Indian trade rifle

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Im learnin' up on Indian trade rifles, not the Leman sort, which has been done about a zillion times, but something more along the line of a Derringer or other "off brand" make.

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot online specifically about these. Other than Lancaster style stock what other traits might these rifles have had? Plain or fancy, Etc.
 

tenngun

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Leman did make specific guns for the trade. From what I’ve read guns made for the fur companies were not so specific. The Derringer and Henry rifles and such were the same general guns. It seems the patterns 1792/7 contract rifles for the military were the same guns sold to the Indian trade factories.
Henry made something like 2500 guns for Rocky Mountain fur, Derringer sold about the same amount. RMF and AMF seem to have bought about 11000 guns out of mostly Pennsylvania
Sioux that surrendered in1877 had about 50-50 breechloaders and muzzleloader. In fact six were Hawkens and three Golcher. But, most were Leman.
Unlike fusils Indian trade rifles seem to have compared well with civilian guns and sold from $11.00- $14.00 their accuracy was praised by the war department.
 
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The side plate of one Derringer I found pictured online did look a lot like the L or J shape on early military rifles. Perhaps this was an expedient detail suitable to both trade rifles and military rifles.

I'm curious about engraving and details of patch boxes, and fore end caps or lack of them.
 

plmeek

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Im learnin' up on Indian trade rifles, not the Leman sort, which has been done about a zillion times, but something more along the line of a Derringer or other "off brand" make.

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot online specifically about these. Other than Lancaster style stock what other traits might these rifles have had? Plain or fancy, Etc.
Forgive me, but I have to chuckle about the part I've highlighted in red. My millennial son's first reaction is to "look it up on the internet" even though he knows most of the info out there is wrong and a good portion of the rest can't be trusted.

Not clear what time period you're interested in. Rifles traded to Indians began with the earliest rifles brought to the colonies--the jaeger. Some of the earliest records of American made longrifles show they were traded to the Indians. Colonial Lancaster rifles were so familiar to Indians in the Great Lakes region that during the Revolutionary War, the British government ordered English made copies of Kentucky rifles to give to their Indian allies during the war.

If you are interested in rifles from about 1800 to the cartridge era, you should order one of these books. https://www.trackofthewolf.com/Categories/PartDetail.aspx/278/1/BOOK-RAI

It shows examples of rifles by John Guest, Jacob Dickert, Jacob Gumph, Christopher Gumph, Henry Gibbs, Jacob Dickert Gill, Jacob Fordney, Henry Leman, all from Lancaster, PA; John Krider, George Tryon, Edward Tryon, John Joseph Henry, Henry Deringer, all from Philadelphia; John Joseph Henry and James Henry of Boulton, PA; Martin Fry III of York County, PA; and several English made Indian trade rifles.

John Joseph Henry and Henry Deringer were born in the same year, 1786, in towns in the Lehigh River valley that were about seven miles apart (JJ Henry in Nazareth and Deringer in Easton, PA). They both made rifles with curved butt stocks showing their Lehigh roots. Actually, the Tryons and some of the Lancaster gunsmiths did, too. The curved butt stock was obviously a popular style on the frontier as well as the classic triangular butt stock of the Lancaster school.

Besides the different shaped butt stocks, there was considerable variation in patch boxes, side plates, and to a lessor degree, trigger guards.

Both government records and surviving fur company records show that higher grade, fine rifles were sometimes ordered. These included silver inlays on the cheekpiece and wrist and often some engraving. The plain brass-mounted rifles the US ordered from Deringer usually cost around $12.50 each. In 1811, the OIT ordered 12 rifles with silver bead [sight] "and stars or eagles on the breech" at $22.50 each--almost double the price of a plain rifle. In 1820, Deringer made them a "highly finished" rifle for $35. That was probably similar to some of Deringer's best civilian rifles like this one used in a famous duel in Washington, D.C.

(The full story on the duel and more pictures of the rifles used can be found here http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/pair-dueling-rifles-reveal-their-story )

One thing about the Indians guns after 1800, very few, if any, had carving on the stocks. Some had checkering on the wrists.

To really understand "what other traits might these rifles have had" you need to get the book linked above and study the photographs.
 

plmeek

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The side plate of one Derringer I found pictured online did look a lot like the L or J shape on early military rifles. Perhaps this was an expedient detail suitable to both trade rifles and military rifles.

I'm curious about engraving and details of patch boxes, and fore end caps or lack of them.
I pretty much agree with what tenngun posted, but I have some different numbers.

James Henry, who took over the business after his father John Joseph died in 1836, was not a trained gunsmith. He had worked as a teacher and latter became a historian. James compiled annual totals of the guns that the Boulton Gunworks produced. From 1826 through 1858, the Henrys produced over 11,000 arms for the American fur trade.

George Moller in American Military Shoulder Arms Vol II tabulated all the contracts he could find in government records between Henry Deringer and the OIT and BIA. From 1809 to 1844, Deringer made 9,684 common rifles, 280 fine or Chief’s rifles, 113 smooth rifles, 2 fowlers, 1,415 NW trade guns, and 91 US or military rifles or a total of 11,585 guns. This is on par with the total arms that the Henrys supplied to the fur trade.

With over 10,000 rifles made for the OIT and BIA, one can expect that not all were just alike. Deringer used different patch boxes and different side plates. Some side plates were a military style, some like the Lancaster school and some even more fancy. These two Deringer rifles have the same style of patch box but different side plates.







This is a contemporary version of a Deringer rifle with the military style side plate and the eagle patch box finial.




Trade rifles were built to a "pattern", but they were not all alike.
 

Patrick Thomas

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Meek,

Do those pictures come from the book that you referenced or did you get to handle them? All the rifles pictured in this thread are magnificent. Not what I ever pictured as “trade” rifles.
 
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Meek,

Do those pictures come from the book that you referenced or did you get to handle them? All the rifles pictured in this thread are magnificent. Not what I ever pictured as “trade” rifles.
If you go to a lot of antique gun shows you'll find these are fairly common. Would be a great gun to start collecting.
 

billraby

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The French made many thousands of guns for trade to to the Indians.
 

plmeek

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Meek,

Do those pictures come from the book that you referenced or did you get to handle them? All the rifles pictured in this thread are magnificent. Not what I ever pictured as “trade” rifles.
No. None of the pictures I've posted are from the book. The book has detail pictures of two Deringer rifles and a close-up of the patch box of a third.

The pictures of the two original rifles I posted above were from a couple of auction sites. As Comfortably_Numb said, these rifles are fairly common and frequently show up for sale at auctions and gun shows.

Is this what you "pictured" as a Indian trade rifle? https://www.morphyauctions.com/jamesdjulia/item/3257-386/

Documented Indian rifles and/or rifles showing obvious Indian use are rare and highly sought after by collectors. Most of the surviving rifles we call "trade" rifles are actually civilian versions of the rifles that were sold to the fur trading companies. There are also a few Indian trade rifles that were purchased by fur companies and the US government, but were never issued. Between the few surviving real trade rifles and some pretty good descriptions in surviving documents of the fur companies, we have a good idea of what fur trade rifles look like and note that the same rifles were sold into the civilian market.
 

plmeek

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The French made many thousands of guns for trade to to the Indians.
True, but they were smooth bore guns. The subject of this thread is "Indian trade rifle".

The French guns are also from a much earlier time. The bulk of them were shipped to North America before and during the French & Indian War. After that war, no more French guns came in through Canada. Some did continue to be imported through New Orleans and traded up the Mississippi and up the Ohio following the F&I War, but declined over time and were completely shut off with the Louisiana Purchase.
 

54ball

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Meek,Numb and others...

I would really appreciate an opinion on the Whale's Rifle I posted.

At the Battle of Horseshoe Bend March 27, 1814, Jackson was making a frontal assault against the Redstick Fortification across the Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa River. General Coffee with his mounted Tennesseans, scouts,spies, riflemen and both Tory (pro American) Creek and Cherokee Warriors were positioned across the river to prevent any escape.

Jackson's two guns, a six pounder and three pounder of the 39th Infantry began a barrage of the rude Redstick fortification to little effect. The palisades just absorbed the shot from Jackson's small battery. Due to the lay of the land (the battery was on the high ground...the wall was on the low, overshots simply impacted the ground behind the wall and behind the defenders. Also the wall was constructed in a zig zag pattern with overlapping fields of cross fire. After 2 hours of barrage the structure and the defenders were left unscathed.

The sound of the cannon was too much for the Cherokee and Creek allies posted across the River with Coffee. Eventually they had had enough and without orders the allied Indians began firing on the Redstick rear guard guarding the canoes. Many began swimming the Tallapoosa among them was the Cherokee Whale who swam the river and ferried a canoe back to the Creeks, Cherokees and Tennessee Riflemen. Shortly thereafter they began to cross the river en masse.

After crossing the River these US Indian soldiers along with Tennessee scouts and spies swept through the village of Tohoheka and attacked the Redstick Defenders from the rear.

Once Jackson realized the Redstick Fortifications being attacked from the rear, he ordered a general frontal assault.

Had there been no rear attack, Jackson's losses from the frontal assault would have been significant. This action by the Allied Indians, Cherokee and Creek, turned the battle.

The Rifle...

As reward for valor a special rifle commissioned by President Madison was supposed to be presented to the Cherokee Whale.

Whale claimed he never got his rifle. They say as many as six may have been made for Whale. It is possible that he never received any or he may have received all of them, requesting a new one every few years.

It is thought this is the 1st or the 2nd rifle built for Whale. It's possible there may be a Harper's Ferry connection. If so, I personally believe that the rifle may have been worked on there (decorated) but not built there. As you know any records from Harpers Ferry were lost.

This rifle is believed to be the 1st or the 2nd. It is rumored to have been in use as late as the 1930s. It has had some work done. The lock is obviously a percussion Goulcher that has been converted to flint. The lock does not fit the mortise well and the stock shows evidence of the original lock being flintlock. The barrel may have been changed. There is evidence of a shorter tang originally. The breech may have been changed at the time of the original conversion to percussion. It appears the barrel signature has been defaced. That, or simply some scratches are located where the signature usually is.

45.5 3/4 barrel .32
12.90 LOP
3.75 tang
1.25 nose cap
1.50 pipes
1.37 width fore stock
1.37 width wrist
4.75 lock

The rifle has lots of silver work. More views of this are available on the ALR Forum museum site. The rifle is on display at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park.

In my opinion this rifle was a base "trade rifle" that had special decoration done to it. If it did start as a Trade Rifle, do any of you recognize the the maker or the pattern.

Sorry for the long post....I thought many may enjoy seeing this rifle and knowing the possible history of it..
 
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Tenngun, thanks for reminding me of the 1792 rifles. I had forgotten about them. With that tip I was able to come up with more info.

Plmeek, although I practically grew up in libraries nowadays I start all my research on line. Then I turn to books. I wasn't aware of the Indian rifle you linked to. I bought a copy.

The many pictures have all been a help.

The 1792 rifles seem to have quite a bit of variation and generally reflect the builder's style. I guess what I'd like to do is make a 1792-ish, trade rifle-ish gun that I might have produced had I been a gunsmith in those days. It wouldn't be a fantasy rifle, but a generic representation of type.

I'm attracted to rifle types that are less common than those beauties so many like to build.

Although it might get buried here, a question: is anyone aware of Gunsmiths named Tenney or Bair. The Tenney family has roots going back to the 1630s and might well have produced a gunsmith. The Bair family is supposed to be Pennsylvania Dutch and probably been more likely to have produced a gunsmith.
 

54ball

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Kansas Volunteer,
The 1792 Rifles were U.S. Contract Rifles and not Indian Trade rifles per say. These were made by various PA makers with Dickert being one. Most likely the M 1792s participated in the Fallen Timbers campaign in Waynes Legion. These were distributed to early US Rifle troops and possibly to State Militias.

You are correct in saying that there are similarities between Trade Rifles and the US Rifles.

There are many reports of them being in storage and being transferred to the US Armories, namely Harper's Ferry. If I remember correctly, many were listed as being in... poor condition.

The 1792s had interchangeability issues. As they were made by various makers, truthfully each rifle was an individual in their original form as you allude to in your post.
Honestly, The 1792 with a 1803 type lock....may be a fantasy piece. That's a debate for another time.

You can't go wrong with a Dickert. Dickert was very prolific and basically had a factory producing rifles for first the 1770s Continentals and then the United States throughout the War of 1812.

Dickerts work can vary to being among the best of the Lancaster makers in the 1770s to being rather plain almost crude in the early 1800s. While always a good rifle, there's many grades of them. Some of the latter ones may have come from his "factory" but were not actually built by him.

That "Dickert" Lancasterian Pattern of longrifle continues to influence longrifles of all regions to this day.
Dickerts are recorded as being....
At Kings Mountain as Deckards or Dreppards
Were among the 1792 Rifles at Fallen Timbers
Were used by Early US regular and Militia Rifle Troops
Were produced through most of the first quarter of the 19th Century....Dickert died in 1822.
The Alamo Dickert

Dickerts can be fancy to rather plain.

He's not my favorite though, John Phillip Beck is.
He was another long time Pa Maker. Becks Brass Box Rifles tend to be fancy while his wood box guns tend to be more plain. Beck built Wood Box Guns well into the 1800s. Beck continued to produce really artful guns to his death in 1811. Becks late guns are almost as good as his early ones.

Issacc Haynes has one of the most striking plain PA rifles I know of. There is virtually no Rococo Carving and it is absolutely beautiful by architecture alone. Haynes or Haines may be the best carver of all of them and his plain rifle is spectacular. It's featured in the RCA books.

Indian Trade rifles mark the transition from the handmade frontier smith to the early factory guns (like Dickert's Shop) to full on modern production (Large scale production with Whitney, Derringer, Henry and eventually Leman/Constanoga). The Fordneys are in there somewhere but mainly as local PA production...

Alexander has this to say about Rev War English made Trade Longrifles. The Indian allies to Britain in the Revolution demanded trade rifles. To keep favor with their allies, the British copied these Lancasterian rifles. They have the appearance of an American Rifle but British made. In turn American Smith's copied some of these English features. Here you have a "copy" being copied by the originators....

In closing... The American Longrifle was always rooted as a middle (working) class tool or arm. While the Golden Age has many fancy guns and some were favored by the famous and wealthy, at it's heart the American Longrifle was and still is a working tool.
 

plmeek

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Meek,Numb and others...

I would really appreciate an opinion on the Whale's Rifle I posted...

In my opinion this rifle was a base "trade rifle" that had special decoration done to it. If it did start as a Trade Rifle, do any of you recognize the the maker or the pattern.

Sorry for the long post....I thought many may enjoy seeing this rifle and knowing the possible history of it..
I was going to ask you about the background on the "Whale" rifle, but I had to go run some errands. Thanks for answering my question without me asking.

From the history of the rifle you gave, sounds like everything about it has been changed except the stock and stock decorations.

I don't recognize anything about the pattern of the stock or the style of inlays that would connect to the known "trade rifle" makers. The comb in particular seems rather low and the drop of the stock greater than what is normally seen on Lancaster and Philadelphia rifles. If it weren't for the inlays on the top of the comb, I might have thought an owner, possibly an Indian, had modified the shape, but I wouldn't expect the inlays to have been put back afterwards.

It does look to me like the patch box and the fancy silver decoration on the left lock panel were added after the rest of the stock had seen considerable use. The fact that the silver curving piece is on top of what looks to be a brass front lock bolt escutcheon suggests to me that it wasn't put there by the original builder. Also telling, is that this decoration and the patch box do not show the same degree of wear as most of the other inlays. Note especially the wear of the silver nails at the back of the lock panel and the degree of wear to the wood. None of that level of wear is present on the silver scroll piece.

Is the patch box silver or iron? I'm surprised to not see more wear of the engraving. The lid must be iron because silver would wear until you wouldn't be able to read the engraving.

That's just my reaction to what I see in the pictures. One would have to see the rifle in person to fully assess.
 

plmeek

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Although it might get buried here, a question: is anyone aware of Gunsmiths named Tenney or Bair. The Tenney family has roots going back to the 1630s and might well have produced a gunsmith. The Bair family is supposed to be Pennsylvania Dutch and probably been more likely to have produced a gunsmith.
Frank Sellers in American Gunsmiths lists a Sylvanus Tenney in Johnsonville, Illinois, 1878-1882, then Elk Falls, Kansas, 1888. He lists two gunsmiths named Bair, John Bair in Jefferson, Pennsylvania, 1807-1815, and a W. R. Bair in Camas Valley, Oregon, 1881.
 

Patrick Thomas

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No. None of the pictures I've posted are from the book. The book has detail pictures of two Deringer rifles and a close-up of the patch box of a third.

The pictures of the two original rifles I posted above were from a couple of auction sites. As Comfortably_Numb said, these rifles are fairly common and frequently show up for sale at auctions and gun shows.

Is this what you "pictured" as a Indian trade rifle? https://www.morphyauctions.com/jamesdjulia/item/3257-386/

Documented Indian rifles and/or rifles showing obvious Indian use are rare and highly sought after by collectors. Most of the surviving rifles we call "trade" rifles are actually civilian versions of the rifles that were sold to the fur trading companies. There are also a few Indian trade rifles that were purchased by fur companies and the US government, but were never issued. Between the few surviving real trade rifles and some pretty good descriptions in surviving documents of the fur companies, we have a good idea of what fur trade rifles look like and note that the same rifles were sold into the civilian market.
Thank you sir. It’s kind of hard to explain what I pictured as a trade rifle. Much more simple and plain I suppose. Perhaps I had in mind more of the French smooth trade rifle. I need to do much more research.
 

plmeek

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Thank you sir. It’s kind of hard to explain what I pictured as a trade rifle. Much more simple and plain I suppose. Perhaps I had in mind more of the French smooth trade rifle. I need to do much more research.
Maybe you had in mind what some people around Pennsylvania call a "Schimmel" or "barn" rifle and what some folks in Southern Appalachia call a "poor boy" rifle. These are typically simple, plain rifles often with no butt plate, lower entry thimble, or nose cap. They generally had minimal decoration.

Some of this type rifle were likely traded to Indians, especially in the colonial period when the frontier was just beyond the coastal plain. The Moravian church established small communities on the frontier to interact with the Indians and try to convert them. They found that blacksmiths and gunsmiths were sought after by the Indians and would use them and their services so the Indians would allow their missionaries in their towns and villages. The French and British governments did the same thing for diplomatic reasons and the fur trade companies followed the same practice so the Indians would favor them with trade. These "frontier" gunsmiths would repair the Indians' (and other frontiersmen's) guns and rifles and often restocked them when necessary. Jack Brooks has built a series of "frontier" rifles similar to what he imagines these frontier gunsmiths might have done using surplus parts. At first blush, one might call them "barn" guns, but Jack prefers the more romantic term "frontier" rifle because they weren't built for farmers but for Indians and frontiersmen.
 

plmeek

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Tenngun, thanks for reminding me of the 1792 rifles. I had forgotten about them. With that tip I was able to come up with more info.

Plmeek, although I practically grew up in libraries nowadays I start all my research on line. Then I turn to books. I wasn't aware of the Indian rifle you linked to. I bought a copy.

The many pictures have all been a help.

The 1792 rifles seem to have quite a bit of variation and generally reflect the builder's style. I guess what I'd like to do is make a 1792-ish, trade rifle-ish gun that I might have produced had I been a gunsmith in those days. It wouldn't be a fantasy rifle, but a generic representation of type.

I'm attracted to rifle types that are less common than those beauties so many like to build.
Some other books to consider for your library:

Another book by Ryan Gale and Track of the Wolf, has more pictures of trade rifles, but also trade guns such as some of the French trade guns, the Type G, a lot of NW trade guns, and a few fowlers. It's priced at $35.99.


This is the premier book on the subject and part of a true encyclopedia from the Museum of the Fur Trade. Not just a picture book like the others. It's more expensive at $135.00.


This three volume set by Jim Gordon is the premier picture book on the subject. The first volume covers English gunmakers, the second Easter US makers, and the third volume mostly St. Louis but others along the Mississippi and a couple in Colorado. This set is the most expense at $295 new, but I see them on the second-hand market now at lower prices. For the serious student, it is well worth it.


This is another book worth considering. Milton von Damm is a private collector like Jim Gordon who is willing to share his collection with us in book form. Prices on Amazon range fro $87 up to $855. Go figure.


On the 1792 US Contract Rifle, some of these were issued to Indians as treaty gifts and diplomatic reasons. The 1792 Contract Rifle got a lot of attention a couple decades ago when Frank Tait published his study of records and arguments that modified 1792 Contract Rifles were what Lewis & Clark took on their expedition rather than the Harper's Ferry 1803. Trouble was, no one was sure what the 1792 Contract Rifles actually looked like because no specimens had been found. By 2008 when Edward Flanagan presented his paper on "1792 and 1807 Contract Rifles" at the American Society of Arms Collectors spring meeting, he said he knew of only one 1792 Contract Rifle. George Moller in his book, copyrighted in 2011, says that he knows of no surviving examples.

We know of about 15 1807 US Contract Rifles because they seem to be better marked and the period description of them specifies an octagon-to-round barrel which is not typical for civilian rifles.

It's probably worth noting that some of the same builders who were contracted to make the 1792 Contract Rifles and the 1807 Contract Rifles were also contracted to make rifles for the Indian Department between 1803 and 1811. But again, no surviving specimens have been positively identified as part of these (1803-1811) Indian Department contracts.

In spite of this uncertainty about the 1792 US Contract Rifles, Don Stith has developed a kit for what he calls a 1792/1794 Lewis and Clark Contract Rifle you might want to look at.
 
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