The gun reputedly used to kill Buckhead’s namesake deer in 1838 has been located by the Buckhead Heritage Society and will be on view during its April 28 “Mansions, Gardens and Ghosts” tour.

An actor portraying John Whitley holds the gun reputedly used to kill Buckhead’s namesake deer in 1838 while posing in Buckhead Village near the original site of a store where the head was displayed. Joining him are Joe Thomas of Arrow Exterminating, a sponsor of the Buckhead Heritage Society’s April 28 history tour, and society board member Charlotte Margolies. (Special)

The discovery of the antique long gun comes as part of the Heritage Society’s ongoing investigation into the origins of the neighborhood’s uncommon name, which has been tweaked by research in recent years.

The name is said to have originated in the public display of the head of a buck outside a general store run by Henry Irby at the intersection of today’s Peachtree, Roswell and West Paces Ferry roads in what is now Buckhead Village. The area was initially called Irbyville before the allure of the deer’s head took hold. Heritage Society research found that the deer was killed not by Irby, as long thought, but rather by a neighbor named John Whitley.

An undated photo said to show the Buckhead deer-killing gun hanging in the Whitley’s Vinings cabin. (Buckhead Heritage Society)

Further Heritage Society research found “conflicting reports” on whether it was John Whitley or his unnamed wife who actually shot the buck. The Whitleys soon bought 40 acres of land in the Vinings area on the Cobb County-Buckhead border and in 1842 built a log cabin there, according to John Beach of the Heritage Society.

The Whitleys’ grandson James was born in the cabin in 1873 and lived there until 1961, with the historic deer-killing gun hanging over the fireplace all of those years. In another connection to local history, according to Beach, James Whitley offered the antique firearm to the Georgia Department of Transportation if it would agree not to demolish the cabin to make way for the then-new I-285. His offer was not accepted and the cabin came down for the highway.

An undated photo of James Whitley holding what is said to be the Buckhead deer-killing gun. (Buckhead Heritage Society)

Now, according to the Heritage Society newsletter, “an anonymous heir has graciously loaned this famous artifact to Buckhead Heritage this spring,” and research into the Whitleys continues.

The gun was first displayed at a Heritage Society patron’s event in February, and now will be part of the April 28 bus tour of notable local sites. For more information about the tour, see the Heritage Society website here.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.