KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The hunting rifle of “Black Bill” Walker, founder of Walker Valley and subject of many Smoky Mountain legends, is set to go on public display for the first time in nearly 100 years.
The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center in Townsend is preparing to publicly display the rifle, nicknamed “Ol’ Death” by Walker after it was donated to the Heritage Center in April.
The rifle has been in a private collection since the 1930s.
“This rifle has considerable provenance from its owner and use in the present Great Smoky Mountains National Park, GSMNP. The rifle was the property of William Marion Walker (born 1838, died 1919) known as ‘Black Bill’ Walker a prominent nineteenth and early twentieth century resident of the Tremont section of the GSMNP. He was a lifelong resident of the mountains who thrived by hunting, gardening, bee keeping, logging, and trading and buying land.
A larger-than-life character, Walker is featured in numerous hunting adventures and mountain living stories in the Smokies. He is pictured with the rifle in several books, articles and stories, many told by Walker. The rifle was given the name ‘Ol’ Death’ in these stories by Walker.”Randal Pierce, author of Kentucky Rifles of the Great Smoky Mountains
Randal Pierce, the author of Kentucky Rifles of the Great Smoky Mountains, and noted firearms collector, Ben Barrington, thoroughly documented the collection of Walker items and photographed them for the Heritage Center.
Pierce shared that the rifle was inherited by Walker’s grandson, who would go on to sell the gun. It would eventually end up in a New York City auction in the 1930s. According to Pierce, it was bought by Heath Steele, who had stayed with Walker and was intrigued by his stories about the rifle. The rifle would stay with the Steele family until April 2023 when it was donated to the Heritage Center.
“The rile is an early Southern Kentucky Rifle, according to the Heritage Center. It is complete with a period ramrod and shooting accessories. The powder horn, cap horn, and powder measure are personalized with Walker’s initials and markings.
Pierce and Barrington also are assisting in displaying the items for the “Tastes of the Smokies” fundraising event on Saturday, June 3, 2023, at the Heritage Center. According to a release from the Heritage Center, this will mark the first public display of “Ol’ Death” in nearly a century.
The Walker items will be put on permanent display as a part of a new gallery that is currently being created. The new gallery is expected to open in 2025. In addition to “Ol’ Death”, the Sam Keller Cabin, which was reconstructed inside the new gallery space by the Barnwood Builders television show, will be on display.
Tickets are currently on sale for the “Tastes of the Smokies” are on sale at gsmheritagecenter.org/events-tickets/. In addition to the “Ol’ Death” display, the event will feature food and drinks from over a dozen Smoky Mountain eateries, living history demonstrators throughout the Center’s historic village, and an evening concert by the Drift Boat Cowboys.