NW Trade guns and fowlers

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That's a classic old Curly gun Eric. I remember shooting up on the primitive range at Friendship and all the cool guys had those. I remember a few of them were 12 ga. , boy those sure kicked! I don't see any of them around any more, I wonder where they all went? Must all be in old men's closets now.;)
 

Renegade Dan

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I built my trade gun a few years ago from a Pecatonica kit. I've used it for deer hunting only, but I plan on doing some Turkey hunting this year.
IMG_20170411_042924066 (1).jpg IMG_20170411_170605029_HDR.jpg
 

dave_person

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My next gun in the works is a Wilson Trade gun with a 48" 20ga barrel. Smoothbores are definitely addicting. :)
Hi Lobo,
You did very well on the fusil. To my eye you got most of the details very well and I like what you did with the lock. Doing the research to get it right and then making the details come true is the sign of a good gun maker. You definitely added some nice French features. With respect to a trade gun by Wilson, Jim Gordon's first volume of "Great Gunmakers for the Early West" and Ryan Gale's "Trade and Treaty" are very valuable resources.

dave
 

plmeek

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This is a fun thread, and we’ve had pictures of some nice looking guns posted.

I have another that relates well to the theme. It is a Chief’s Grade trade gun from North Star Enterprises. The barrel is 36.5” long, 1.09” across the flats at the breech tapering to 0.73” at the muzzle, and octagon to round, of course. It’s 20 gauge. The stock is walnut.


As with a lot of Indian trade guns and rifles, this gun is simply an inexpensive version of an English fowler with some simple but meaningful decoration.

I didn’t realize it until I started doing some research on these weapons, but it turns out this gun is very historically correct.

The architecture is good, and while not exceptional, the inletting is ok. What stands out is the decoration, including the engraving.

Case in point would be the trigger guard. The finial on the front of the guard is the proper Prince of Wales’ Feather motif. The engraving on the bow of the guard is the heraldic bow and arrow incorporated as a trophy motif.


This bow and arrow trophy motif is also repeated on the side plate. The shield in the center carries the King’s “crow foot” broad arrow. The side plate is also of the correct shape and has the proper border engraving. The basic shape of the side plate was adopted by the English from the French and probably used on Chief’s Grade guns as early as mid-18th century, but more common after the F&I war.


The butt plate tang has the boar’s head, hunter’s horn (appears to be cast-in), and spear engraving near the heel and the tulip or rosette engraved on the point. Between the spear tip and tulip is possibly a bird.


The boar’s head and horn motif is also engraved on the tail of the lock.


The gun has a silver wrist inlay with an embossed Indian bust. The Indian is a chief as indicated by the three feathers. Period drawings and etchings used three feathers on Indian images to designate a chief or king of Indians.


The lock, in front of the cock, and the top flat of the barrel, near the breech, bear a “circle fox” stamp.


Early gun collectors attributed the mark of the “circle fox” to the North West Company of Montreal. Surviving documentation shows the “tombstone fox” over “EB” was the inspection mark for the Hudson’s Bay Co., but not that many records from the North West Co. have been found. It seemed natural to collectors that the NWC would want a mark that was different than the HBC mark, and they assumed this was the “circle fox” mark. This is probably wrong.

James A. Hanson in Firearms of the Fur Trade presents a compelling argument that the “circle fox” was not the mark of the North West Co.

James A. Hanson - FIREARMS OF THE FUR TRADE. pg 156 said:
The North West Company was formed in 1779 and operated until it amalgamated in 1821 with the Hudson’s Bay Company. North West Company records state that its arms were to be marked the same as those of the Hudson’s Bay Company. This is borne out by the fact that the earliest known NWC gun, a Barnett made in 1789, is marked on the lock and barrel with the punchmark fox, while a NWC Barnett made in 1792 is marked with a tombstone fox over “IB”.
The punchmark fox was the mark that HBC used before the tombstone fox. A review of Barnett guns in James Gordon’s Great Gunmakers for the Early West – Vol I did not show a single Barnett gun with a circle fox even though the Barnett family was likely the main supplier of trade guns to the NWC from the 1780s until it merged with HBC.

Further,
James A. Hanson - FIREARMS OF THE FUR TRADE. pg 157 said:
The only firm left to account for the civilian Northwest guns (as opposed to British government guns, discussed in chapter 9) marked with the fox-in-circle is the Michilimackinac Company, and its successor, the South West Company…

John Jacob Astor, who founded the American Fur Company in 1808, wrote, “In 1798 the North West Company divided, one with the old name & old stock; other as Michilimackinac Company”…The two companies did not compete against each other, and many of the stockholders owned shares in both firms. The new company controlled the Great Lakes fur trade on the American side of the border, and that territory produced half the furs that passed through Montreal. In 1811 the Michilimackinac Company was reorganized as the South West Company, with Astor as a principal stockholder. After the War of 1812, foreigners were prohibited from trading in the US, and in 1817 Astor absorbed the South West Company into his American Fur Company’s Northern Department.
James Hanson concluded that the circle fox mark originated with the Michilimackinac Company and was used by them. The British government used the same mark on guns they ordered for their Indian allies leading up to and during the War of 1812. They were trying to hide the fact that they were arming the Indians.

The style of gun the North Star Enterprises Chief’s Grade trade gun is patterned after was likely first made in the 1780s for the Michilimackinac Company. The British government placed their first order for this same pattern in 1797. From then until the end of the War of 1812, the only distinction between the fur company arm and the government arm was the military proof marks on the barrel and the small crown and broad arrow stamped under the pan on the lock of the government Chief's gun.

At the start of the War of 1812, the British government began a series of procurement of arms for their Indian allies in American territory. By the end of the procurement process in 1816, the British acquired 10,118 Chief’s guns made by at least 16 different contractors. All the guns were made to a pattern and have only minor differences among them. These guns did not just go to the Indians around the Great Lakes. The British also supplied guns to Indians in the South, including the Creeks.

The North Star Enterprises Chief’s Grade trade gun is an accurate representation of a fur company supplied gun during the first two decades of the 19th century. If one ignores the absence of the British Ordnance proof marks and the lack of the small crown and broad arrow stamp on the lock, it could also represent a British government supplied gun during the War of 1812. All the decoration on the North Star Enterprises Chief’s Grade trade gun can be found on original Chief’s guns.


Primary references:

James A. Hanson, Firearms of the Fur Trade. (Chadron, Nebraska: Museum of the Fur Trade, 2011)

Nathan E. Bender, The Art of the English Trade Gun in North America. (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2018)
 
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dave_person

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Hi Phil,
Great post as always. The gun you presented showed English styling from the late 1780s and later. It would not be appropriate for the colonial or Rev War period in America. English styles were different then.

dave
 

plmeek

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Thanks for your positive comments, Dave and Ron.

I agree with you, Dave, that this Chief's Grade gun styling is post-Rev War period. I said, "The style of gun the North Star Enterprises Chief’s Grade trade gun is patterned after was likely first made in the 1780s for the Michilimackinac Company." But I did not mean to imply the Rev War period and should have said late-1780s.

As usual, the whole story on these Chief's Grade trade guns is more complicated than what I presented above. James Hanson has categorized British Government Chief's guns with a lettering system from Type A to Type G, for example. (These are not to be confused with T.M. Hamilton's categorization of types of trade guns nor George Shumway's types of English pattern trade rifles, both of which are different guns.)

The North Star Enterprises Chief’s Grade trade gun is most similar to Hanson's Types C, D, and E. Hanson's Type C has the same stock pattern as the North Star Enterprises gun, but different details on the shape of the butt plate tang, the trigger guard front finial, and the thumb piece. It also had different engraving patterns. Hanson states, "The evidence indicates that the Type C chief's guns were produced after the Revolutionary War and before 1800." He's talking about the government ordered guns, not necessarily the fur company ordered guns, so he is being vague on the date range.

Hanson's Type D has the same pattern and characteristics as the North Star Enterprises gun, but made specifically by Robert Wheeler for the British Board of Trade and first ordered in 1797.

Hanson's Type E also has the same pattern and characteristics as the North Star Enterprises gun, but these are the guns the government ordered during the War of 1812 from at least 16 different contractors.

Hanson doesn't go into any detail on the fur company ordered guns of this type, though we can be sure the Michilimackinac Company and its successors were ordering them. A few specimens have survived that do not have the British government marks on them. It's also pretty common that when there are records of the British government ordering trade guns, there are corresponding civilian guns with the same characteristics. We see this with NW trade guns, these Chief's guns, the English Pattern trade rifles, and trade pistols.

Lastly, this is not the only type of Chief's gun. There is at least one surviving example of a Type G or Carolina gun of higher grade than normal with fowler type cast butt plate and trigger guard. There are also Chief's grade NW trade guns with cast butt plates and trigger guards.

De Witt Baily in British Military Flintlock Rifles 1740-1840 in discussing "Indian Rifles in British Service to 1783" references three Wilson invoices to the government for 312 rifles in three grades, 4,000 fusils, 145 fowling pieces of two grades (what by the 1790s came to be called "Chiefs' Guns"), and 200 pistols of two grades.
 

dave_person

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Thanks for your positive comments, Dave and Ron.

I agree with you, Dave, that this Chief's Grade gun styling is post-Rev War period. I said, "The style of gun the North Star Enterprises Chief’s Grade trade gun is patterned after was likely first made in the 1780s for the Michilimackinac Company." But I did not mean to imply the Rev War period and should have said late-1780s.

As usual, the whole story on these Chief's Grade trade guns is more complicated than what I presented above. James Hanson has categorized British Government Chief's guns with a lettering system from Type A to Type G, for example. (These are not to be confused with T.M. Hamilton's categorization of types of trade guns nor George Shumway's types of English pattern trade rifles, both of which are different guns.)

The North Star Enterprises Chief’s Grade trade gun is most similar to Hanson's Types C, D, and E. Hanson's Type C has the same stock pattern as the North Star Enterprises gun, but different details on the shape of the butt plate tang, the trigger guard front finial, and the thumb piece. It also had different engraving patterns. Hanson states, "The evidence indicates that the Type C chief's guns were produced after the Revolutionary War and before 1800." He's talking about the government ordered guns, not necessarily the fur company ordered guns, so he is being vague on the date range.

Hanson's Type D has the same pattern and characteristics as the North Star Enterprises gun, but made specifically by Robert Wheeler for the British Board of Trade and first ordered in 1797.

Hanson's Type E also has the same pattern and characteristics as the North Star Enterprises gun, but these are the guns the government ordered during the War of 1812 from at least 16 different contractors.

Hanson doesn't go into any detail on the fur company ordered guns of this type, though we can be sure the Michilimackinac Company and its successors were ordering them. A few specimens have survived that do not have the British government marks on them. It's also pretty common that when there are records of the British government ordering trade guns, there are corresponding civilian guns with the same characteristics. We see this with NW trade guns, these Chief's guns, the English Pattern trade rifles, and trade pistols.

Lastly, this is not the only type of Chief's gun. There is at least one surviving example of a Type G or Carolina gun of higher grade than normal with fowler type cast butt plate and trigger guard. There are also Chief's grade NW trade guns with cast butt plates and trigger guards.

De Witt Baily in British Military Flintlock Rifles 1740-1840 in discussing "Indian Rifles in British Service to 1783" references three Wilson invoices to the government for 312 rifles in three grades, 4,000 fusils, 145 fowling pieces of two grades (what by the 1790s came to be called "Chiefs' Guns"), and 200 pistols of two grades.
Hi Phil,
My previous response was not to challenge your description in any way but to clarify changes over time. There are folks on this site and others that know every nuance of American longrifles and would never put a Melchior Fordney patch box or engraving on a Christian's Spring rifle. However, when they try to make an English gun they do the equivalent of exactly that because they simply don't know much about English styles over time like they know long rifles. A good example of what I am saying is in the thread on "Best Kentucky rifles made in US". Someone posted a modern made English stalking gun. It is a stunning piece by a very skilled maker and engraver, however, it has badly mismatched styling and details, historically. It is a classic example of why you should not rely on modern-made guns to be historically correct models.

dave
 

Rudyard

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Dear Dave I have only made up four' In the whites' Chiefs for the then ' Curly' shop Nr Dayton, and one private LH one . I used to Anglisise Lg Silers but they were not correct .. The Trade & Treaty book is a very good reference .I wouldn't say that you can be too dogmatic as to UK makers styles of stocking They just made what was ordered old or new fashioned as wanted .So long as the money was right they didn't care . The illustrated Chiefs are late 18th perhaps but more early 19th Regards Rudyard
 

Blind Dog

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That's a classic old Curly gun Eric. I remember shooting up on the primitive range at Friendship and all the cool guys had those. I remember a few of them were 12 ga. , boy those sure kicked! I don't see any of them around any more, I wonder where they all went? Must all be in old men's closets now.;)
I traded for a 12 gauge Curly gun, perhaps five years ago. Beautiful flintlock but after a few hundred rounds and a brutalized cheek and shoulder I sent her to a new home with a nice fellow in Atlanta. If she’d been a smaller bore most likely would be the most popular member of my collection.
 

David Teague

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I traded for a 12 gauge Curly gun, perhaps five years ago. Beautiful flintlock but after a few hundred rounds and a brutalized cheek and shoulder I sent her to a new home with a nice fellow in Atlanta. If she’d been a smaller bore most likely would be the most popular member of my collection.
There was a reason I bought a Curly kit in 24 gauge.

Still have the finished trade gun all these years later.
 

Atticus69

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I've been looking for a 36 inch barreled .62 caliber North Star West gun for awhile but they're tough to find. My hope is that if a NSW gun never drops in my lap Jim Kibler will decide to make a kit.
Got lucky and just picked up a .62 cal, 36" NSW trade gun on gunbroker yesterday! Not trying to rub it in, just to encourage patience. They are rare, but are out there. I have also been looking and waiting for quite sometime.
 

smoothshooter

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I've owned a few (7) Northwest trade guns, 3 of which were Curly's. One was actually made by him. The best was one of Curly's kits my old pal put together back in the 80's barreled in .58" cal x 42" long. It shot like a rifle. The 1st one I made was a Curly kit back in 86'. It was butt ugly but I could hit anything I aimed at. I had a chance to buy it back last summer and passed. I traded a Centermark Tulle for a Northwest gun stocked in ash. It was a real pretty piece of wood. I've also made 3 with cherry wood for my grandchildren. Now I shoot a 11 gauge Dutch gun. It shoots well but it really takes a lot of lead & powder.

I have owned a whole bunch of fowlers & trade guns, too many to remember. There are a few I've let slip through my fingers I'd like back, too.
If you had to pick just one for shooting shot loads and ball loads in,'which caliber would you pick as the most all-around useful?
 

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