Mountain Man rifles

Discussion in 'Rocky Mountain Fur Trade' started by crockett, Sep 21, 2018.

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  1. Sep 21, 2018 #1

    crockett

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    I'm reading a book on Big Foot Wallace who was more of a Texas Ranger than a mountain man however the time period (at least in his early years) is about right. There is a photo and he has "Some sort" of long rifle. He came west from Virginia.
    IAE, this idea that everyone carried a Henry Flintlock or Hawken percussion, it seems the most common rifle was of some obscure make. It would be interesting to do research on all the known rifles carried by various mountain men.
     
  2. Sep 22, 2018 #2

    Black Hand

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    It is more likely that a smoothbore was carried than a rifle...
     
  3. Sep 22, 2018 #3

    plmeek

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    Crockett,

    There has been a lot of research on what rifles mountain men carried. A number of good books are available on the subject.

    I assume you are aware that the daguerreotype was introduced worldwide in 1839, and was the first publicly available photographic process, and for nearly twenty years it was the one most commonly used. The daguerreotype was almost completely superseded by 1860 with new, less expensive processes such as glass negatives, ambrotypes and tintypes.

    All of the photographs we have of former mountain men were taken long after their days as mountain men. The rifles we see them with in the photos are not what they would have been carrying in the mountains. Sometimes, the guns are props owned by the photographer rather than owned by the subject.

    Here is an image of Tom Tobin with his Hawken rifle. The picture was taken around 1893. Like the Kit Carson Hawken and the Jim Bridger Hawken, this was the last Hawken Tobin owned. It's presently in the Jim Gordon collection.
    [​IMG]

    But then, Tom Tobin wasn't a mountain man. He was born too late. He was what we would call today a plainsman.

    But back to your main point, "this idea that everyone carried a Henry Flintlock or Hawken percussion, it seems the most common rifle was of some obscure make."

    These ideas are perpetuated by marketers that try to sell us things. They find it more effective to reduce complexity down to a single idea and get people to buy it.

    The rifles that were carried by mountain men in the days of the rendezvous did vary a lot. Pennsylvania rifles by a variety of makers would have been the most common. There would have been some rifles from some of the southern states and some rifles from the Appalachia Mountains. There were probably a few rifles from the Ohio River valley.

    They all would have been flintlocks before 1830, with a few percussion rifles going west around that date. By 1840, percussion rifles would have been more common, but still in the minority.

    Similarly, before 1830, nearly all rifles would have been full stock. The popularity of half stock rifles appears to follow close behind the percussion system.

    By the 1850's, there were a lot more people building a wide variety of rifles back east, in the south, along the Ohio, and in St. Louis. Transportation costs were going down and guns made as far away as New York were being shipped west. That's the primary reason you see such amazing variety of rifles in those old photographs that likely date to the 1850s and later.

    Phil Meek
     
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  4. Sep 22, 2018 #4

    plmeek

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    crockett,

    I found two images of Big Foot Wallace on the internet and assume one of these is the same as the picture in the book you are reading.

    This one was taken in 1872, and the original albumen photo sold for a $10,000 bid at Heritage Auctions in 2013.
    [​IMG]

    This next one appears to have been taken at the same time as the first, but with a serape over his shoulder. He appears to be wearing the same hat, has the same strap for his shooting pouch, and the bottom edge of the backdrop looks the same in both photos.
    [​IMG]

    By 1872, that rifle could have been made anywhere including Texas. It looks like it could be a Southern Mountain Rifle, but that's just the style. It doesn't mean is was necessarily made back there. It is clearly percussion, and the lock plate appears to have a round tail. When I blow up the photo, the lock appears to have some holes in the plate that might be from a frizzen spring, so it could be a flint converted to percussion. The hammer has that fat, robust look of an early percussion hammer. That lock could date to the 1830s. The trigger guard is pretty distinctive, and someone more knowledgeable than me may recognize what area it's from.

    In any event, 1872 Texas is a long ways, geographically and chronologically, from the mountain men of 1825-40.
     
  5. Sep 22, 2018 #5

    Rifleman1776

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    That's an interesting picture. The item under his left shoulder in cross draw position looks like a knife handle but I won't argue it might be a pistol. I note the tack decoration on his horn. Something not often seen currently.
     
  6. Sep 22, 2018 #6

    Black Hand

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    Enlarged, one can see it is a pistol-butt in a full-coverage flap holster.
     
  7. Sep 22, 2018 #7

    Kansas Jake

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    It is also interesting that the ramrod is sticking out about three inches longer than the muzzle of the rifle.
     
  8. Sep 23, 2018 #8

    tenngun

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    I would like to think most of the men had bought rifle them selves, or brought one with them from home. I would bet they got most from the company that bought guns from makers built to a pattern. We know Astor’s expedition had contract rifles it’s thought one was found in the snake from the 1811 east bound trip.
    I might think Henry or Derringer if I was putting together a mountain man out fit today.
     
  9. Sep 23, 2018 #9

    plmeek

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    I agree Henry or Deringer rifles for a mountain outfit. Deringer earlier than Henry. Henry Deringer was supplying rifles to the Office of Indian Trade as early as 1809 and continued into the late 1830s. Deringer also supplied rifles to private companies in this period. A lot of Deringer rifles were sent to Fort Osage and to St. Louis prior to 1822. JJ Henry did not start selling rifles to the American Fur Company until 1826.


    The rifles that Astor says they were importing are undoubtedly the English Pattern Type D Trade Rifles.

    The 100 or 200 rifles a year he says they had been getting manufactured in the United States were likely coming from builders in Lancaster, PA. There was a long tradition of Lancaster gunsmiths providing large quantities of guns to the government and to private companies going all the way back to the AWI.

    In the 1790s and early 1800s, makers such as Jacob Dickert, Henry DeHuff, George Miller, John Bender, Christopher Gumpf, and Peter Gonter were involved. Others include Jonathan Guest, John Miles, and Henry Pickel.

    By the second and third decade of the 19th century, many of these gunsmiths had retired or died and smiths such as Henry Gibbs, John Dreppard, Jacob Fordney, Jacob Gumpf, Andrew Gumpf, J. Dickert Gill, and Benjamin D. Gill (the two Gill's were grandsons of Jacob Dickert) were supplying trade rifles.

    A rifle from one of the two Gills was sent by Astor to JJ Henry in 1830 to use as a pattern for future AFC orders.

    Phil Meek
     
  10. Sep 24, 2018 #10

    tenngun

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    The ”˜Enterpriseng young men’ add brought in its heap of late teens and early twenties. I bet the most came with little more then the clothing on their backs. Meek told his story of a gun cleaning incident. I bet the brigades were as concerned with the gun as a captian of a military company. For the same reason. It was the kings musket er ah, SJS rifle, not the man who was charged with its care.
     
  11. Sep 26, 2018 #11

    burlesontom

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    These links are from a thread I started on thehighroad and thefiringline forums titled "guns of the mountain men". The notion that all mountain men carried Hawken rifles is wrong but thats the story that has been promoted. It seems the Hawken were rather rare till after 1830 and later on.
    http://traditionalmuzzleloader.com/index.php/rifles

    Henry Leman made a huge number of rifles for the fur trade. And many more for the westward expansion. A period I am really interested in but you don't here as much about.
    http://americansocietyofarmscollectors.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/B051_Hanson.pdf
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 27, 2018
  12. Sep 26, 2018 #12

    plmeek

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    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 27, 2018
  13. Sep 27, 2018 #13

    burlesontom

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    Yep. I have read that before. Here is another link I bet you have also seen.

    http://www.mman.us/mythhawken.htm

    While Hawkens were good guns their use by mountain men was inflated. I bet they all wish they could have had one but a hawken was no more effective than one of the large bore eastern rifles. And the hawken rifles were heavy to boot. Thats one of the main reasons I don't have a correct Hawken copy myself. The one Elk I killed with a BP rifle was killed with a 54 caliber Cabelas "Hawken" that weighs 2-3 pounds less than the excellent Pedersoli Hawken copy.

    But the stories of the MM are so dern interesting no matter what they were armed with.
     
  14. Sep 27, 2018 #14

    tenngun

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    Many of the old mountain men used Hawkens in their later years. Fact is they didn’t know the mountain man era stoped on 1 Jan 1841. 41,51,61, them that survives figured they was still mountain men.
    The boy who went west in ”˜39, trapped a few beaver, hunted for wagon trains and forts, shot a buff or two, scouted for the army, maybe panned a little gold in California still thought of him self as a mountain man. So did Bridger, Carson and Meek. And they owned Hawkens... sometimes. In that way it was the mountianmans choice. Our dates of 1806 or 10 or 22-1840,41,43 what have you are made up, as our are names ”˜pre rendezvous, rendezvous or plainsmen periods and have 0 relation ship to the people that lived it.
     
  15. Sep 28, 2018 #15

    burlesontom

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    Maybe they were like a lot of us and couldn't afford a top notch gun until later in life. That sure describes me. Now I can buy about any gun I want I just have to justify the expense to myself.

    And I find the plains period interesting ever since I saw a movie on Netflix called Meeks Cutoff. I watched it three times and would watch it again if it were still on.

    And even the movie Jeremiah Johnson is based after the 1841 Mexican/American War. And the MM never left the mountains in their hearts. They were Mountain Man for the rest of their lives. they just did other jobs to make ends meet. :thumbsup:
     
  16. Sep 28, 2018 #16

    plmeek

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    That's an interesting way of looking at it, tenngun, but I think you're just muddying the waters to hide the point that burlesontom and crockett were making.

    We don't really know what any of these guys thought of themselves after they quit trapping. Maybe they still considered themselves mountain men, but maybe they thought of themselves as scouts or miners or guides. I'm sure many of them wished they were still mountaineers trapping beaver, but who knows what they thought?

    We do know, because they dictated it to people recording their autobiographies, that in 1840, Doc Newell told Joe Meek, "Come, we are done with this life in the mountains--done with wading in beaver dams, and freezing or starving alternately--done with Indian trading and Indian fighting. The fur trade is dead in the Rocky Mountains, and it is no place for us now, if ever it was." Newell then persuaded Meek to give up the life of a mountain man and to go to Oregon. We also know that Kit Carson continued to try to make a living as a trapper until September 1841, at which time, he says, "Beaver was getting scarce, and finding it was necessary to try our hand at something else [emphasis added], Bill Williams, Bill New, Mitchell, Frederick, a Frenchman and myself, concluded to start for Bent's Fort on the Arkansas."

    Whether Meek or Carson still considered themselves "mountain men", I don't know, but it is clear they realized they couldn't continue on trapping for a living.

    What I hear burlesontom saying is that while the mountain men were trapping, not that many of them carried Hawken rifles. That's the conclusion that Charles E. Hanson, Jr. came to after he did extensive research in the matter.
     
  17. Sep 28, 2018 #17

    tenngun

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    I was not trying to muddy any waters, and I pointed out in earlier post that for the 1810-1840 westren fur trade other guns would be the gun of choice.
    Only pointing out that they didn’t see the mountain man period the way we see it. We put a line that says this is such and such in one side and that’s such and such over there.
    Ruxton, Gerrand, Kephart, Roberts et al did not think of the Mountain man period in the way that we do today.
    Only Hanson would start to get in to our modren definition of that time.
    The fact that Potts or Rose or Bridger may have had a derringer or a Henry or some other Pennsylvania trade rifle in Cr.1825 wasn’t important to the people writing about 1850s or 60s ect. No one was creating myth, they were just seeing in through a different prisum then we do today.
    Revolvers don’t belong at a pre 1840 event, but Carson had one in 1839.
     
  18. Sep 28, 2018 #18

    plmeek

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    Ok. I think we are saying about the same thing, though I have to admit that sometimes I have trouble understanding what you mean. My problem, I'm sure.

    We certainly think of the mountain man period different today than the people that lived it.

    I know that when I got interested in muzzleloaders and the fur trade, my focus was from Ashley's ad in 1822 through the last major rendezvous in 1840. I don't think I was alone in this. Since then, I've broadened my interest to the beginning of the trading for furs by fishermen in the 16th century through the settlement of the West. There is a continuum of the fur trade that followed the frontier and preceded the advancing settlement. The Rocky Mountain fur trade is just a small part of that continuum. Understanding what came before and after helps to put the Rocky Mountain fur trade in perspective, especially with respect to guns.

    "No one was creating myth..." I wonder about this. You may be right, but several mountain men were well known for their tall story telling. It was entertainment around the campfire, for sure, but a lot these tall stories found their way into journals and autobiographies and novels and became myths. Oral story telling and myth making go back a long way in human history.

    But as I said, we agree that "for the 1810-1840 western fur trade other guns would be the gun of choice." Research by John E. Parsons, Charles E. Hanson, Jr., and George Shumway showed this to us. Their research into the records of the American Fur Company, Pierre Chouteau Jr. & Company, and Ewing Brothers have told us the most about what rifles were being purchased for the Western fur trade from about 1822 onward.

    I mentioned in my first post in this thread that there are a number of good books on the subject.

    This is an inexpensive ($24.95) picture book that is an excellent resource. It's available from Track of the Wolf, and even though its title is Rifles of the American Indians, most of the examples are applicable to mountain men, also.
    [​IMG]

    On the high end is Great Gunmakers for the Early West by James D. Gordon ($295). This is the best picture book and covers English guns, Easter US made guns, and guns made in St. Louis and other locations along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

    Firearms of the Fur Trade by James A. Hanson ($135) is in between the first two books price-wise, but is the best for scholarly reading.

    For Trade and Treaty by Ryan R. Gale is another inexpensive ($35.99) picture book that I recommend that is an abbreviated version of the Gordon book and the Hanson book.

    Phil
     
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  19. Sep 28, 2018 #19

    tenngun

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    I should have been more narrow with my statement. Frontiesman, sailors,miners,logger, what have you love to tell yarns. It’s aint no use telling a story if you can’t make it better. I can see two Greeks sitting on a beach and one said ”˜geez, did you see haw angry Achilles got when Aggamemnon claimed his slave girl. “ the story just got bigger after that.
    What I should have said was those writes were not trying to create a Hawken myth, it’s just that several of the old trappers had Hawkens in common. And puff since several had tgen soon it was the best and not long after that the first choice.
    I would compare it more to derringers. Pocket pistols were old. Derringer made a good one. Booth used one, pretty soon all little pocket pistols are Derringers... or any big knife is a Bowie. I don’t think people set out to crest a myth here just a few circumstances fell in to place and poof, its there.
    I think of very old westerns. They often had a wide variety of guns used in them. However by the forties stocks were low and movie producers started regimenting their props from a central store. Soon everybody had a colt peace maker and a ”˜73 Winchester. It was just handy.
     

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