Colonel Henry Dodge's rifle

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DixieTexian

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430px-Watercolor_Painting_of_Col._Henry_Dodge_by_George_Catlin.jpg

This portrait by George Catlin is of Henry Dodge during the Dodge-Leavenworth Expidition of 1834. Given that it is a watercolor, and some of the details are difficult to paint, especially on the size that would have been available on the frontier, this rifle looks very much like a half stock flintlock to my eyes. The cheek piece and sweep of the stock are reminiscent of more eastern rifles, but the profile of the barrel looks heavier, more like the plains rifle or "hawken" style. Most paintings of proper longrifles from the period are much slimmer, but I haven't compared this picture to any of the artist's others. The curve of the buttplate should rule out a half stock English sporting rifle, I believe (correct me if I am wrong). It looks to me like this could be a transition gun between eastern and western. Still a flintlock, but a heavier barrel with lines that evoke the eastern gun makers.

It is of note that he was a man of decent means, and so could have afforded a nicer rifle than a man of more simpler means.

So is this the half stock flintlock that preceeded the "hawkins" style plains rifle? Or am I missing something?

As an aside, he appears to be wearing a hunting shirt that is capeless, or the cape is an extension of the collars in the back. Either way, it is quite different from the revolutionary war hunting shirts we see copied so much. From my research looking it paintings and illustrations of hunting shirts from these later time periods, it seems like capes started to go the way of the buffalo during this period.
 

Seth I.

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I've always thought the rifle looked like an early eastern percussion half-stock without an under-rib.
 

Notchy Bob

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Thanks for posting this interesting portrait! I think it's one of the best of that period.

I think we can say for sure that the long arm in the picture is half-stocked, with two wedges and double triggers. It appears to have a scroll finial or grip rail on the triggerguard. It's hard to say much about the lock. The part that really has us scratching our heads is a second illustration of the same man, also by Catlin:

Col. Henry Dodge 1834.jpg


I suspect this one was done first, as a sketch, but I don't know that for sure. Here, we have what looks like a left-handed lock on a right-handed buttstock (note the cheekpiece). While the visible parts of the lock in the colorized portrait in post #1 do look a lot like a cock and frizzen, the lock in this picture looks more like a percussion. That is a funny-looking hammer, but some early percussion guns did have odd-looking hammers:

Blanket Gun 3.jpg


Catlin was familiar with the arms of that period, on the frontier, and he was himself an avid hunter. I suspect he may have done that sketch in sort of a rush, then noted his gaffe (the left handed lock), and then re-did a corrected portrait with some color and the lock on the right side of the rifle. That's all supposition on my part, though.

Catlin also painted another image of Dodge, meeting up with a band of Comanches. Here is a detail image, cropped out:

Dodge & Comanches - Detail.png


I can't make out much detail on the rifle in this image, although you do get a different view of his hunting shirt.

In any event, we know half-stocked flintlocks existed. This one was built by John Derr:

John Derr 1.1.jpg


The Derr "rifle" is actually a rifle-mounted smoothbore, but I think it illustrates the point that half-stocked flintlock long arms existed. I would agree that Col. Dodge appears to be holding an American rifle, but I can't say for sure if it is flintlock or percussion. By 1834, the St. Louis Hawken shop was pretty well established, so I'm not so sure the Dodge rifle would have preceded the Hawken rifle. It could conceivably have even been a Hawken!

Col. Dodge and his weapon have been discussed before. If you type Dodge or Catlin in the search box and browse through the results of that search, you should find at least two prior discussions concerning this portrait, both within the past one or two years. Also, if you browse through the previous posts here in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade section, you should find several discussions of half-stocked flintlocks on the western frontier.

Dodge was an interesting fellow. He deserves to be better known.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
 
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DixieTexian

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Thanks for posting this interesting portrait! I think it's one of the best of that period.

I think we can say for sure that the long arm in the picture is half-stocked, with two wedges and double triggers. It appears to have a scroll finial or grip rail on the triggerguard. It's hard to say much about the lock. The part that really has us scratching our heads is a second illustration of the same man, also by Catlin:

View attachment 152062

I suspect this one was done first, as a sketch, but I don't know that for sure. Here, we have what looks like a left-handed lock on a right-handed buttstock (note the cheekpiece). While the visible parts of the lock in the colorized portrait in post #1 do look a lot like a cock and frizzen, the lock in this picture looks more like a percussion. That is a funny-looking hammer, but some early percussion guns did have odd-looking hammers:

View attachment 152063

Catlin was familiar with the arms of that period, on the frontier, and he was himself an avid hunter. I suspect he may have done that sketch in sort of a rush, then noted his gaffe (the left handed lock), and then re-did a corrected portrait with some color and the lock on the right side of the rifle. That's all supposition on my part, though.

Catlin also painted another image of Dodge, meeting up with a band of Comanches. Here is a detail image, cropped out:

View attachment 152064

I can't make out much detail on the rifle in this image, although you do get a different view of his hunting shirt.

In any event, we know half-stocked flintlocks existed. This one was built by John Derr:

View attachment 152066

The Derr "rifle" is actually a rifle-mounted smoothbore, but I think it illustrates the point that half-stocked flintlock long arms existed. I would agree that Col. Dodge appears to be holding an American rifle, but I can't say for sure if it is flintlock or percussion. By 1834, the St. Louis Hawken shop was pretty well established, so I'm not so sure the Dodge rifle would have preceded the Hawken rifle. It could conceivably have even been a Hawken!

Col. Dodge and his weapon have been discussed before. If you type Dodge or Catlin in the search box and browse through the results of that search, you should find at least two prior discussions concerning this portrait, both within the past one or two years. Also, if you browse through the previous posts here in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade section, you should find several discussions of half-stocked flintlocks on the western frontier.

Dodge was an interesting fellow. He deserves to be better known.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
I'm curious If you know where any pics of the John Durr rifle you pictured might be found that show the cheek piece. Also, is there any indication on the rifle of when it was made, or would we just assume that it was probably made in the 1810s or 20s based on its overall architecture?
 

Notchy Bob

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I'm curious If you know where any pics of the John Durr rifle you pictured might be found that show the cheek piece. Also, is there any indication on the rifle of when it was made, or would we just assume that it was probably made in the 1810s or 20s based on its overall architecture?
John Derr 1.3.jpg

There are lots of additional photos of this gun on one of the Proxibid auction sites. It was Lot #1088 in the sale of the "Collection of Steve & Marcy Hench." Here is a link: John Derr Half-Stock Presentation Rifle

At the time it was made, I believe this would have been called a "rifle mounted smoothbore." I believe it was likely made as a smoothbore rather than a rifle that was later bored out. The octagon-to-round barrel does have a rear sight, but if you look through the photos, you will see a close-up of the fusil-type front sight, of the type I have only seen on smoothbores.

The description in the auction listing suggests this gun was "made perhaps for a local Native American." I don't see any particular reason for their suggesting that. Maybe it was and maybe it wasn't, but I don't see any particular features that would specifically make it an "Indian gun."

According to information on the Kentucky Rifle Foundation website, John (or Johannes) Derr was building rifles in Berks county between 1800 and 1850. I am not well informed on these rifles, and will defer to the experts for more precise dating of this piece.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
 

Seth I.

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Juice Jaws, probably because its meant to be suspended from a sword hanger fitted to the belt, though the hanger doesn't show up in the painting really.

If you blow up the color version of the painting, you can actually see a fair amount of details. Now, keep in mind that Catlin may have made a basic sketch and then made a painting based on the sketch with some of the details made up by the artist, possibly using another rifle as a reference. That said, it looks like a half-stock rifle with an octagon barrel, no rib, two wedges, double set triggers, scrolling trigger guard, cheekpiece, and crescent buttplate. From what little we can see when we blow up the image of Comanche Meeting the Dragoons available online at the Smithsonian, it appears to be the same rifle there as well. Given Catlin's other paintings, I imagine he would have been trying to represent Dodge's actual rifle.
 

Notchy Bob

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I love the double crossdraw pistol rig. Nice to have historical confirmation via Catlin.
Me, too. I'm glad you mentioned the pistols. I would have expected him to carry his pistols in pommel holsters, but those are very clearly attached to his belt.

The other thing I have pondered is exactly what sort of pistols those might be. Colt's Paterson revolver was said to have been invented in 1831, patented in 1836, and a quantity of them were ordered for the Texas Rangers in 1839. The Paterson is the earliest revolver I know of, and since Col Dodge's portrait was done in 1834, I don't think his handguns were revolvers.

Maybe they were like these, which were owned by Stephen F. Austin:

Stephen Austin Pistols.jpg

These look like relatively light, handy pistols that might have been carried on one's belt. They also have a prominent screw right in the middle of the butt, sort of like Col Dodge's pistols, although his appear to have flat butts, while Austin's pistol butts are rounded. Dodge's holsters are almost certainly non-regulation. I looked through the references I have, and only see pommel holsters at that early date and even into the Mexican War.

There is a lot to see in that portrait.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
 

DixieTexian

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It's a nice confirmation that people didn't always just stick their pistols in their belt or sash or use a belt hook when carrying them on their person.
Since you brought up Stephen F Austin, that axe appears to be the same one he has in his belt in this portrait done about the same time while he was traveling to Mexico City.
stephenaustin_large.jpg
 

HighUintas

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One thing to note is that Catlin did allow himself a little bit of artistic freedom in his work. He was the first to travel up the river and paint very realistic pictures of the Indians he met. His faces were so good, that the Indians held him in very high regard, something of a medicine man. While his faces were very accurate, the bodies and other details of some of his work may not be an exact representation of what he was viewing.

Karl Bodmer traveled up the river after him and did many pictures as well but his were much more accurate as a whole. He was interested in painting sketching the details of his work as accurately as possible. Karl Bodmer was also regarded as a medicine man and was very influential to some of the Indians he spent time with. There are photos of a few indians' art pre-Bodmer and post-Bodmer that are quite surprising in how much more detail they incorporated to their work after spending time with Bodmer.

I can't remember the names of these indians. I read about this in the book Indian Life on the Upper Missouri by John C. Ewers. I highly recommend reading it.

This is not to say that Catlin's work was not accurate. I think it was. He was much more accurate in his representations than many other artists succeeding him. But, just to note, some of the minor details that we might want to draw inferences from may be misleading.
 

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