The guns with which Buckskin bags these trophies, trinkets and trousers have aroused considerable avarice. One hand-made flintlock rifle, a particularly enviable product of loving craftsmanship, so excited a wealthy Los Angeles businessman that he practically ordered Bill to sell it. When Bill turned down $1,000 and then a blank check, the man raged: "Damn it, you need the money. You do use money, don't you?"
"No," answered Bill. "Not where I live."
The rifle Hart would not sell has a beautifully hand-bored, hand-rifled barrel, a mechanism with a double cock and double-set trigger and an ornately carved mountain mahogany stock. Bored to .45 caliber, the barrel is made of fine Swedish steel.
Accurately described by Buckskin as "a rotating helix driven by fingers on a headblock nailed to a tabletop," the machine used to make that rifle is not one whit more, and is primitive-looking at that. It scarcely seems sophisticated enough to uncork a popgun, yet the rifle it produced shoots with deadly accuracy. "It's nothing but muscle power," Sylvan says, "but I really lay into it. That cutter comes out of there smoking."
Smoother than rosewood, the stock had been blackened with sulfuric acid and rubbed to its lustrous deep-brown finish with the palm of the hand. Its carvings depict the activities of mountain sheep.
"I just make one as I need it, but I don't like to spend less'n a year making a rifle," Hart said, opening the patch button in the stock to show the orange flicker feathers inside. These are used to flick dust and lint out of the mechanism.
Sylvan demonstrated how neatly the flint-tipped hammer struck the frizzen to create a spark, dropping it white-hot into a grain-of-wheat-sized charge of priming powder, and how the firing pan sloped just right to send the resulting fire into the main charge.
The red-striped ramrod is hickory specially cut in East Texas, and even the bright red and green tassels on the accompanying pouch have a specific, if whimsical, purpose. "They might just be decorations," says Buckskin, in one of his frequent indulgences in melodrama, "or you could tie one to a bush and a pursuer would want to fetch up to study on it."
For somewhat more ordinary purposes, the pouch is well equipped indeed. Priming horn, powder horn, "bosers," borers and cleaners, extra flints, rigs to chip flints, vent pickers and scrapers and even a bullet mold pour out of it in splendid profusion.
Following his regular ritual, Hart showed how he pours powder down the muzzle (30 grains), pushes in a bullet on a patch cut from a World War I bandage, and tamps it down a bit with three different "bosers." After ramrodding the patch down to the powder, he tapped the rod lightly "to seat the bullet" and primed the firing pan. One could still see the shiny spot on the spherical lead bullet where the sprue had been filed off. "Oh, yes, I make my own bullets," Sylvan said. "That's simple, but I make my own bullet molds, too." Accompanying this arsenal is a stock of powder and bullets sufficient to fight an Indian war.