At the Mountain Man Rendezvous, Wilkinson tells the crowd that settlers on the American frontier used the report produced by packing black powder beneath an anvil to imitate cannon fire and ward off Indian attacks. Southerners, meanwhile, claim the practice evolved during the Civil War, when Union troops attempted to destroy Confederate weapon-making capabilities by blowing up every anvil they encountered.
Postman, though, says the practice dates back further, to the late 1700s: "It goes back to Revolutionary War times. They'd fire it mainly for noise: It really makes a bang for Fourth of July, Christmas -- any holiday or celebration."
These days anvil shooting usually transpires at obscure community festivals. The Mountain Man Rendezvous has featured an anvil-shooting exhibition for nearly twenty years. Until recently the town of Millington, Tennessee, hosted a popular anvil-shooting contest at its Goat Days Festival. The contest in Laurel began at the Jones County Forestry and Wood Products Expo before moving to a private farm.
Despite their shared implement, anvil shooters and contemporary blacksmiths have not forged a common bond. About a decade ago, the Artists Blacksmith Association of North America, whose membership of 5,000-plus makes it the largest blacksmiths' group in the United States, banned the practice because of safety concerns.
"We lost a good six or seven hundred members because of that decision," says Rome Hutchings, president of the organization. "The board took action and disavowed several rogue chapters that continued that activity."
Hutchings can't recall a specific incident or injury that prompted his organization to outlaw anvil shooting, but he heatedly defends the policy. "It's dangerous," he says. "It's probably one of the more dangerous things that can be done. I've heard reports of anvils coming down on top of people's cars, anvils flying apart, near misses with human beings.
"It's really not a sensible thing to do with an anvil."
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