A Dyersville-forged firearm that’s been drifting around the country since the start of the Civil War has finally landed back in the hands of the gunsmith’s distant descendant.
Earlier this summer, Bill Heiring came into possession of a 160-year-old rifle made by his great-great-great uncle, John Klocker, after years of negotiation with a Lander, Wyo. gun collector.
The rifle’s return story started simply enough — Heiring’s niece was doing some research on the Klocker family at the Dyersville Area Historical Society when she was offered some interesting information.
“They told her that she might be interested in this rifle,” Heiring recalled. “It had the name ‘John Klocker’ and ‘Dyersville’ stamped on it.”
Since his niece had a limited vocabulary on firearms, she turned the information over to Heiring, who is a bit of a gun connoisseur.
Given Klocker’s propensity to include “Dyersville” on his rifles, inquiries about Klocker-made rifles are a semi-frequent occurrence at the Historical Society, including separate documented probes in 1985, 2010 and 2017. Judy Weber said it’s unclear if these requests pertained to the same rifle.
And luckily for Heiring, the Wyoming collector was no different than other curious information seekers.
“So I contacted him and talked to him for over two years on-and-off,” Heiring said. “First he said, ‘I hardly ever sell a gun,’ but I told him I’d really like to keep it in the family. He said he would consider it, but for two years he wouldn’t put a price on it — but he did tell me if he ever did sell it, he would give me the first chance at it.”
A few months ago, Heiring and his wife were traveling to Colorado to visit some family and decided they would see if they could at least view the gun since they were in the neighborhood.
“I said if you won’t sell it, I would love to come by and take some pictures of it,” Heiring said.
Heiring in turn was extended an invitation, and once on the property, said he was taken back by the well-over-100 antique black powder firearms that were in the gunsmith’s private shop.
After about an hour and a half of conversation, Heiring again made a plea to acquire the rifle, but this time, was surprised by the response.
“He said the only reason he would sell it was because I wanted to keep it in the family,” Heiring explained.
Although you won’t find the Klocker surname in the phone book, the Klocker tie to Dyersville runs deep.
Klocker was born in Doernbirn, Vorarlberg, Tyrol, Austria (city/township/county/state), on Jan 7, 1829.
According to a family history from Wilma Klocker Heiring, three Klocker brothers came to the U.S. in 1854. One of them, Martin, was the first to be buried in the St. Francis Cemetery in Dyersville.
Arther, son of Martin, was also a gunsmith and designed the Coat of Arms for the Basilica.
As for John Klocker, he was originally a gunsmith in New England before moving to Dyersville in 1855.
In July 1863, Klocker was drafted into the Civil War where he worked in an arsenal in St. Louis. While stationed there, he met his wife, Katherine Grimm, born in Olten, Canton, Soloturn, Switzerland, on May 8, 1836. She died Nov. 20, 1910.
After marrying Katherine Sept. 30, 1865, they came up the Mississippi on a steamboat and resettled in Dyersville in 1868. Both are now buried in St. Francis Cemetery in Dyersville.
Klocker was one of the first members of the Dyersville Schuetzen Verein, or Dyersville Sharpshooters Society, which was Dyersville’s oldest social organization.
The Schuetzen Society made its own bullets and the rifles were made by Klocker, but they eventually dissolved in 1910.
In his Aug. 4, 1897 obituary, Klocker was described as having an “upright and cheerful disposition” with a host of friends and a highly respected reputation.
“I’m tickled to death — I really wanted that gun,” Heiring said. “I’ve got other guns, but nothing this significant.”
On his way back to Florida, Heiring stopped in Dyersville to showcase his purchase to his sister, Verna Fangman, and Weber.
“(Klocker) made a lot of guns but few people have got to see them,” Fangman said. “It was not a gun for hunting — it was for marksmanship — it’s accurate up to 200 feet and it’s in beautiful shape.”
Heiring said if it not for the name, he wouldn’t have pursued it, but now that it’s in his hands, he plans on keeping it in the family from here on out.
“I have no intention of ever selling it and I’ve already told my son when I pass away, it will go to him,” he said. “But I told him don’t you dare try to sell it, I’ll haunt you.”