Ladies and gentlemen, I am entranced in the old Strange Cemetery as my great-great-great-uncle Dr. Sigel Roush continues to confabulate with me about my great-great-great-grandfather and Russell Station pioneer, George Roush.

I never quite fathom how I can have these sublime colloquies with a cherished relative I’ve never met, a forerunner who departed from this world more than six decades past, but I also never question why they betide. Sadly, these dialogues always come to their ineluctable conclusion. Perchance I can push the proverbial setting sun back up into the sky a little longer this time.

Doc Roush has been waxing eloquent about his dearly departed dad and the place where the Doc grew up, a place he calls the Swamps. He talked about how his father and older brothers had scars that were inflicted by ferocious beasts and ferocious men.

“Doc, please tell me more of what you call the ‘lawless days,” I implore.

“In this miry, inhospitable jungle my parents started life together, a life that held nothing in prospect besides a bare living yielded but grudgingly from the sources at hand, and then only under tremendous pressure,” Uncle Sigel replies. “I have tried to picture these early days in the Swamps – days when my father worked with axe and maul and grubbing hoe and spade to keep the allegorical wolf from the door, while the real marauder was sometimes dispatched in a hand-to-hand encounter, or his depredations ended by a well-aimed bullet from ‘Long Tom,’ the ancient family rifle.”

“Long Tom,” I say. “Nice name.”

“This old fowling piece I remember very well,” the Doc recalls. “To lift it was no easy task for me, even when I was quite a chunk of a boy. But Long Tom was as important an implement of those days as the articles of husbandry, for though the few stray Indians who still roamed the Swamps after the cowing given to them by ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne were more of a nuisance than a menace, still there was meat to be provided for the larder, and Long Tom was generally able to supply this need. This ancient weapon was taller than a man and weighed as much as the elephant gun of modern times. It was, of course, muzzle-loading and took a homemade bullet about as large as a good-sized pea.

“This bullet was wrapped in greased ‘patching,’ a piece of muslin that had been dipped in melted tallow, after which it was inserted into the muzzle of the gun,” Doc Roush continues. “Then with a long, slender, hickory ramrod, it was rammed down upon the charge of powder that had been previously emptied from the powder horn into the muzzle of the gun. These ramrods, because of their small size and great length, would frequently break in ramming home the bullet.

“This was sometimes tragic, especially in face of danger, for it became necessary then to make a new one before the gun could again be loaded. And it was no small task to fashion and finish these ramrods, for they had to be made of a straight-grained piece of tough hickory clear of knots and capable of being rounded and scraped to exactly the size of the bore of the gun. Otherwise, they would the more easily break.”

“Considering your father lived a long life, he and Long Tom probably were close friends,” I surmise.

“My father, like other pioneers of his time, was a good shot. Indeed, considering the primitive weapon he used, it seems to me in looking back across the years, some of his shots were little less than marvelous,” Sigel says. “This same primitive gun is still in the possession of the family, and only a few years ago I handled it, and the wonder of those shots grew greater as I compared it with the present-day arms. And yet even in my time, I remember my father, then past middle life, holding this heavy rifle without a rest and firing the bullet squarely into its target.”

“I would assume you have fired Long Tom, Doc,” I say.

“My father was always ready to test his skill at shooting with us boys, all of whom became, from the very nature of things, good shots,” the Doc recalls. “And up to the time his eyesight began to fail him in his 70s, he was usually victorious in these shooting matches.”

Let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next week.

Steve Roush is a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at