By Carl Keith Greene/Staff Writer
Saturday morning at 10 a.m., the smell of exploded black powder, the sound of muzzle-loaders and cheers following bulls-eye shots will fill the air at the 63rd annual Daniel Boone Festival at Barbourville.
Daniel Boone and his company, Dr. Thomas Walker and his followers and most of the pioneers coming across the Cumberland Gap carried the long rifle for protection as well as fulfilling the need for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The tradition of the long rifle shootout at the festival goes back to 1963, when it came time to determine, once and for all, which was the better shot with the long rifle, Pennsylvanians or Kentuckians.
And the tradition continues each year on Lay Field behind Knox Middle School.
Forty-five years ago, David Cornett, who manages the annual shootout, said Tuesday he had his first taste of black powder at the festival.
He even has a photo of himself at 17 made that day with a long rifle in hand, he said.
A couple of years earlier, Kentucky Gov. Bert Combs and Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton got together and set up the shootout.
Cornett explained that there had been a long-standing argument between the states, both commonwealths by the way.
“We called it the Kentucky rifle and they called it the Pennsylvania,” and a feud between the states developed. The rifle “actually came down through Pennsylvania, but the Kentuckians refined it. The man lived in Kentucky who had actually engineered the long rifle and perfected it,” Cornett said.
So the governors got together and made a little wager.
And that’s how the long-standing shootout at Barbourville each October came about.
In the challenge made by the governors they said, “You bring your best shooters from Kentucky and Pennsylvania.” They flipped a coin and Kentucky turned out to be the shootout site.
Since Daniel Boone was so good with the long rifle, it was decided the Daniel Boone Festival was the most suitable location.
The Kentucky Corps of Long Rifles, along with some good Knox County men, made up the Kentucky team and the shootout filled the air with smoke and lead at what was then the Knox Central High football field.
“They decided it there, with Kentucky winning the bragging rights,” Cornett said.
Depending on the weather there have been 30 or more shooters at the annual event.
“We have the best marksmen from Kentucky, Indiana and Tennessee,” he said.
Shooters can win prizes of as much as $100 in several categories.
In the long rifle shootout and round shooting contests first, second and third place shooters will be honored.
There’s novelty shooting and pioneer dress contests for men, women, boys and girls.
Last year in the long rifle shootout, Ance Wagers placed first, Hobart Hensley and Wayne Howard second and third.
In round shooters Wagers won first, second and third, Scott Cornett second and Hensley third.
Scott Cornett won first in novelty and Hensley in flint shootout.
Best eastern dressed man was Charlie Hobbs; woman, Cassie Tye; boy and girl, Jonathan and Amanda Gambrel.
And after the shootout the riflemen participate in the parade, firing off an occasional blank shot, he said.
Before the shootout people start arriving about 8 and 9 a.m. “Some people travel 250 to 300 miles to get there that early. It’s just a dedicated bunch of people.”
“You know Kentucky has the best shooters in the nation,” David Cornett said in the end.
By Carl Keith Greene/Staff Writer
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