(TRINIDAD, COLORADO) Student Gary Yee brought a world of knowledge with him to the acclaimed gunsmithing program at Trinidad State Junior College. He has written dozens of articles for shooting publications and has even written a book. “I’ve had about thirty plus articles published already – historical articles,” said Yee. “Gettysburg Magazine, North and South, Military Collector and Historian, Muzzle Loader, The Skirmish Line and now Crossfire.” The recently-published article in Crossfire Magazine covers the Civil War battle at Glorieta Pass, New Mexico in 1862.
His book, SHARPSHOOTERS (1750-1900) The Men, Their Guns, Their Story, was published in 2009 by Sharpshooter Press. It focuses mainly on black powder weapons from the Revolutionary War up to Civil War and beyond. “You saw,”said Yee, “starting about twenty years ago, a lot of books on sniping and most of it had maybe a chapter or two on the black-powder era and then everything else on modern sniping. And I decided to go the other way.”
This excerpt from the book describes the effect of an early sharpshooter on a battle fought between U.S. and British troops near New Orleans in 1815. The shooter, standing upright and in plain view, dressed in buckskin leggings and a broad-brimmed hat, seemed to play a large part in breaking the resolve of the advancing British forces. A published account by an unknown British officer paints the picture of the first rifle shot.
“At whom had he leveled his piece? But the distance was so great that we looked at each other and smiled. We saw the rifle flash and very rightly conjectured that his aim was in the direction of our party. My right hand companion, as noble a fellow as ever rode at the head of a regiment, fell from his saddle.“
Yee calculated the first shot covered a distance of at least 260 yards.
“The hunter paused a few moments without moving the gun from his shoulder. Then he reloaded and resumed his former attitude. Throwing the hat rim over his eyes and again holding it up with the left hand, he fixed his piercing gaze upon us, as if hunting out another victim. Once more, the hat rim was thrown back, and the gun raised to his shoulder. This time we did not smile, but cast our glances at each other, to see which of us must die. When again the rifle flashed another of our party dropped to the earth. There was something most awful in this marching to certain death.”
Part of the shooting community since high school, Yee had worked as a computer operator, then in law enforcement, then security. “At that time I was Director of Security at the Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco,” said Yee. “I had been reading this stuff for a few years and a friend in the Sheriff’s Department suggested I write an article, and that’s how it became a book. “My study was in the black-powder sharpshooter. And I went to concentrate on the black-powder people because I knew there was a lot of material out there that just hadn’t been researched yet.”
Yee had taken some gunsmithing courses at Lassen College in northern California in the ‘80s and ‘90s and along the way met some people from Trinidad State. “I did a little more research and found this is the place,” said Yee. “It’s probably the best program in the country.“ He retired and enrolled in Trinidad State’s renowned two-year program. Now in his final semester, Yee has learned how to build guns from the stock up. The program includes machining, welding, stock making, bluing and more. “The whole program is so well structured, it’s amazing. They start you out on the basics and assume you know nothing, which is good. If you come in here with an empty mind, they can fill it for you,” Yee explained. “It’s a very well-designed program and the instructors are highly competent. And I think it’s one of the best buys in the country if you want to learn gunsmithing.”
After graduation in May, he plans to stay in the Trinidad area, and hopes to find a niche building custom muzzle load firearms. “There’s a historical aspect that makes it fun, also it’s more difficult to handle a muzzle loader than a modern firearm. You can easily shoot an orange at 100 yards with a .22 rifle. Try that with a flintlock. It’s just more of a challenge.” Yee hopes to sell to people who enjoy historical reenactments. “If you go down to the Whittington Center (New Mexico), they have a huge rendezvous there and at the Ben Avery range near Phoenix they have a huge match there, too. “
Yee is hopeful, but won’t predict if his articles will help him sell firearms. “It’s good to have your name out there. Whether it actually draws in business, remains to be seen. “