Hamilton “Dykes” Reber written by Audrey McCanless
In the artist I’ve chosen for my presentation, I admire his creativity and dedication for near perfection. He is an intellectual man full of historical stories. He was born in September of 1948, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Dykes’ forth great grandfather on his maternal side served in the American Revolutionary War, and his third great grandfather served in the War of 1812, at the Battle of New Orleans, with the Mississippi militia. His great great grandfather, along with two of his brothers, fought for the Confederacy all four years of the war: his great great grandfather with the 33rd Mississippi Infantry, one brother in the cavalry, and the other brother in the artillery. His father was a Coast Guard and Navy man during WWII. So, it’s no wonder that he has a fascination with the weaponry from these historical periods.
As a child, he says, “As soon as I was able to hold a screwdriver, I was helping my dad in his workshop.” “And at about six years old, I was working the bellows for my granddad’s forge.” Dykes was raised to be self-sufficient, and at 12 years old was taught by his granddad to plow with a mule. Granddad told me, “Sometime the day will come when you would be one of the few who has ever worked a mule.”
Dykes wasn’t particularly fond of high school, but loved college. Because of his father’s and granddad’s love of antique and period firearms, at 16 he sought out and found his first mentor in muzzleloader gunsmithing with Charlie Turnipseed at Hattiesburg Arms. While in school, he played the trumpet and French horn. (See side note.) Dykes quickly turned his attention to his Scottish heritage after meeting a future mentor, Major Bill Allen, who introduced and cultivated his talent in playing the bagpipes. Dykes also adopted, as well as learned to live by, Major Allen’s motto and admonishment of “Festina Lente” (make hast slowly).
During his tenure at the University, which he really enjoyed, he continued to appreciate his muzzleloading artistry. When he graduated in 1971, with as masters degree in diagnostic audiology and a minor in physics, he became the first person from his family to move out of his home area since 1785, when he relocated to Little Rock, Arkansas.
He had a professional career in state law enforcement, and found a new mentor in gunsmithing, Paul Pyle. Dykes studied with him for about two years. In 1975, F. D. Brakebill, of the Powder Horn Shop, in Little Rock, became his last mentor and close friend. Dykes continued to work with Brakebill even after he opened his own shop, The Muzzleloader Shop, Ltd. in North Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1980. Dykes says that the worst day of his life was when his mother and Brakebill died on the same day.
Enthusiasts seek him out for his expert knowledge and ability to skillfully create custom muzzleloading firearms to their specifications. With clients help and Dykes’ talent, together, they select and specify every detail, the wood, stain and finish, lock, trigger, furniture, etc. customized for right or left handers. He spends countless hours in his shop enjoying is passion. His mentor and friend, F. D. Brakebill, once told him, “If the customer wants a green gun, get out the green paint!”
In 1979, he was commissioned to photo catalog the guns at the Saunders Museum in Berryville, Arkansas. You can find a some of his reproduction work, a cased set of dueling pistols made for the Duke of Wellington, at the Old Statehouse Museum in Little Rock, Arkansas. He has built or restored guns for Leon Panetta, Jerry Jones, Charlton Heston, and has had referrals by Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin.
Dykes has written muzzleloader hunting regulations for over 20 states in the 1980’s (which are the laws we abide by today). He is regarded as an Exert Witness in 11 state court jurisdictions, seven Federal court jurisdictions, and by the Solicitor General of Canada.
Dykes has opened his second shop location in Berryville, Arkansas, and has selected his first apprentice, Sean McCanless. Not only do they carry everything you need for precision shooting, repair work, appraisals and custom work, they carry a plethora of other period correct supplies and accessories.
Call or go by The Muzzleloader Shop NW, at 612 Cedarvale Road, Berryville, Arkansas 72616 telephone: (870) 929-6257
Side Note: On the day of enrolling at the University of Southern Mississippi, he received a music scholarship for playing the bagpipes in the University’s Highlander Band. Major Allen often joked, “A good piper could smoke an extra pack of cigarettes per day, and still air up his tires with a soda straw.” Dykes’ favorite funny command from Major Allen to the band members standing around was, “We’re going to mosey down to the practice field for some marching practice. Band!…. Prepare to mosey !…. Commence moseying!”