Julia Evans inventories hundreds of weapons during her internship at the Rock Island Arsenal Museum.
Julia Evans inventories hundreds of weapons during her internship at the Rock Island Arsenal Museum.

Julia Evans has held guns that were crafted before the United States was born.

Evans, who graduated from Carroll High School in 2011, recently completed an internship at the Rock Island Arsenal Museum in Rock Island, Illinois, in the Quad Cities, a city that held a Confederate prison camp during the Civil War. She was recognized by the U.S. Army for her work with the museum.

She sought out the gig out after completing a separate internship at the George Davenport House, built in 1833 and also located in Rock Island, Illinois. There, she gave tours, helped organize archives, analyzed artifacts and completed repairs to the home.

During the Rock Island Arsenal Museum internship, Evans was mainly responsible for handling and accessioning, or inventorying, historic weapons.

“There were hundreds and hundreds of weapons, everything from sniper rifles to tiny little shooters that can fit in the palm of your hand,” Evans said. “I handled them all.”

She also cleaned weapons and accessories, including leather holsters that regularly needed to have animal fat cleaned from their surfaces.

“I was doing a lot of cleaning, which sounds boring, but cleaning leather holsters from the Civil War is pretty exciting,” she said.

Her interest in history started early. While in Carroll, Evans was involved in choir and band — she played clarinet — and in the school’s History Day competitions in middle and high school.

“I enjoy the joy of discovery that history can provide,” she said. “I get a little thrill every time I discover something new — whether it’s new in general or just to me, I get a kick out of that, and I enjoy letting other people experience the same thrill.”

Evans, an only child, now lives in Davenport with her boyfriend, Jason, and dramatic tabby cat, Lucy. Her mother, Donna Evans, is a librarian at the Carroll Public Library, and her father, Lon Evans, is a veterinary officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Evans received a bachelor’s degree from Wartburg College in 2015 before attending Western Illinois University to obtain a master’s degree in museum studies, which she completed in December 2016. The internships were part of her master’s degree requirement.

Although Evans was interested in military history, she’d never before touched a gun, so a gig that surrounded her with weapons was something new.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get into firing real weapons, but that was certainly the experience of a lifetime,” she said.

While at the arsenal museum, she worked with a set of long guns Native Americans used in wars against white settlers, which were traced back to those wars with analysis of the soil found on the weapons. Since the Native Americans hadn’t used guns before those wars, Evans said, they ended up modifying whatever weapons they were able to obtain. The guns she worked with had buffalo, birds and teepees carved into the butts, and some had strips of leather holding the barrels in place.

“It was interesting to hold a weapon that’s a part of that history,” Evans said.

She also evaluated ammunition from some of the museum’s “behind-the-scenes” inventory — artifacts that weren’t on display at the museum — that were going to be transferred to a separate facility in Alabama. Transporting ammunition carries strict guidelines, which meant Evans examined several thousand items to ready them for travel.

“Some of them were the size of my pinky, and some of them were the size of my arm,” she said.

That work, along with Evans’ weapons inventory, prompted recognition from the U.S. Army at the completion of her internship.

“Ms. Evans contributed significantly to the … team project to evaluate ammunition-related artifacts and historical property,” the award certificate states. “Ms. Evans actively participated in two quarterly weapons inventories and non-weapon artifact inventories. Her organizational skills, task-oriented focus and willingness to learn and contribute to unique projects were valuable assets which promoted forward progress at the Rock Island Arsenal Museum.”

Evans now works at Silver Oaks Communications in Moline, Illinois, a creative design company that works with museums around the country to create custom media displays, ranging from touch screens to large interactive timelines.

Whatever type of work she does in the future, the arsenal museum internship will stay with her, Evans said.

The places those weapons and those artifacts have been have changed the course of history,” she said.