What is a "California" Rifle?

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Alas, it could simply be as one poster mentioned, a Marketing "Buzz" word for folks going to California when it was still a great area to move TO instead of FROM. I got my butt out of there in 2011. I got tired of the politics and the "Rat Race" because the "Rats" were winning! However, I didn't realize there was this "Western Socialist Alliance" of California, Oregon, and Washington. I thought because you could buy an AK here it was more conservative than it is. Man, was I wrong!

Walt
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@Notchy Bob Is this the “California” rear sight you referred to?
This is on a rifle made by The Gun Works. It has the same front sight as you showed and they referred to these as California sights. I really like them.
0635C985-AFC3-4ACC-AA16-1A05A160431C.jpeg
 

Loyalist Dave

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I wonder....,

WHATIF.... what if "California Rifle" was just a marketing ploy?

"Why of course, mister, we make California rifles." Clerk shows customer bound for California a nice half-stocked rifle. Customer says he will consider it and departs. Next customer entered and inquires about a Missouri rifle. Clerk says, "Here's an excellent example of one of our Missouri rifles", as he displays the rifle he just showed to the previous customer....
..., The following day both customers are in the shop and remember the rifle and discover the clerk told them each a different story....
The Clerk then tells both customers, "Why YES, this is a rifle made in Missouri, and meant for use from Missouri to California, and all points in between!"

LD
 

Notchy Bob

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@Notchy Bob Is this the “California” rear sight you referred to?
This is on a rifle made by The Gun Works. It has the same front sight as you showed and they referred to these as California sights. I really like them.
View attachment 147120
By golly, I think it is! Cool! I might just save that picture, because you really got a good image of the sight and its windage and elevation adjustments.

Thanks for posting!

Notchy Bob
 
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@Notchy Bob Is this the “California” rear sight you referred to?
This is on a rifle made by The Gun Works. It has the same front sight as you showed and they referred to these as California sights. I really like them.
View attachment 147120

Considering Gun Works owner, Joe Williams was the first to mention them to me, I would say so!

Walt
 
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Well according to Ned Roberts in 1947 in his book, The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle, the buckhorn rear sight was then called the California buckhorn rear sight. It appears as though over time, the word "California" was dropped.

He also documents that at about the time of the California Gold Rush, the Picket or Sugar-Loaf bullet became quite popular, and different rifling was needed, often gain twist. So perhaps a "California Rifle" was simply what in St. Louis was known as a Mountain Rifle but made with a gain twist barrel intended for use with a patched, sugar-loaf bullet, and perhaps even made with what we call buckhorn sights. Roberts reports that these type of rifles shooting the new bullets "were far superior in accuracy, range and killing power to the round ball. "

LD

In his book, Hanson states that the many who bought Hawken rifles hated the sights. They would knock the "horns" off the rear and replace the front with the round edge of a silver coin.

Walt
 

TFoley

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Considering Gun Works owner, Joe Williams was the first to mention them to me, I would say so!

Walt
He was THE Man, for sure!!! I can quite happily spend an hour looking around the store, and never leave without having depleted my hidden $$$$$$$$$$. Hidden, that is, from Mrs tac.
 

Urban Coyote

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Ted Fellowes, the late Northwest muzzleloader rifle builder, had an original California rifle that was from a maker in Red Bluff. I can't recall how he came upon it but I'm sure he told me. The caliber escapes me as well but it might have been about .45. The rifle was in excellent condition given it's age. It shared some of the attributes already described in some other responses, notable was the perch belly stock.

Ted was impressed enough by this rifle he built himself a near copy, this would be the last rifle he built for his own use and is .45 caliber. I was given this piece about two years after Ted's passing, it's a prized possession.
 

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Notchy Bob

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I would respectfully disagree with the suggestion that "California rifle" was just a catchphrase or marketing ploy. I think it referred to a very specific and recognizable pattern or style of rifle. The British gunmakers used the terms "Northwest guns" and "Carolina guns" to distinguish two related but distinctly different types of guns intended for the Indian trade. Fur company invoices quoted by Mr. Hanson in The Hawken Rifle: Its Place in History specifically list J. Henry "English pattern rifles" and "Lancaster rifles" separately. Mr. Hanson also reported that in 1855, Charles Joline of the Bureau of Indian Affairs specifically mentioned that the "California Rifle" made by Wurfflein might be considered as an alternative to the Tryon rifles being used as treaty payments. The point of this being that persons making and handling guns commercially back in those days did have specific names for different types of firearms. The advertisement in The Missouri Republican, quoted previously, stated "Mountain and California rifles made to order." If these terms did not designate specific types or models of guns, they could have just said "Rifles made to order."

However, all of the above refers to professional terminology as used by gunmakers and gun dealers. There were absolutely colloquial and informal names for some types of guns. As an example, the Model 1841 U.S. Rifle was informally and variously known to soldiers and civilians as the Mississippi rifle, the Whitney rifle, or even the "yager." Also, when @Loyalist Dave made his tongue-in-cheek remarks about the "Missouri rifle" (see post #26), he may or may not have known this was a term that was actually used on the frontier. Believe it or not, I have researched this, and found multiple references:

Birch, James H. (1908). “The Battle of Coon Creek.” Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society, Vol. 10, p. 409-410, 412: “As good fortune planned it, there arrived at the fort [Fort Leavenworth, in May, 1848] a consignment from Germany of breech-loading carbines. They could be loaded and fired five times in a minute, and being a cavalry arm, our little squad was armed with them. They were a fearful weapon. Loaded with an ounce ball it emerged as a slug, and for 400 yards held up its force. In the hands of these backwoods [Missouri] boys, who had been raised on horseback with guns in their hands, they soon became a toy and a delight. We were the only soldiers in the Mexican war who were armed with breech-loading guns” (409-410)… In our party was a man named Dave Rupe, of Ray county, Missouri. He was a hunter, and kept his old Missouri rifle to kill deer and antelope with” (p.412).

Morgan, Gertrude. (1866). Life and Adventures Among the Indians of the Far West. Philadelphia: Barclay & Co.: “…a long Missouri rifle, in the hands of an Indian warrior, makes him entirely the equal, nay often times his superior” (p. 20). [Describing events in 1855]

Brewerton, George D. (1853). “A Ride with Kit Carson.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Vol.7, Issue 37, p. 323: “…Lewis, who carried a long Missouri rifle, dropped on one knee, exclaiming, ‘I’ll bring him, boys.’”

Brewerton, George D. (1856). The War in Kansas: A Rough Trip to the Border, Among New Homes and Strange People. New York: Derby & Jackson, p. 89: “…a Pro-Slavery man had argued him into it by drawing a bead upon him with his long Missouri rifle, one of “Jake Hawkins’ best,” and bound to “shoot centre” anywhere within two hundred yards.”

Wells, V.M. (1856). “Wild Life in Oregon.” Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, Vol.13, Issue 77, p. 594. See also Van Tramp, John C. (1858). “Oregon and the Fur Trade,” in Prairie and Rocky Mountain Adventures, or, Life in the West. Columbus: J. & H. Miller, p. 154: “While on the route we met Ben Wright, the sub-Indian agent, an experienced hunter and trapper, whose life had been passed in the mountains and on the Western frontier. He was a man of some thirty-two years, with black curling hair, reaching, beneath a slouched Palo Alto hat, down to his shoulders; a Missouri rifle was slung across his back, and he rode a heavy black mule with a bearskin machillas.


I can't say that the gunmakers ever used the term, "Missouri rifle," in describing the rifles they made, but the expression seemed to have a lot of currency out on the frontier.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
 
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I think the speculation has merit. The S. Hawken rifle used at the Hawken Classic was a rifle that fits the speculative description of a California Rifle. It has the classic Hawken Mountain Rifle architecture, but it has brass hardware and the caliber is 50.
 

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Urban Coyote

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I'm not suggesting what's in the link below is the same as my T. Fellowes copy but you all might find it interesting.

California Bear Guns Helped Exterminate the Grizzly | HistoryNet
 

Notchy Bob

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I'm not suggesting what's in the link below is the same as my T. Fellowes copy but you all might find it interesting.

California Bear Guns Helped Exterminate the Grizzly | HistoryNet
That is a good article, and thank you for the link. Lee Silva is a well-respected historian. I wish they could have shown a picture, though. I have the Lawrence Shelton book, California Gunsmiths 1846-1900, which is a terrific reference for those who are interested in this sort of thing. I need to look through it again.

However, Henry Leman, the Lancaster gunmaker, also made a "California Bear Rifle." Here is a page from an article in The American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin 51: 12-20, Henry E. Leman, Riflemaker, by Charles E. Hanson:

Leman Bear Rifle Quote.png

Note the reference in the text to the heavy model which was stamped "Bear Rifle" on the barrel. Here is a photo of one of these rifles from Firearms of the American West 1803-1865, by Garavaglia & Worman (p. 231):

Leman Bear Rifle.JPG


The Leman Bear Rifle is the one on the bottom. To me, it looks just like Leman's "Indian rifles," except for the double-set triggers and the full-sized patchbox instead of a cap box. The caption for this photo says (in part), "A 13-lb., .58 caliber California bear rifle, made by Henry Leman... marked on the top flat of the 34-inch barrel JOSH M. BROWN & CO. IMPROVED PATTERN BEAR RIFLE SAN FRANCISCO CAL." So, this one was made in Lancaster for sale through J.M. Brown's store in San Francisco. Silva indicated the California bear rifles were made in-state, but it appears not all of them were.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
 
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hanshi

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I have heard several others refer to the old T/C "Hawken" as a "California rifle". May be accurate, I just don't know. The T/C rifle bore no resemblance to the Hawken but did, according to a few posters on the forums, resemble what they called a California rifle used on the left coast. I agree, the subject remains unsettled to this day.
 
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