Domonique Baldwin, Glenn Boyles, Celso Espinoza, Lisa Li
In April 2012, a descendant of the famous Chang and Eng Bunker twins donated an artifact that has greatly enriched the Bunker Twins exhibit at the UNC Wilson Special Collections Libraries. Dr. Vance Haynes, a professor of archaeology at the University of Arizona, donated a 0.41 caliber rifle belonging to his great-grandfather, Chang Bunker. The rifle is in excellent condition and will likely shed new light on the lives of these legendary figures.
Chang Bunker’s 19th century rifle was most likely made by popular gunsmith Jacob Kunz of Philadelphia as indicated by the markings “J. Kunz Philad” along the barrel of the gun. Kunz was highly revered as a talented gunmaker and was known for his intricate, artistic designs and for his high quality guns. The gun itself was handcrafted and the screws have been dated to sometime during the 1830’s. It has been claimed to date specifically to 1837. The gun is a .41 caliber rifle with percussion cap ignition and an octagonal barrel and double set triggers. It has a cheek rest on the left side of the stock and a decorated patchbox on the other, used to store cleaning accessories for the rifle. The gun was made with aged Black or English Walnut wood which gives it its refined, classy look (Armstrong). The rifle displays characteristics of the Kentucky rifle, or the American longrifle, such as the decorative patch box and long barrel (The American Longrifle). This rifle has been thought to be valued around $10,000. A similar rifle was seen featured on Bonhams, a British auction house that specializes in fine art and antiques. This other rifle was also made by Kunz for Chang. Both rifles were made during the same time period and had a very similar style, specifically the style of the handmade screws, and the hammer of the rifle. The second rifle was claimed to have been sold for $9,945.
Engraved on the top portion of the rifle near the ignition trigger, are the initials of Chang’s son, Christopher Wren Bunker. The personal engraving suggests that the gun was commissioned and purchased by Chang. This detail suggests that the gun was likely a gift from Chang to Christopher, who was his first son. Furthermore, the gun was estimated to have been received between 1840-1850, which coincides with the time of Christopher’s birth in 1845 (Irving 1976). According to details surrounding Christopher’s life, the gun can be speculated to have been a fitting gift. In letters to his sister, Nancy Adelaide, Christopher revealed that he enlisted in the Confederate army at the tender age of 18 and took his service to the Confederacy very seriously (Gerard 2012). Having acquired proficiency with guns in the war, Christopher would have likely appreciated such a gift from his father. Men passing down hunting rifles to their sons as family heirlooms was a Southern tradition and cultural norm (Wilson et al. 1229), which also reflects Chang’s receptiveness to Southern culture.
A less likely possibility is that the rifle was a gift from one of the twins’ wealthy fans, though Chang and Eng were constantly given gifts while touring. In any event, the popularity of Kunz’s work combined with the high quality craftsmanship and intricate detailing on the stock of the weapon suggests that the rifle was very expensive. The wealth that the Bunker twins accumulated during their career assures us that the rifle was valuable.
According to Dr. Vance Haynes, great-grandson of Chang Bunker, the rifle was mostly used for hunting. The rifle’s long barrel makes it equipped for long range shooting, and the twins reportedly took “pleasure in hunting squirrels and birds” (Elliott). Haynes’ speculation about the use of the gun fits well with the location and time period in which the Bunkers settled. The rural South, including northwestern North Carolina, was largely unsettled compared to the industrial northern states before the Civil War. There were ample hunting grounds and abundant wildlife, making the South famous for sport (Schullery 64-65). In fact, the draw of hunting and outdoor sport may have been a factor in the twins decision to settle in Wilkes County in the first place. In 1839, the twins met Dr. James Callaway while touring in New York and Callaway invited the twins to his home in Wilkesboro, NC. Weary from exhibitions and life on the road, the twins took Callaway up on his offer and travelled to Wilkesboro to hunt with him (Ayers). Clearly the hunting excursion left quite an impression if it was a factor in the twins’ decision to settle in Wilkes County. A primary document written by an author who knew the twins personally commented, “They are extremely fond of shooting and fishing, and are considered very expert sportsmen. The forests, which are extensive in this part of North Carolina, abound in game, and afford them with abundant facilities for the pursuit of their favorite recreation” (Strong 1853).
An interesting side story noted in a primary document featuring the twins implies that this rifle was potentially involved in an incident which helped the Bunkers establish credibility with their neighbors. Around the time the twins first settled down in Wilkes county, locals in the region were apparently terrorized by wolves, namely a certain “Bob-tail…rendered himself the terror of the country,” and all attempts to capture the creature proved futile because “no one was ever lucky enough to get a successful shot at him.” According to the account, Chang and Eng were aroused from slumber one night by noise from livestock. Speculating that the wolf was culprit, the twins “…seized a gun, and accompanied by a negro hastened out to interfere with the matter.” They were successful in killing the creature, a feat much admired by their new neighbors. This particular author noted, “Of course, Chang and Eng gained considerably in the estimation of their neighbors by this achievement” (Strong 1853). It was interesting that the Bunker twins seemed to have an affinity to animals. One account describes a wild horse that others had not managed to tame. The twins went into the woods where the horse had been and within a few minutes, the twins returned with a very docile horse following behind them. This supports that the twins had an interest in sport that involved animals and could indicate a possible natural talent possessed by the twins.
If this rifle’s primary purpose was in indeed hunting, the gun can give us insight into the twins’ social lives. During the South’s antebellum period, common men hunted to supplement their food and money supply and escape their laborious daily routine. On the other hand, wealthy planters and landowners hunted purely for recreation and it was often indicative of power and status (Wilson et al. 1228-1229). The Bunker twins were not as wealthy as the major plantation owners of the time, but did own slaves and a sizeable amount of land. Perhaps hunting was not only a favorite pastime of Chang’s, but also a means to express his wealth and status. The twins’ remarkable ability to manage themselves and acquire fame in a foreign, intolerant country certainly provides grounds to celebrate their success.
Alexander Armstrong, a rifle expert that UNC libraries consulted, is skeptical that the rifle was used solely for hunting. He notes that Chang’s rifle is reminiscent of rifles used in large scale shooting matches in Europe and speculates that the rifle was made for and used in Chang and Eng Bunker’s exhibitions. Although no information has surfaced to prove that this particular rifle was used in exhibitions, the brothers evidently did participate in shooting matches. A reporter for the Southerner wrote that the twins often “attended the local shooting matches, where turkey or beef was the reward for the best marksman.” The rifle would have been well suited for use in shooting and marksmanship matches considering some of its technicalities. It has a “pull set” trigger designed for increased long range accuracy and, according to Armstrong, a practical firing range of 300-400 yard using a conical bullet.
In addition to its length the rifle is also front heavy and would be difficult, but not impossible to fire standing. Although the handling and maneuvering of this rifle would prove difficult for anyone, it would seem to present a peculiar challenge for the Bunker twins. Primary accounts on the twins indicate that Chang’s height only reached 5 feet and 1 inch, weighing 110 pounds. His small stature would have made wielding the weapon even more challenging, however, similar reports also state that the twins possessed “extraordinary physical strength” (Moreheid 1850). According to a biographical pamphlet entitled, A Few Particulars Concerning Chang-Eng, Chang and Eng are described as “expert[s] in the use of a gun.” Additional primary resources even note that the twins had the skill to capture large game from time to time. “…[the twins], tolerable good shots… are fond of hunting birds, squirrels, and once had the pleasure of killing a deer” (Moreheid 1850). The same Southerner reporter previously noted claimed that they had “acquired reputations as crack shots with rifles or pistols” and were “more adept than a single man.” A primary document features twins with rifles and illustrates how the two would have held their guns. In the flyer the twins are seen with the curved butt portion of the stock resting on their shoulder as they fire the rifle (“Chang” and “Eng”).
An Account of Chang and Eng, The World Renowned Siamese Twins. New York: T. W. Strong, 1853. North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Armstrong, Alexander. Siamese Twins Rifle: Initial Observations. 24 July 2012. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 28 October 2012.
Ayers, Annette. “Chang and Eng Bunker: Surry County’s Original Siamese Twins.” NCpedia. 2008. Web. 28 Oct. 2012. <http://ncpedia.org/biography/bunker-twins>.
“Chang” and “Eng” The World Renowned United Siamese Twins. 1860. Lithograph on paper. North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel HIll, NC.
Elliott, John M. A Few Particulars Concerning Chang-Eng, The United Siamese Brothers. 1838. Paper Pamphlets. North Carolina Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.
Gerard, Philip. “Indivisible: Chang and Eng Bunker.” Our State Magazine. Our State Magazine, Nov. 2012. Web. 01 Nov. 2012. <http://www.ourstate.com/chang-and-eng-bunker/>.
Jack, Emily, Linda Jacobson. Ordinary Objects, Extraordinary Lives: Past and Recent Gifts Portray Public, Private Affairs of Bunker Twins. Chapel Hill: North Carolina Collection Gallery. 2012. Print.
Moreheid, J. Domestic Habits of the Siamese Twins. Prairie du Sac, Wis.: Express Press, 1978. Print.
Schullery, Paul. The Bear Hunter’s Century. 1st ed. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1988. Print.
Strauss, Darin. Chang and Eng : a Novel. New York, N.Y.: Plume, 2001. Print.
“The American Longrifle.” American Longrifles. AAAV, LLC, 2005. Web. 29 Oct. 2012. <http://americanlongrifles.org/american-longrifle-kentucky-rifle-story.htm>.
Wilson, Charles R et al. Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1989. Print.