By: William L. Trammell, Jr.
In 1966, I was a young boy of nine years old, and my father took me to Renner Road, a section of of land near Dallas, Texas that was once a rural community of about 10 square miles. There he let me shoot a Winchester single shot .22 caliber rifle for the first time.
But it wasn’t just any Winchester single shot .22 caliber rifle.
After a few hours had passed, and my dad was placing the rifle back into its leather gun sleeve, he turned and looked at me and said, “Don’t ever let go of this gun. Audie Murphy used it.”
I looked at him in bewilderment, and being only a young boy then, replied, “Who is Audie Murphy?” My father just smiled and said, “Someone we grew up with in Farmersville.”
Reminiscing Leads to Researching
This Winchester has been in my possession for many, many years. But as a young man attending college, then married with children and working, etc., I had no time to hunt or think about what I had in my possession up through adulthood.
After my parents passed, I started to reminisce about the days I had spent with my father in my youth. Then the thought hit me about shooting the rifle, and I remembered I had a gun my dad told me never to get rid of. One that Audie Murphy had used to hunt when he and my dad were both young boys.
According to research records, the rifle was manufactured sometime between 1935-37, and was most likely shared back and forth between the boys until they enlisted in 1942. Although I can’t say how many times Audie may have shot the rifle, my father’s words, along with the dates, make me confident it was more than just a few times.
Now, several years later, I was an educated adult and acutely aware of who Audie Murphy was and the legacy he left behind. Since most of his generation has now passed on, I went into a state of mild panic, because I apparently had an irreplaceable piece of history in my possession, but just an oral statement from my father many years ago attesting that it was used by Audie Murphy.
I had by now obtained a bachelors and a masters degree, and I went into student research mode and began my personal project on the rifle in 2014. I didn’t know at that time what a daunting task I was about to face…
Discouraged but Not Defeated
My first thought was to discover if there were any direct living relatives of Audie Murphy. To my surprise, Nadine, one of Audie’s sisters, was alive, and I was given her phone number by the Audie Murphy Museum in Greenville, Texas.
My first contact did not go as well as I wanted it to. Given that she was 79 years old, I had no idea how healthy Nadine would be. I quickly learned that not only was she healthy, but she also had the old spark of an Irish woman. Once I had spoken to her about the rifle and its history, she really didn't have much to say about the rifle, and added in a stern voice, “I don't remember your family!”
I thanked her for taking my call and also thanked her for Audie's heroism during WWII. Nadine replied firmly that, “He wasn't my only brother I had who was a hero.” A bit taken aback by that, I simply told her I agreed! Nadine had a brother who worked as a Deputy Sherriff and who was tragically killed on duty. With apologies and gratitude, I said my goodbyes.
Being so discouraged from that initial conversation, I nearly gave up hope that I could ever learn the real history of the rifle my dad left me. It seemed everything about Audie Murphy had already been told, found, sold, displayed on websites, available for view in museums or in pictures hung on walls in his honor across the nation.
But there I sat with the gun that was used by Audie and my father as young boys hunting to put food on the table. Moreover, this was the rifle that created the marksman who went on the become the most decorated soldier of WWII, and whose sharpshooting skills during the frontline battles with German soldiers saved countless American lives.
With these thoughts in my mind, I was once again energized to seek out more details to substantiate my father’s words and the rifle he passed down to me.
A Modern Key to the Past
Both sides of my family lived within close proximity of the Murphys while in the Farmersville area. Because they were all sharecroppers picking cotton, planting onions, and the like, they would travel to where there was work to be had. This would include not only Farmersville, but other rural communities, namely: Princeton, Celeste, Floyd, all the way to Emory – where my parents were married. Nothing between these towns but old Texas black clay dirt and row after row of cotton… not much different from today.
My next quest was to see if there were pictures on the internet with Audie holding the Winchester. I had low expectations going in, but to my surprise, I came across one picture showing Audie after a squirrel hunt holding a rifle and standing next to an old car, and yes, may dead squirrels.
I researched Audie’s height, weight, and physical characteristics, which I found online. I also used the picture to estimate some of the dimensions of the rifle. I then considered who would be a perfect match for these measurements of Audie for comparison purposes? I turned to ask my wife, and behold! I had Audie standing in front of me – at least the female version.
My first thought was, “Wow! How did a young man this small cause so much damage in WWII?” I had my wife position herself with the gun just like Audie in the picture. It matched perfectly. I also had her move her hands up the barrel and made more comparisons to the picture. Still a perfect match. Lastly, I had a professional authenticator successfully examine the picture along with my gun to confirm it was a Winchester rifle like my father’s.
Connecting the Dots
So now I have my dad’s word, some family history connecting us to the Murphys, and a childhood picture of Audie holding a rifle matching the one I have in my possession.
Backtracking a bit for a moment – many years ago I was sifting through some family pictures my mother handed down to me. I came across a picture of a small group of women standing together by an old white house (it was more like a shack) with the solemn background of a cotton field.
My mother – thank goodness! – could always be relied upon to put the names of people who were pictured on the back of photos for future reference. When I flipped the card over, I was elated to find that she had written “Audie’s sister” as one of the ladies in the picture!
Now I have a dated rifle, a picture of Audie with a very similar looking rifle, and a picture showing that our families did intertwine with each other. I wished there had been more pictures like this, but I'm sure they were hard to come by during the Depression era. I was ecstatic to have at least this one, almost conclusive, piece of evidence.
The Light at the End of a Very Long Tunnel
Pushing forward about five years, I finally saw the light at the end of a very long tunnel.
I thought it would be a good time to reach back out to Audie’s last, surviving, immediate family member, Nadine. Some years had passed since we first spoke, and I wasn’t sure she was even still alive or would accept any contact.
Again, I reached out to the museum, and they gave me the good news that she was still alive, but aging. The people at the museum told me she would only accept mail as communication. I set out to write her an update on what I had discovered and requested that we meet so I could show her the rifle.
I waited for her response for several weeks to point that I assumed she wasn't going to respond at all. Then, one day, to my surprise, I received a letter back from her. Again, in her persistent Irish way wrote, she said she did not know of me or the gun and that it was so long ago.
Well, being a stubborn Irishman myself, I googled her phone number and found a match. Before I called her, I looked at my wife and exclaimed, “I am a sixty-one-year-old male, and I am terrified to call this lady!”
But I did call her. An older female answered the phone: “Hello?” I thought, “So far, so good!” I asked her, “Are you Nadine, Audie's sister?” Her reply was, “Yes I am…”
All of a sudden, I couldn't speak. A lump developed in my throat, and I was afraid she was going to hang up on me if I told her who I was. I finally untied my tongue and took a deep swallow before I told her I was William Trammell, the man who mailed her the letter about the rifle.
Then the clouds parted, and sunshine filled the room. Nadine said she was so sorry about the brash letter response, and that she had been thinking of me ever since she had mailed it.
Thereafter, I had the most wonderful conversation from the loveliest lady since my own mother was alive. It turned out that Nadine had worked at Texas Instruments, where my mother worked as well. We discussed many things that night, and by the end of our conversation, I thought I was actually talking to my mother. She said that she thought I was an “good honest young man,” and added she was sorry that so many people have tried to approach her who deceived her family. She had just been protecting herself. I told her, “I don't blame you one bit for that. I would do the same if my brother were Audie Murphy!”
We ended a long, fruitful conversation, and at the end, I let slip quickly, as though I were talking on the phone with my own mother, "I love you.” She replied, "I love you, too.”
What a sweet woman to have had the time to spend with – even if were only by phone. I hope we get to meet each other in person at the Audie Murphy Day celebration in June 2019. That is our plan.
My wife overheard our conversation, and I was so excited that I wanted to keep talking about it. That's when I realized I have an Uncle John Smith (my mother's brother) who would be the same age as Nadine. Maybe he knew the Murphys?
I contacted Uncle John and asked if he ever remembered the Murphy family. He said, “Of course. One of them lived directly behind us at one time.”
Really? Now living “directly behind” someone then does not mean what it means now. The house my uncle referred to was on the other side of a cotton field, probably.
My Uncle John was born in 1934, as was Nadine. So they were much younger than Audie and my parents. Audie was born the same year as my mother – in 1925, not in 1924! He had to “exaggerate” his age to enter the service. Although Audie was born in Kingston, Texas, it was soon after that his family moved to Farmersville, where my family had already been established.
I told my uncle about the Winchester, and he said he remembered my father (Dub) showing it to him. My wife and I just recently returned from a trip to see my uncle. Once I showed him the gun, he remarked, “That’s it.”
The last piece of the puzzle is a snippet I found in a television documentary in which Nadine is interviewed. At the very end she talks about how great a shooter Audie was, and that they would have starved had it not been for his hunting skills. She goes on to say that, “He used a little old .22, but I’m not sure where he got it from.”
Well, I think I can safely say where he got it. It was my father’s Winchester rifle that he shared with Audie Murphy, and which is still in my possession today.
William L. Trammell, Jr. is a school administrator living in Texas. Contact him a firstname.lastname@example.org.