2nd Grader Finds Pistol Barrel, Google Unravels Mystery

Alexa Davis, a second grader at D.G. Cooley Elementary School, and her grandmother Susan Browning have a regular circuit that they like to stroll when Alexa  comes to visit after school. “We like to walk down the street to a wooded area near Alexander Drive that hasn’t been developed yet” Susan Browning said. “There is a path that leads through the trees into a rocky area that we like.”

On a recent outing Susan Browning said that she was surprised when Alexa found a heavy, brass object lying near the path.

Alexa Davis shows a replica gun barrel that she found while walking with her grandmother in Berryville, Virginia - Photo Charles Browning

The long, cylindrical object carried the inscription “Joseph Kirner 1807”.

“It was lying on the ground not far from an area where some children had made a fort” Susan Browning said. “I didn’t know if it was valuable or important but I wanted to make sure that it got back to its owner.”

When Alexa and Susan returned home Alexa showed the brass item to her grandfather, Charles Browning. “It was just a metal thing and kind of heavy” Alexa said. “I didn’t know what it was so I showed it to Grampy.”

But neither Charles or Susan had any idea what Alexa’s newly acquired treasure might be.

“I looked in the phone book and couldn’t find any Kirners in Berryville” Susan said. After puzzling over the item Charles decided to take it to Mary Morris, the archivist at the Clarke County Historical.

“When I first saw it, I thought it was the barrel of a pistol” Morris said. “But then we found that one end was closed and it has a rough edge like there was something attached to the closed end that had
broken off. The other exciting thing was the name and date inscribed on the side. It was not corroded, just dirty, so we felt it had not been there but so long, but it is a puzzle…no one, even antique people seem to know what it is.”

Brass barrel is engraved with "Joseph Kirner 1807"

Morris said that she believes the item was fashioned in the late 19th century, not 1807, and guessed that it might be a commemoration piece.

But alas, the magic of the Internet has the power to confirm dreams and to remove them as well.

A Google search of the phrase “Joseph Kirner” quickly reveals a set of two English percussion dueling flintlock pistols with barrels that match the object found by Alexa. According to the website, the reproduction English percussion dueling pistols feature a “Reverend Alexander Forsyth” lock which was the first commercially produced percussion lock.

The dueling pistols have a working action that allows the hammer to be cocked and the trigger pulled – just like the real thing – but are non-firing replicas. The simulated brass barrel is stamped “Joseph Kirner 1807” and comes with a simulated wood stock.

It appears that Alexa found a barrel to one of the guns and that Morris correctly surmised that something had been broken off of the barrel, in this case, the simulated wooden stock.

On hearing the news that her new-found treasure may not really be very old, Alexa took the news in stride. “That’s OK!” she said.

Afterall, an eight year old stioll has plenty of time left to discover more treasures lying alongside the road of life.  Asked if she still might take the item to school for show-and-tell Alexa responded “Maybe…”


  1. Mary T. Morris says:

    Good sleuthing!! Anyone else have a mystery object, or photo? This is what makes history interesting. Thank you, Alexa & Charles, you brightened up a cold January!