Smoothbore and Mountain Men?

Discussion in 'Smoothbore' started by Amikee, Aug 26, 2011.

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  1. Aug 26, 2011 #1

    Amikee

    Amikee

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    I'm not sure where this topic should go, but here it is:

    Would mountain man use smoothbores instead of rifles? Along with rifles as a supplement weapon? Only rifles? Obviously rifled bore gives more accuracy but since most game shots are/were taken within about 50-60 yards... and based on my study here on MLF smoothies can be very accurate. What do you gentleman think? is there any record or proof of one's choosing smoothbore over a rifle? (curiosity eats me on this one, LOL).

    Michael
     
  2. Aug 26, 2011 #2

    Stumpkiller

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    I think a lot more did than is currently supposed. If your primary interest is trapping for pelts and you're transporting a pack of traps and other gear a lighter smoothbore has to be attractive.

    So I guess you'd need to factor in, for a Mountain Man, which mountain(s) and when? Also, from what original background. Russian? French? Spanish? Almost certainly smoothbore equipped. Likely so of New England sons as well.

    The Book of Buckskinning IV has a good chapter on smoothbores on the American Frontier.

    A fellow name of Bob "Curley" Gostomski would have been able to give you a great low-down on frontier smoothbores in the hands of Fur Trade era Mountain Men.
     
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  3. Aug 26, 2011 #3

    Steve Tobler

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    The versatility of the smoothbore to use both shot and RB would also have to be considered.
     
  4. Aug 26, 2011 #4

    LaBonte

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    If one is speaking of mountain of the classic RMFT era of 1820-1840 era the big split in whether one carried a smoothbore or a rifle was mostly based on what background you came from.

    1) Euro American i.e. shorthand for "white" Americans not including most of French background carried rifles - the literature of the era is full of citations regarding the disdain most of these men had for the "shotgun" except for special cases such as hunting buffalo on horseback where the smoothbore flintlock was king or when on night guard, then they used the double barrel shotgun for sentry duty and understood it's benefits.
    2) Transplanted Indians from the east such as Shawnee, Delaware, Choctaw, etc. In general also preferred the rifle over the smoothbore and even did when still back east.
    3) Western Indians, Metis, and most French Canadians as well as NWC/HBC employees, generally preferred the light NW Gun aka fusee. Heavier guns such as smooth rifles, although offered by the Trade Co were mostly scoffed at - if the Indians were going to carry a heavy gun they preferred the rifle and if in a smoothbore they carried a NW gun generally

    All of the above points are well documented in the primary literature of the day. For the Whites and others who preferred the rifle - most came from the rifle culture areas of the Southern Highlands (IE the Ky Rifleman) and later the Ozarks, etc.. The rifle was preferred for various reason including it's longer reach which often was (and still is) an advantage in the west.
    In the west average shots were not 50-60 yards but generally a bit longer and at times over 100 yards. The longer effective distance of the rifle in general helped keep the "enemy" at a distance since most were armed with fusees and/or bows.

    While this may have been a consideration elsewhere - nowhere in the RMFT literature does this concept appear - some folks reportedly carried both a rifle and a smoothbore, but overwhelmingly those that carried rifles just did not consider the smoothbore for much good other than those specialized times I mentioned above.

    Does that mean if you are doing a "white" trapper impression wouldn't have carried a smoothbore? No but it was not common and again this is not opinion but facts based on literature of the time and place. On the other hand a camp keeper or engage or perhaps a mixed blood hunter would have more commonly carried a fusil or other smoothbore.
    And one could go vie versa as well.ottomline there are no hard and fast rules one way or the other, but if following the "common" line when offereing an impression than one needs to look deeper into the points I posted above - here's a start.....

    Here's just some info on carrying rifles in the RMFT - http://www.google.com/cse?cx=001430202502149324205:ixsufj3grxk&q=rifle&cof=FORID:0
     
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  5. Aug 26, 2011 #5

    tg

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    I believe there are list of inventiry listing smoothbores and not all for trade to NA's many brought what they were used to and if being issued guns the bosses may have went for a gun less demanding of the shooter to use, a dozen guys with NW gujhs shooting B&b or buckshot might be a better deterent thna the same nummber with slower loading rifles and maybe not being raised using such arms, just some thoughts.It is hard to imagine that both were not in use but probably impossible to put a percentage on it overall.it also would be much easier to make the smoothbores by just using some old pipe found lying around :rotf: :rotf:
     
  6. Aug 27, 2011 #6

    alex efremenko

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    Seamless or DOM?
     
  7. Aug 27, 2011 #7

    Rifleman1776

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    You are right. And, note the "would have". Meaning past tense. We all miss Curley. Great man. Great campfire cook too.
     
  8. Aug 27, 2011 #8

    tg

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    DOM -- Drawn Over Mountainman
     
  9. Aug 27, 2011 #9

    Rifleman1776

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    I've been shot down for this before. But, what makes anyone think they really had a choice. These guys were poor and (here is where I get in trouble) poor folks made do with whatever they can afford. It is not far fetched to surmise left over Rev. war muskets, modified or as issue, were in the hands of the guys who left home back east to head for the mountains.
     
  10. Aug 27, 2011 #10

    shortbow

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    I've often thought the same thing, Rifleman, at least until they'd had a season or two in the mountains to make a few dollars and be able to afford something more to their preference.
     
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  11. Aug 27, 2011 #11

    Amikee

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    I guess what I am trying to ask is, if the smoothbore guns were/are so versatile, why weren't they preferred choice? Totally understand the range as no one likes to let the enemies come within 50 yards or so. And I do not want to start argument between the members. I've always been a rifle man, and that was my favorite choice due to accuracy. But right now I am starting going toward smoothbore direction and I must tell you without firing a single shot yet- I already like it a lot. That is some great info you guys gave here. Thank You All
     
  12. Aug 27, 2011 #12

    tg

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    There is lots of speculation, about how they must have felt or what they must have done pretty much based on current values, I would hope Rod L, Labonte, Black Hand or a couple of the others who are in the AMM or well studied in the period would chime in with some commemnts based on research of which there is much to study in this time/place, the short answere would likley be both rifles and smoothbore would be in use the whys could run a gauntlet of reasons, but speculation upon their conditions and ways of thinking in the past often do not offer a lot in the way of accurate information this is a trap we all find ourseves slipping into at times.
     
  13. Aug 27, 2011 #13

    Rod Lassey

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    Labonte prettywell covers it----one thing to keep in mind when comparing arms and ethnicity is the percentage of Euro vs. métis/other. While when we think of mountain men, we think of the likes of Jim Bridger or Jedediah Smith, I'm convinced that they may well have been in the minority. Here's a couple of quotes by Osborne Russel about the makeup of trapping parties:

    [at rendezvous]
    "Here presented what might be termed a mixed multitude The whites were chiefly Americans and Canadian French with some Dutch, Scotch, Irish, English, halfbreed, and full blood Indians, of nearly every tribe in the Rocky Mountains."

    [in winter quarters]
    "I have already said the man who was the proprietor of the lodge in which I staid was a French man with a flat head wife and one child The inmates of the next lodge was a half breed Iowa a Nez percey wife and two children his wifes brother and another half breed next lodge was a half breed Cree his wife a Nez percey 2 children and a Snake Indian The inmates of the 3d lodge was a half breed Snake his wife (a Nez percey and two children). The remainder was 15 lodges of Snake Indians Three of the party spoke English but very broken therefore that language was made but little use of as I was familiar with the Canadian French and Indian tongue."

    This may skew the rifle/NW gun ratio---as nearly all the 'non-Euro' guys were illiterate. We could very well, for instance, have one Euro guy condemning the NW gun in writing, while he's actually in the minority in his party. Since he's the only one that writes anything down, his perspective is all we have to go on today. Just something to keep in mind, and 'read between the lines' when reading period accounts.

    Rod
     
  14. Aug 27, 2011 #14

    Dphar

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    Look at the casualty rates reported by Osborne Russell. Rifle armed trappers vs the fuzee armed natives. Its lopsided in the extreme.
    The average western native did not seem to have a firm grip on how firearms worked or at least how the shoot them accurately. So the trade gun was as good as a rifle to many if not most of them. Many eastern tribes had it figured out by the early 18th century and there were significant numbers of rifles in some tribes by 1740.
    Nor did any one like approaching a rifleman if knew he would shoot them once under 150 yards or so.
    In reading Parkman's "The Oregon Trail" his traveling companion, who's name escapes me, used a double shotgun. But IIRC it was significantly larger in the bore than a trade gun and while I do not recall 100% I don't recall his using small shot. He did use balls in it however "created wild work wherever they struck" is the quote I believe.
    The double would be useful for night horse guards etc, especially if 8 or 10 ga and loaded with buckshot.
    But overall they are of limited usefulness in the west and if only one gun is carried its probably a rifle, if the owner knows how to use one.
    The plains rifle really was not supplanted in the west until the coming of the Sharps and other large capacity breechloaders. The Henry and the 1866 were good for fending off hostiles of all kinds but not so great for feeding oneself in the west.
    The supposed versatile smoothbore is really not in the west and its problematical even in the east. There was no practical use for small shot in the intermountain west and the accuracy was not up to shooting animals at 150-200 yards. Why shoot an ounce of shot and a charge of powder to obtain a bird or two when the same powder and lead in the form of a ball will kill a deer or buffalo? In a pinch the birds in the west are easy to kill with a rifle or maybe a stick in some cases. So the shotgun with small shot is just excess baggage. Some clerks and such used smoothbores and even hunted birds for sport. But this was not subsistence.
    Anyone who thinks the smoothbore is so great should try spot and stalk Antelope hunting with one. I have BTW It takes a lot of work to get under 150 yards and often its impossible.
    People have to remember that for the most part west of todays Kansas City and in some cases west of the Mississippi there was not much cover in the west. I.E. no trees on the prairie. Some along streams but for the most part it was miles and miles of grass and only terrain for cover.
    There are far more trees in this photo than would have been seen even in 1900.
    [​IMG]
    Its amazing how much the country has increased in the number of cedar and pines since I arrived in the late 1970s.
    The Church where I was married here in town stood by itself in a bare plain in the early photos of it. Not a tree in sight. Now the town and its trees have grown around it. But most of the trees only survive because people water them.
    But grass fire control over the past century has spread trees into areas that were treeless.
    If one can find photos of the Custer expedition to the Black Hills the difference, then and now, is striking. Some photos when moderns try to take the same view find that the open area of Custers time now places the camera in 10-12" thick dog hair Lodgepole.
    So while today it may be possible to shoot deer at 40-50 yards it would have been more difficult in time of Osborne Russell. I miss a shot at an Antelope at 120 yards with a fuzee and I still eat supper. This might not be the case in 1830.
    In recent years it has become popular to extoll the virtues of the smoothbore. But except where required by law its only advantage over the rifle is in shooting flying birds and maybe in short range predator hunting. It has significant limitations for anything else. This has been well illustrated by the proliferation of rifled shotguns for hunting deer in "slug only" areas and states.

    Dan
     
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  15. Aug 27, 2011 #15

    LaBonte

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    That's perhaps because it's a mostly a modern mythconception that RMFT the trappers outfitted themselves. In fact they were most often outfitted by one of the companies - there were VERY few folks who just rode west and started trapping - not only was it unlawful since technically the brigades were only supposed to trade and not trap to begin with, but most of those who did try never made it - the only thing they got was an early grave.
    Even small companies of trappers such as Gantt & Blackwell were usually unsuccessful without aide from the old timers and the men who did survive usually left to return east or joined one of the big companies (by 1834 American Fur and it's later permuatation under the auspices of the Choteaus and others, ruled the Northern Plains American Fur Trade down to at least So Wyoming, and just about ruled the trade in the rest of the west - Bill Sublette and the Bent Bros being at thatbtime their only really viable American competition of any worth and even they did not last long in competition.
    As for the firearms (and powder) carried by the mountaineers these are in fact some of the documented items supplied to the trappers when they worked directly for the company or when they worked as skin trapppers ie. skin trappers were one class of "free" trappers, but rather than being totally on their own hook, made a contract with the company in which the company gave the man a grubstake for which he owed the company a percentage of his furs, but once the money owed to the company was paid back any of the rest of the money was the trappers to do as they wish, thus he was technically a free trapper, just no totally independent. And a lot of those skin trappers never did pay off their debt, they owed their soul to the company store so to speak - Jim Beckwith for instance signed a promissory note for the balance of $217.00 bucks he owed Rocky Mtn Fur when he left in the early 1830's and Pierre Tevanitagan, an HBC free trapper who lost his life in the early 1830's, had prommisory notes owing to the HBC with property as collateral that they definitely intended to collect on (see Ogden).

    Some documentation re: being supplied by the companies:
    Thomas James - 1809 Lisa Expedition...
    "We Americans were all private adventurers,... and were led into the enterprise by the promises of the company, who agreed to subsist us to the trapping grounds, ....., and on our arrival there they were to furnish us each with a rifle and sufficient ammunition, six good beaver traps and also four men of their hired French, to be under our individual commands for a period of three years. By the terms of the contract each of us was to divide one-fourth of the profits of our joint labor with the four men thus to be appointed to us." http://www.xmission.com/~drudy/mtman/html/james/jamesint.html#ch1

    Letter dated 1822 from Thomas Hempstead of Missouri Fur to Joshua Pilcher, also of Missouri Fur re:
    "Genl. Ashley's company starts this day with one boat and one hundred & fifty men by land and water....
    my opinions as regards the manner that those men are employed might differ with yours, but I think it will not, thay are engaged in three different ways I am told the hunters and trapers are to have one half of the furs &c they make the company (Ashley-Henry Company) furnish them with Gun Powder Lead &c &c...."
    This latter letter, quoted in the book "A Majority of Scoundrels" by Don Berry, is in regards to the first Ashley-Henry Company expedition in 1822 - the expediton on which Jim Bridger, Jed Smith, Hugh Glass and many of the more famous folks in the RMFT got their start - those boys such as Bridger we so often think of as free trappers were in most cases company men - either employees or skin trappers and not the "on your own hook type" they are so identified with.

    And no not all of the mountain men were of poor folks stock - several were in fact from "good" familes and even some were scions of really upper crust familes such Robert Campbell.
    And even the poorer ones were not all so shy about spending/blowing their money on "extras". The majority were young guys who liked to party and party hard when the eagle flew and few worried about saving much - the period journals are full of mountaineers that made good money at times, but blew it all on liquor, women, and other such fooferaw.
    In this respect, IMO the mountaineers were analogous to the cowboys of a later date many of whom were were the type to ride a $40.00 saddle on a $10.00 horse (and many still do).

    tg -
    One of the problems with using trade lists is that so many only show what was available and not what was exactly traded for or to whom. There are a couple of RMFT lists available online that do show purchases and they are especially enlightening when trying to nail down specifics. Plus while re-supplying the trapping brigades was important to the traders, the NDNs were a much bigger market and one must take that into consideration as well as cross referencing it to the available journals of the day.
    There were typically many, many times more Indians at rendezvous ready for trade as there were mountaineers. The biggest rendezvous reportedly had at max about 600 trappers in attendance (that inlcluded men from HBC, AMF, & RMF as well as the few - maybe 10% of the total - on their own hook types). On the other hand most of the tribes that showed up, such as the Flathead, Nez Perce, Snake, etc. often numbered over 1,000 per tribe.

    1) While we recognize the versatility today and there was at least some evidence for it in period (buck and ball guns, smooth rifle, etc. - but most of those types were used by farmers rather than by professional hunters even in the East pre-1800, the longhunter for instance were almost all riflemen based on the current evidence) - in general the idea of the versatility of the shotgun just does not appear to be a consideration when one reads the documentation of the RMFT no matter how much we think it should be of how logical it sounds.

    2) The mountaineers also seldom wasted precious and hard to obtain powder and lead on small game, While there is plenty of evidence for shot in the RMFT west, most was apparently used by NDNs in and around the forts or by the "white"hunters for those forts. For small game the mountaineers generally used traps or sticks or rocks to kill game such as rabbits and fool hens - but remember small game was generally only eaten in times of hunger and the only real notes about using firearms for small game in the RMFT era is during times of desperation. In general the mountaineers and most of the western NDNz depended on large game for their food with buffalo being at the top of the list, and that along with elk, deer, mountain sheep, antlope, etc. - fresh or dried - were the primary foods of the RMFT era and it's people.

    Washington Irving........In equipping the two kinds of trappers, the Creole and Canadian are apt to prefer the light fusee; the American always grasps his rifle; he despises what he calls the "shot-gun." http://www.xmission.com/~drudy/mtman/html/bville/chap02.html

    For more on what types of guns were used/preferred in the RMFT (and not elewhere or else when) I suggest further research into the journals and trade info available here on line:
    1) http://www.xmission.com/~drudy/mtman/mmarch.html

    2) Get a copy of "Firearms of the American West 1803-1865" by Garavaglia and Worman

    3) Get a copy of "Gunsmoke and Saddle Leather: Firearms in the Nineteenth-Century American West"
    by Worman - this is a new book by one of the authors above, in which a lot of the info in that earlier published book (listed above) has been expanded and updated so IMO get both of them........

    hope that helps.....
     
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  16. Aug 27, 2011 #16

    Rifleman1776

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    That is a great explanation. I had read most of that at one time or another. But, I'm still a skeptic. My quizical mind still has these thoughts. How much of a MM's shooting was for defense and how much for acquiring food? Really, how many fights with injuns did the average MM really engage in?
    And, from what I have seen driving cross-country, the praries and mountains do not have an optometrist every quarter mile, unlikely they had them anywhere, except back east, in the 1800-1840 time frame. I speculate a guy with poor vision would opt for the versitile smoothbore over a rifle.
     
  17. Aug 27, 2011 #17

    poordevil

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    There was a lot written in response to the question and I just gave them a quick once over, so I am sure my thoughts and guesses may have already been offered

    My understanding of the fur brigades is the men were employees of the brigades and therefore were issued the guns and goodies that they used. With all the horse wrecks and Indian robberies (think how many were striped naked) any guns brought with them from home, were lost or gone one way or another.

    The brigades had Camp tenders, Hunters and Fur Trappers. The trappers ,trapped. The hunters brought in the meat and the Camp Tenders cooked and skinned and stepped and fetched. I would bet an even dollar that 99% of the White Brigade Trappers were issued(or had deducted from their pay) rifles not just for killing game but to survive the Indians, who roamed in groups of several hundred at times
     
  18. Aug 27, 2011 #18

    redwing

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    To this very day there is a disdain for shotguns among many of the Western Folks. Shotguns come into rural western towns from folks moving west and are quickly traded for a rifle. Things have not really changed that much. :hmm:
     
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  19. Aug 27, 2011 #19

    tg

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    My point was that in some situations the smoothbore cannot be dissmissed as a weapon used during the 1800-1850 time period by various members of the industry, this being determined greatly by the history of those envolved as not all had embraced the rifle culture.
     
  20. Aug 27, 2011 #20

    LaBonte

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    NO one is dismissing the usage of smoothbores in the RMFT - just that if you are interested in being PC who you were and where you were were the deciding factors of what type of firearm that was most often carried and not the logical versatility of the smoothbore.
    If you prefer to carry a smoothbore, yes it can be documented even amongst the "whites", but in general they were not widely used by that group of people in that time and place for many and varied reasons - and that is fact not conjecture.

    As poor devil noted there were designated hunters and most of the men in a fur brigade were not engaged in the day to day camp supply and most of the supplies of food depended on big game and not on small game, despite the logic of including small game.
    Again using firearms of any kind to hunt small game in the west during the RMFT era is just not well documented except in desperation ie times of great hunger or in some cases by the several scientists and artists who visited and collected such small game.
     

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