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Jesse Holder (1910 - 1989)
Posted by: Caleb Teffeteller (ID *****4419) Date: October 20, 2009 at 20:38:28
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Below article taken from the booklet: "Growing Up On Coker Creek, A History of Arts & Crafts through Mountain Heritage," by Leslie Copeland-Wells, 2008:

"Jesse Holder, Rifle Maker---Born August 12, 1910, in a cabin on Wildcat Creek, [Monroe Co. TN] about three miles from Coker Creek center, Jesse learned farming from an early age. Jesse attended school through his Sophomore year and went on to raise cattle, sheep, hogs and honey bees, using horses to plow the land and to pull logs for his mill. Early in Jesse's years he made a little moonshine and did a bit of bootlegging. But soon enough, Jesse found politics and religion.

November 7, 1933, when Jesse was 23, he married his sweetheart, Rita Dalton, sister of Rube Dalton who was well known for his mountain music. Jesse stayed busy and took good care of his family by logging and running a sawmill. He and Rita had three children; a daughter, Billie, and sons; Jerry and Braudis. In 1957 Jesse and Rita opened their general store, Holder's Store, on Highway 68 about seven miles south of Tellico Plains.

Days were filled with Jesse's political interests, the Republican party, for whom he did much community work; even picking local residents up at home and taking them to vote. You could always get interesting and passionate conversation at the store with Jesse regarding politics as well as other diverse subjects, as Jesse was an avid naturalist who loved the mountains. Jesse's other love was music. He and his wife, Rita, raised the children with music filling their lives. Jesse played guitar, banjo and fiddle and spent many a night with Rita, the children and the Dalton family, playing and singing. Upon his passing, in his will, Jesse left his original Stradivarius violin to a cousin who for many years was Travis Tritt's lead fiddle player, which he played at the Grand Ol' Opry in Nashville.

Jesse added to his list of accomplishments by being a deputy sheriff for eight years under George "Chief" Tallent. Jesse was a man revered by his friends and neighbors and there was nothing he couldn't do.

Jesse had always been surrounded by creative people. So it came naturally in 1970, when his grandson became ill with cancer at 10 years of age, that Jesse sat faithfully by his bedside and started to carve. Jesse's grandfather was a well known gunsmith in Robbinsville, N.C., and now Jesse set out to carve a gun of his own. Jesse carved a muzzle-loading rifle that he named the "Tennessean." His guns became known world-wide and were a perfect copy of the original match rifle. After the gun had been sighted, he could put lead balls in a silver dollar from 60 paces. Jesse took great pride in his work and found his greatest pleasure, not in the money from the sale, but in the look of the buyer's eye when they held their rifle for the first time.

Jesse made approximately 150 rifles, had up to a 10-year waiting list of people wanting one and sold them world-wide. His guns have been made for buyers nation-wide and as far away as Germany and Alaska, even one to a former Governor of South Carolina, and one for former Senator of Tennessee, Bill Brock. The reputation of Jesse's work is so renowned that his guns have been used as a "standard of quality" for regional product commercials by JFG Coffee in which he starred.

Jesse's guns were made in a small shop next to the general store where he stayed near his loving wife, family and friends. Jesse had a letter from Vice-President George Bush dated 1989 amongst a collection of letters and photographs from presidents and politicians of his beloved Republican party displayed at the store. Admirers have painted Jesse with his rifle, taken many portraits and given him many gifts of love over his years. The one thing Jesse never lost was his love and appreciation for small town life. He was once quoted as saying, "They may have better things some places other than the mountains, but I doubt it." Upon his passing on Monday, October 9, 1989, cards were sent from Senators, Governors and state officials with condolences and sympathy as well as love, affection and respect. Jesse has left a legacy that can never be repeated or diminished."

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