My name is Erin (I met several of you this summer while we excavated) and I’m excited to get to play show-and-tell with one of the particularly cool things we found this summer. A French gun-flint.
While excavating in the back room of the house, in the kitchen-that-later-became-a-bathroom, Max and I excavated a section of floor that was yellow-ish and hard. As we began to come down through it, we began to notice that there seemed to be a fair amount of artifacts sitting on top of the dark gray floor underneath. We left the objects in place, hoping to get a better idea about what was going on once we had the entire yellow-ish layer removed. What it revealed was neat.
“What was it?” You may be thinking…excitedly?!
It had been dumped onto the surface of the floor. What was neat about it, was that it looked as if someone had taken some kind of trash container and messily tossed its contents across the floor. The trash still seemed to sit in the messy lines that it had been dumped out in.
Among the things we found in the trash were four shoes, several large chunks of bone, window and bottle glass, nails, scrap metal, sticks of wood, ceramic fragments, eggshells, a wooden button and what is probably a French gun-flint.
Gun-flints, for those who don’t know, are bits of knapped stone that fit into the jaws of the cock on early flintlock rifles. The cock slams the piece of chipped stone into a piece of metal called a frizzen, above what’s called a pan. The snap of the flint against the frizzen, creates sparks, which ignites the powder in the pan. If everything goes right this fires the gun.
The gun-flint found in the trash is kinda special for a couple of reasons. First, when the majority of the founding families in Castroville arrived, gun-flints had begun to slide their way out of use by the general public. Archaeologically, we had been finding percussion caps (metal caps that are far more productive at creating sparks than flint and more reliable in inclement weather) fairly frequently in the back yard, but we had not, up to this point, found a gun-flint. Another interesting thing about it was the material it was made from. Gun-flints, for the most part, can be traced back to their countries of origin through their color. French gun-flints are distinctively honey colored.
While we’ve seen other objects that might have come with the original families from Alsace (for example, a European button that likely dates from the same period and may have been worn on the journey over or may have been bought once they got to Texas), this object is unequivocally French. It’s a special French connection that could not have originated in any other place, but France. It’s possible that it too could have been bought, once the immigrants got here, but with the change in technology (the trend towards percussion caps in guns) and because the territory and the local economy most likely had tighter connections to Mexico and Spain (which had their own sorts of gun-flints) and considerably less toward France, it makes more sense that they carried the flint with them across the ocean to the Texas frontier.
It’s also interesting that it ended up in the trash at all. While it has been used, and is pretty worn, it could have been retired and re-used as a fire starting tool. It wasn’t. It could have been kept around as a memory of other times and places. It wasn’t. Their throwing it away might suggest that the flint had little value for the family as a connection to their past. It might also reflect a changing of household technology. It could show that for the people living on the property, percussion caps had more practical value for the future. It makes me wonder if they might have gotten to what would be Castroville, realized that percussion caps made more sense than gun-flints, especially in Comanche territory, and made the change, after using up the one flint they had. They may have decided to buy new guns, or convert the old one(s) into weapons that used percussion caps-whichever decision they made–to buy or convert–really makes little difference.
Their choice seems oriented toward the practical future, rather than the past they were moving away from.
Regardless, in a weird way, a stray bit of France still rested beneath their feet in the kitchen while the family grew and became more American.
Photo 1: Photo of the Kitchen floor with the Trash strewn across it.
Photo 2: Flint-lock mechanism, image reproduced from http://home.insightbb.com/~bspen/flintlockfaq.html.
Photo 3: Gun-flint laying on the surface of the floor. Photo courtesy Maxwell Forton.