Service for ‘major historian’ at Palisade pub on Sunday
A celebration of the life of Chuck Wagner, the owner of the Gatling gun on display at the Museum of the West, a historian and an enthusiastic participant in Mexican-American and Civil War re-enactments, will be at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Palisade Brew Pub, 200 Peach St.
Wagner died May 30. He was 79.
“We’ve just lost a major historian,” said Garry Brewer, a friend of Wagner.
Wagner and Brewer were acquainted as relatives of Civil War veterans, and they frequently appeared together in Grand Valley classrooms.
Wagner “was always in blue, but he favored the gray,” said Pat Shay, Wagner’s friend of more than 40 years. “Chuck was basically a Confederate. He was a rebel.”
Wagner was a firearms appraiser, private pilot, avid reader and military historian, friends said.
When he retired as a heavy-equipment operator at the Cameo generating station, he purchased the Gatling gun, Brewer said.
Modern ammunition being too powerful for the Gatling gun, which was itself a replica, Wagner hand-loaded each cartridge used in its firing by the museum several years ago, Brewer said.
Wagner also was building a full-sized plane in his house and joked with Brewer that he’d have to tear down the house when the project was done.
He was able to communicate his passions for the wars of the 1800s with ease to modern, young audiences, Brewer said.
Wagner would line up students as being wounded, having measles or suffering from some other scourge of war.
“Not too gory, just enough to whet their interest” in wartime conditions, Brewer said. “The kids would lean forward when he started talking, and when he stopped talking, they’d lean back.”
Wagner never married, but became close friends with Susan Lasley, close enough that he was at the hospital when Lasley’s daughter, Angela Lawton, was born. “He never missed anything I did,” Lawton, 19, said. “I didn’t have grandparents near here, and he never married or had kids, so we just kind of became his family.”
Wagner bought hardtack, a hard biscuit or bread that was a staple of the Civil War soldier’s diet, for schoolchildren and got it by the case when he found out she liked it, Lawton said.
Wagner also helped categorize and display the Thrailkill Collection of firearms at the Museum of the West and many of the guns, along with the Gatling, belonged to him, Shay said.
Wagner “was probably the most knowledgeable person about Custer, the Indian Wars and the Little Big Horn,” Shay said. “He knew more about military history than most people.”
Wagner wasn’t just a student. He also was a participant, having served in the Air Force with the Strategic Air Command, Brewer said.