Lewis & Clark Powder Cannister

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Ever since I read the journals of Lewis and Clark as a young boy, I was taken by the cleverness of Lewis's method of storing powder in a lead canister that used just enough lead to make bullets for all the powder in the can. Made of soldered lead, they were corrosion proof, water proof, and sealed with a cork dipped in sealing wax or pitch. By their account, the canisters held 4 pounds of powder and were made of 8 pounds of lead. Assuming they were shooting 0.560 cal balls (~264 grains each) in .58 cal weapons (on average), eight pounds of lead would make up about 212 round balls. With 4 pounds of powder (28,000 grains) in the can, that would leave them 132 grains of powder per shot (including prime). That seemed a little stiff to me, but when you consider that they were shooting elk, buffalo, and griz....maybe it's even a little light. At any rate, it was a @!*% clever idea. So clever that I thought I would make one up for myself, just to keep up on the work shop shelf. While there are sparse verbal descriptions of the original canisters, none now exist and, as far as I can discover, there are not even any sketches of the original design. Also, I didn't want to make one up quite as large as the originals. So, starting with the assumption of holding one pound of powder for a .50 cal rifle, I came up with the dimensions for a canister with a 2.5 inch inside diameter and 6.4 inches tall made out of 0.090 thick sheet lead. The end result, shown in the following photos is made of 2.6 pounds of lead and will cast up just over 100 balls (0.490 diameter and ~176 grains each). Holding one pound of powder, that leaves me with 70 grains of powder per shot - close enough. Anyway, just thought it was a fun thing to do in a couple of hours and thought someone else here might enjoy seeing it.





 

TFoley

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If you go to Fort Clatsop at the top left-hand corner of Oregon, you'll find a great replication the over-wintering fort build by L & C and the team. This is actually a replacement for the first replica that was destroyed by arson a few years back. In there, you'll find a few very fine docents, one of who will be more than happy to show you a Lewis & Clarke lead powder bottle, just like he showed me a few years back.
 

TFoley

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Courtesy of Kristopher Townsend.

1623622012718.png


You'll find one such container on display at Fort Clatsop in NW Oregon. I did.
 
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TFoley,

I think that the cannister there is also a recreation that someone else made up (just like I did) from the written description. To my knowledge no original cannister and not even a drawing exist of an original. I put a neck on mine and I think the one at the fort doesn't have a neck and that one is the full size (8 lbs of lead).
 

toot

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Deerstalker, I think as soon as they opened a new cannister, they divided up the powder in the horns of the crew. That left the cannister available for melting into ball.
now that idea rely make sense, because I was wondering the same thing?
 

Scott_C

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Museum of the Mountain Man also has a lead canister on display. It also is spout-less. I've been trying to find out what is stamped upon it since visiting there a couple years ago.
 

TFoley

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I thought Lewis & Clark used Air Rifles?

As Jake noted, just the one, made by Girandoni. The owner of Beeman Airguns, Dr Robert Beeman, owned it for a long time. I bleeve that he donated it to the NRA Museum - here you can see it on youtube being demonstrated to the USAWC.



There are also a couple of skilled craftsmen in America who make replications, as you can see on YT. Mr Martin Orro?

To be honest, they would scare the almighty bejabbers out of anybody used to seeing a muzzleloading musket in use. Twenty shots in twenty seconds? Holeeeeeeeee smoke!

Of course, the indigens didn't know that they had only the one such rifle, but they were, by all accounts, impressed enough to leave that for the next tribe to find out.
 
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FishDFly

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Interesting, thanks for your work and picture.

Some how I imagined the canisters much larger, after reading your writing it makes more sense now.
 
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Washburn ND has an interpretive center, and replica of the winter fort from 1804. They have a reproduction of the air gun. It's a great stop if you ever get up here. Our club has a couple of shoots a year next to the fort.
 

TFoley

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Hmmmmmmmmmm. It seems from the illustration above that the lead canisters might have been more like lead boxes than lead canisters.
 
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