, and he became the technician in charge of the Arkadelphia (Confederate) Ordinance Works.
“In all likelihood, he made this hunting piece prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1861, when all his efforts were directed toward ensuring that the two companies of Confederate soldiers enlisted in Arkadelphia had sufficient weapons with which to fight and that they all worked properly,” Granade explained.
Once the university has restored the gun, officials will put it on public display. Other examples of Paynter’s work are in various private collections as well as museums. However, this is the only over-under rifle by this artisan that is in a collection available for public viewing.
“While this firearm may or may not be unique, it is certainly a rare example of the work done by a skilled gunsmith in Arkadelphia about a century and a half ago,” Granade noted. “Artifacts like this help us recapture life as those who came before us lived it, help us understand life’s continuity over the ages in this place and help us grasp the sense of hope and faith in the future that such a perspective offers.”
by Rebecca Rambin