Today is November Twenty-Second, and just so happens to be the birthday of Eugene Morrison Stoner, born in the year 1922. The designer has since passed away in 1997, but had he been alive today he would be 95 years old. Inventor of the AR10, co-inventor with Jim Sullivan of the AR15, the Stoner 63 weapons system, the SR-25 precision rifle, and numerous other small arms designs. Stoner was an interesting figure, and in a number of ways shared many traits with his design competitor Mikhail Kalashnikov on the other side of the world. Both drew enormous inspiration from their service in the Second World War, both designed prolific weapons systems, competing against intellectual engineering giants of their fields with very little experience of their own to begin with. Neither ever received a college degree during their lifetimes, a testament to their passion and hard work ethic.
However, this day is about Stoner and some of his life. His life story is certainly a fascinating one, beginning with the fact that he never really owned an AR15 variant. He did own a 7.62x51mm NATO SR25, one of his last rifle inventions. He is buried in a cemetery in Quantico and despite all his achievements, his headstone bears the simple inscription of being a Corporal of Marines in the Second World War, something most Marines will fully understand.
As a prerequisite for Stoner’s birthday, I did some research into his origins. This came about mostly because of his birthplace in a tiny town in Southern Indiana called Gosport, in Owen County. The nearest towns of any significant size are Spencer, the county seat, and Bloomington, one of the largest cities in Indiana, home of Indiana University’s flagship campus. With the dedicated help of local librarians, historians, and recorders, we were able to piece together Stoner’s early history, particularly in Indiana that currently doesn’t exist on the internet. What I was most interested in locating was the childhood home of Stoner in Gosport, of which I’m fairly confident I found.
The story begins with Eugene’s grandfather, Daniel Stoner. Daniel was originally from Hancock County, Indiana and married his wife, Laura Eastes there as well. He fathered two sons in Hancock, Lloyd (born 1892), and his brother Oral (sometimes misspelled as Aral, born 1899). In 1906 Daniel Stoner purchased a plot of land for $4,000 (approximately $100,000 in 2017) that lies at the Northeast intersection of what is today’s Federal Highway 231 and Indiana State Highway 67, not two miles to the West of the small town of Gosport. In 1914 Daniel and Laura had a daughter named Frieda. After the First World War began, Lloyd enlisted in the U.S. Army and became a chauffeur for U.S. officers on the Western Front. His name is currently on the wall of the Owen County Courthouse for Veterans of that conflict.
Eugene comes into the picture on November 22, 1922, born in Gosport, his father being Lloyd Stoner. However, he doesn’t have a birth certificate in Owen County. In fact the only member of the entire family to have one in this time period is Virginia Greene, the first child and daughter of Oral and Helen Stoner. Laura Wilkerson, the resident genealogist of the Spencer County Public Library explained that one explanation for this was that some families back then were wary of the Government possessing information like that, and thus have refused to apply for one. The nearest hospital might have been the one in Bloomington, several minutes down the road by car, but there is no public record of a birth certificate either in Monroe County, or in Owen, adding to the mystery. From what we’ve seen so far, it is very probable that Eugene, or “Gene” as his name is sometimes spelled in newspapers clippings about the family, was probably born at home and not in a hospital.
To complicate matters, Eugene’s mother, Britannia “Billie” Morrison and his father Lloyd don’t appear to have a marriage certificate in Owen County, nor do their names appear on the record of deeds for the time period in which Lloyd would have come back from the war and most likely bought a piece of land (1916- 1922), in which Eugene might have been born. One of the researchers at the Owen County Courthouse pointed out that with the size of the plot that Daniel and Laura had, it was very probable that Daniel simply allowed Lloyd to build a house of his own on some part of the land itself and live there, and thus there wouldn’t be any recording of a deed.
From here we get a little murky because Lloyd takes his son Eugene and his wife Britannia and moves them to Indio, California. When they do this, we aren’t sure. But we do know for a fact that the Stoners were living in Indio in 1932 (so assuming they were in Gosport in 1922, but then Indio in 1932, the move was in between), when the now grandparents and aunt (Daniel, Laura, and Frieda) go on a family trip to visit them. On this unfortunate trip, Eugene’s aunt who had just barely graduated High School in 1931, receives a cut on her lip that further leads to blood poisoning and dies while in California. Daniel Stoner is reportedly hurt beyond words and this is the most tragic event in his life according to his obituary.
Because my research was strictly in the Gosport area, I don’t know much about Eugene’s life in California, and will post the standard Wikipedia paragraph about his life up to the Second World War–
Stoner attended high school in Long Beach and upon graduating worked for the Vega Aircraft Company installing armament. During World War II, he enlisted for Aviation Ordnance in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in the South Pacific and northern China. He is survived by his sons Quincy and Darrell.
Note that Long Beach is around three hours by car from Indio, by Joshua Tree National Park. Eugene apparently went to a public high school that was also a technical school in Long Beach. Lloyd’s occupation in California was in the wholesale gas and oil business, until he moved back to Indiana, residing in Indianapolis six years before his death in 1956. The similarities between Eugene and his father are also too large to ignore. Both were veterans of World Wars and both were garage tinkers. This is even mentioned in Lloyd’s obituary-
Another hobby of Mr. Stoner was working in metal. He designed many household gadgets which he made in his garage workshop
In fact, Lloyd was an inventor himself, designing and marketing a car clothing hanger called the “Stoner Garment Hanger” and a fishing pole holder among other products. The Stoner Garment Hanger was marketed under a company named Indio Welding Company. Whether Lloyd owned/started this company, or just worked for them we don’t know.
As for the side of the family that remained in Indiana, Daniel Stoner passed away in 1938, while his wife Laura lived to be 102 years old and died in 1976 while residing in a nursing home in Spencer. For the last decades of her life, she lived with her son Oral at his address on Market Street in Gosport, and then later while in Bloomington. Oral himself had three wives (the second one Cuban), and passed away after his mother.
As for the location of the family farm, we were able to pinpoint the current location due to the Plat records of 1957 and before that the deed for the farm from 1906. Both of which list the location as within Montgomery Township, Section 27, and in the Southeast corner as described in the 1906 deed to the property.
In 1957, we have a Plat Book that lists the location on a map as the property of “Oral and H Stoner”, H being the first initial for Helen Stoner. Highway 43 later turned into Federal 231, and the unnamed road that encircles the property is currently Hollybrook Road. Right where the number “67” is printed is currently a Drive-In movie theater called Cinema 67 (one of the few remaining in Indiana), and a commercial farm called Harriman Farms. Where it says “SMALL”, there is currently a company called Owen Valley Flooring. To the east, Highway 67 leads into Gosport. Without in-depth surveyor knowledge, we don’t know what the extent of the farm was in 1906. Essentially, was the property in 1957 the same dimensions as the property in 1906, or is that just Oral’s piece of what his father sold or gave to him? If it is the same, then this could very well be Eugene Stoner’s childhood home. If not, then it would most likely be one of the buildings in the immediate area, or unfortunately torn down since the 1920s.
Edited from Google Maps. Today the address that the farm most likely resembles from the 1957 Plat records is 2480 Hollybrook Road, Gosport, Indiana.
As a light-hearted conclusion to this article, I’d like to share some Stoner trivia from when historian Edward Ezell of the Smithsonian brought together Stoner and Kalashnikov in the 1990s to meet each other and actually fire the other designer’s weapon system. Apparently, as the rumor goes, Kalashnikov said to Stoner something to the effect of “Well, how does it feel that my rifle has won revolutions, ended tyrannical regimes, and is the most reliable in the world?”. Stoner said calmly, “I just get a royalty check every month”. Kalashnikov, in complete disbelief, uttered, “What? They pay you?”
This article would not have been possible without the sincere help and gratitude of Laura Wilkerson from the Genealogy Department of the Spencer Public Library, the employees in the Recorder of Deeds and County Clerk offices in the Owen County Courthouse, and the kind volunteers at the Ten O’Clock Treaty Line Museum in Gosport itself.