John Koch


John Koch,gunsmith. Sept. 2, 1919 .

I called on Mr.John Koch at his shop on Market Square,Rock Island, this morning,and took his picture. In another month he will be 90 yrs. of age.(He is no relative of Michael,and Anthony Koch who are related to the Weyerhaeusers') We met in Longview park,later,for the interview.

" Well,I was thinking of something.I expect to get some reward for telling you;for coming up here and telling you my experiences in the gun trade.I won't ask very much;streetcar fare.I won't ask much;give me a quarter and I'll tell you my experience in the gun trade(I gave him a quarter),for an old man of 90 years ought to have something when he does something to come up here in a hurry x I say,for a man who is 90 years old he don't like to work hard.

"At the beginning I repaired guns.Of course I learned it first. Had to learn.I learned the trade in Switzerland in a small village of the name of Truebach. I explain that to you now.It is called Truebach.

are two There xxxxxsmall rivers;one comes from the mountain,in german it is called Gonzen and near the place where there is iron what they call---well,they take the iron ore out.When you come up a little creek--a little creek starts on the place which is called Real. Real(or Read) means a place where the grass grows a foot or so,high.It's not for feeding the cattle.It grows like straw,a [] inch thick.It's a pretty hard thing for a boy barefoot,to get through.Still a cow goes through and takes the top of it off.Not far from it is x deep grass where the horses & cattle eat.Not far from there is Lauterbach.Now, I'll explain that "Lauter" in german means clear like that paper you're writing on. "Bach" is a creek--water--Well,two of them would drive a mill.The Lauterbach runs steep over a mountain.At one place it goes over a long smooth flat rock and then it turns and then it goes like a place ,and then it goes inxx a channel .The "bach" itself made a channel. Then it goes down the side of a mountain till it comes to a valley at the foot of the mountain.I tell you that fact so xxx short as I can Well, the over part of the mountain has meadows where they bring up cattle and feed them in winter time and the manure they spread all around so the ground will be rich.They they have different kind of timber--oak,ash,walnut--a black walnut,but it's different.It's what we here call the English walnut.That part of the timber is a good deal there.The other side of the mountain is called "All Vier" in german----all four,.Below the mountain,below the All Vier,at the left side there starts a brook--no,you change that.I got that wrong.

I was born at Truebach--We come after a while to my place--at the left is Gonzen and the Allvier--four mountains,Lauterbach at the left(Mr.Koch continues in minute detail about a pine forest and another very pitchy and does not rot in a thousand years.I can't remember the name and the brook runs through xxxx all that.)

Now you got my location .There was my home where I was born.My father asked me if I wanted to learn the blacksmith trade.I said Yes.

My grandfather was a locksmith.He had a right good business and really, and he had a big name for a locksmith . He went to cities where there were locksmiths by the dozen and he did a good deal of work,and I helped him once in a while.My brother and I made rivets like he made them,and grandmother,she saw it sometimes and when we were older I went up with my grandfather.--

The time came when he died.He had a blacksmith shop and did locksmith work and when he was buried there were two sisters on which fell the property.One was Anna Mueller and the other was of course Magdalena Mueller---and the one son,too.I came near forgetting.If I talk too quick let me know--they wanted the son to be a blacksmith and sent him to learn the trade in another city about an hour and a half from it.

Well, go ahead,eh?-- Well,he went there and got sick and got consumption.He died on sour cider.He was drinking too much sour cider and it killed him.That was a very great sadness.The Grandmother,when someone came to talk about the son,she wept.

Then my father wanted me to learn the blacksmith trade.I couldn't work long with them because they took everything and father put there an Italian from Trent,Italy,to put them through.He was to teach me,but the only time I learned--and I was eager-- was when he wasn't there. Father didn't know what to do and in conversation with other people--they needed a good gunsmith.

Fouradlerbach,Austria,---Fadoutz,when he did the work for the government--He came and commenced working there and he learned me but he was again a drunkard.When he had a gun finished he got the money and spent it.He wasn't long there when they took everything from him that he had. I worked at it myself when he was gone and he had to leave

Father was a carpenter.I liked the gunsmith trade and I worked on a good many kinds of gun work.We had work on muskets with flintlocks;put in butt piece or tail piece,and the guard and made hammers and the lock plates and almost anything on a musket.

Yes,it wasn't always for the government.We made them for the soldiers.In Switzerland every soldier has to keep his gun at home and his uniform and be just ready to go when he is called.I'll tell you--When they get through learning the drill--they go twice a year for three weeks at a time and then if they have something broken,well,they have to have it fixed and where do they go except the gunsmith.We had to make the hammers and sometimes bore out the gun barrels.I don't think there is anything about a musket that we didn't make.

We used charcoal doing our work and then when our drunkard gunsmith was gone,he said 'Johannis,what shall we do now? I had commenced makingwhat they called flintlock single barrel--at that time they didn't have double barrel guns and rifles--what they called Swiss target rifles.

The musket work was mostly done.I was greatly in favor of working on target rifles because it was more xxxxxxxxxxxxxx particular work.I was very busy at it. When I got cold feet--we had no stove in the place[,] I clapped my hands and went back to work.I made the lock,and the mainspring,that bothered me.I had the rifle a little more than half finished Father was proud of it--He went out and showed it to the people--Well, I don't want to talk about it too much,but father was proud of it and he talked to a merchant in a strange city--Chur in Canton of Grisson, and all at once he said to me 'I talked with Frey(?) and he said he had a place for you'. I was glad.He told me to come along and we walked eighteen miles to that place and when we came there we met him--it must have been toward noon. We had been walking and I got tired and on the way going there we met him--the gunsmith--and father showed him the xxx lock and he turned around and went back to his house and they made a bargain for me to learn the trade,and so I learned the trade there.I was 19 years old,I can show you the book--can you come again and I'll show you how old I was.

I came in the year of 1851,second of May.Came right from Switzerland by way of New Orleans,St.Louis and Rock Island. We went to Paris and Havre.At that time I tell you it was a hard time to go over the railroad.It was more than a motorcycle.We came past Cuba and Florida and on to New Orleans,St.Louis,Davenport.

I brought a rifle with me from Switzerland which I made--a target rifle.Well, I came here and helped my father.He and mother and brother--no sister then--I must have been 21 or 22. I know now,when I commenced learning and had to take a paper I was Nineteen years and I learned two years and early in the New Year we left-----went to Zurich and Zurich to Baden and old Basle and Mihlhausen,Nancy,that I can remember,a pretty good little church(?) fortified and some fine monumants.

No,I helped father build a house--done carpenter work--he built it on Front street,near-- well,now let me see--close on to that machine shop in Davenport.The park is near.

Then he made a shop for me in the cellar xxxxxxxxxxxx in the back of the house.I made two rifles there but I didn't have much customers and I didn't like the place and I didn't sell the rifles right off.

I had trouble in getting material to make the lock and I went to the hardware store and I couldn't get what I wanted but I got the rifles made and they shot good and then I went out and went to a gunsmith by the name of Cochran--I shouldn't wonder but he was an irishman-- still in Davenport and then we fell out about a broken vise--fell out a little and I went and in less than an hour I got another job in Rock Island at old Adolph Dunlap.He was glad and I was too.We was both satisfied. I had to make rifles and I had all the work I wanted till spring.

These were percussion,that is,when I made the rifles in Switzerland they were percussion.The muskets I made in Switzerland were flintlock. They had just made the new invention.

The rifles I made here were regular hunting rifles--not target rifles,with a long stock. I changed the rifles.They were pretty near all flintlock rifles they had here and I changed them by the dozen to percussion. They used the long single barrel shotgun,three or four feet long---the barrel was three or four feet long or longer and they thought that when they had a long barrel it would shoot good.No, not many double barrel.The double barrel came in when the Germans brought them in,and the the English.No.not so much from France but from Belgium.There's a city in Belgium,Lttig,where all the males and females,nearly,are gun makers. They brazed them there,put brass on and from England they came soldered.

No doubt at first the English gun was,I shouldn't wonder,xxxxxxxx about the best gun,but later they made them just as good in Germany.Lttig, France and Italy used to make a good gun with flintlock but afterward and now we don't see any--we see but very few from Italy.That time they made the flintlock,the hammer,all the springs,sear spring and main spring,tumbler,dog(?),but what we now have on the inside of the lock the Italians put on the outside of the lock.

Well, they used to use the rifle.When they went out you could scarcely see anything except the rifle.Only once in a while they'd have a single barrel shotgun.

Adolph Dunlap shot turkey and deer with rifles,or geese and ducks--all rifles.Well, for ducks they afterward came and used a shotgun.

Not a great deal of shooting now.It's very little,toward fall, September,October,November and then in the spring again. In the summer hardly anything.

When you get through with your book let me see what I dictated to you.There might be something wrong.

They have a great deal of target shooting in this country.

Very seldom we bored the barrel.I only made two or three.I suppose they were sent from the Old Country.At first Remington,Colts and some others they bored the barrels out--steel barrels.At first they were made of iron,but later,steel 1919.

O,yes. we made all the gunstocks when I made the gun.At first when I made the rifles I had an awful trouble to get the lock and all the things what they call--- parts(?)

We sent off and got the parts ,but in 1851 we had trouble to get it Generally got it from New York or Philadelphia--those two places.

The main hunters around here? There is not many. The 'Docia,they used to talk about,but the trouble is they drained the swamps.They even bought(?) a strip of land so they had the right to hunt--and then they drained the land". Sept. 2, 1919. ---------*********-------------

Mr.John Koch was a fine old man. I photoed him in his shop,at work at a vise or workbench. He was a very religious man. Rev.Oglevee said that Mr.Koch wished that each church would hold their weekly prayer meetings on different nights so he could atten[d] one every night.

His son,Christian, I believe it was who with Frank Payne,made a boat trip down the Mississippi to New Orleans.Frank tells very interestingly about it.

Christian's daughters, Ruth Harriet(Mar ried in 1953 to Marcus Arelius,has been Young Peoples--girls--work secretary at the Rock Island YWCA and Camp Director at their camp Archie Allen. At Augustana College she was a National championship debater as was also her sister Dorothy A.Koch.

Incidentally.Mr.David Sears one day was reminiscing and spoke of the man for whom John Koch worked.Said Sears:

"Adolph Dunlap and William Bell came,both from Pennsylvania,strangers to each other till they met on the levee at Rock Island.They came in different steamboats.Dunlap was a gunsmith,Bell a carpenter. They went in to old "Nigger Butch's"--a colored man,right down from Mr.Davis' office on 17th St..He had a couple of barrels of whiskey and Bell & Dunlap went in there and got a drink of whiskey,and, every year thereafter they met at the same spot and kept it up till Bell died.Mr.Dunlap and I were school directors together for many yearsand he used to tell me about these things. THAT WAS THE FIRST OLD SETTLERS' SOCIETY,I know of.They weren't drinking men either but everyone drank in those days".


For questions or comments please contact specialcollections@augustana.edu