The Big Sandy Gun Show Honored Duke Pursley
February 8, 2023
The Big Sandy Gun Show, which took place two weekends ago, featured a memorial display for Duke Pursley. Duke, who passed away last year, was a well-loved neighbor. Keith Hanson, who organized the show, described him (and the Little Sharps Company) as "pillars in the gun community and pillars in the town of Big Sandy."
The display featured examples of Duke's work, photos of him and his wife, and various glowing recollections of his life. One summary of Duke's life described him as a "man for all seasons" while recounting his life as a rancher, a bronco rider, and his work with the Little Sharps Rifle Company. Some of the texts on display were reprinted from the Big Sandy Mountaineer, like the 2016 article describing his induction into the Montana Cowboy Hall of Fame. Robert Lucke wrote at length about Duke's artistic gifts as an engraver and knife maker. Mr. Lucke also described how Duke's engraving work was featured prominently in prestigious events like the New York Knife Show, the Anaheim Knife Show, and the Las Vegas Gun and Knife Show. The various articles told of his life and work, but the displays of his master engraver skills told the story far more effectively than the articles could possible do justice. Examples of Duke's engraving work on Little Sharp's rifles, pistols, and a beautiful .22 caliber Gatling Gun displayed his artistic talents. The intricate designs and engravings that adorned the various guns on the table spoke volumes about Duke's dedication to the engraving craft.
Other unique examples of his artisanship included a horse head hammer, that was added to one Little Sharps' rifle. Duke cast the hammer himself before engraving it and adding it to the rifle. I spoke with Nick Econom, who was a long time friend of Duke's and who brought the rifle to the show. He described it as a particular favorite of his because, "The day he was going to Big Timber to cast it, he stopped at the house and had coffee and showed it to me. And so that's the first hammer that he made. I've never seen any others like it. That's the only one I've seen."
In a way, Nick's recollection of the horse head hammer and some of the stories he shared about Duke acted as their own memorial for a man that Ron Otto described as unique: "There's only one Duke. They broke the mold when they got rid of him." Throughout my time interviewing folks at the gun show that afternoon, I watched as people gathered around the table with his work, photos, and articles. Kari Econom, who also brought one of the Little Sharps Rifles that was in the display, explained that the older generation was doing most of the recollecting: "I know they've been running around telling stories and stuff."
Nick, whose father rode in rodeos with Duke and who knew him for around 60 years, told me about traveling with him to gun shows in Las Vegas and other places and about how he would always engrave knives for all of his grandkids every year.
The articles, displays of his engraving, and stories from longtime friends painted a picture and memorialized a man who Ron described as having "lived life to the fullest." All of it made it clear that Big Sandy was a richer town for his having been a part of it.