.42 caliber. 39″ wedge retained octagonal barrel. SN: NSN. Browned finish, brass furniture, full-length walnut stock with raised cheek rest. Top of barrel flat marked “S. HAWKEN” and “ST. LOUIS”, with the “S” in St. Louis appearing double-stamped and slightly off-set as if the die jumped when struck. Markings are fully legible. Single screw commercial percussion lock is lightly engraved at the tail and unmarked and equipped with adjustable double set triggers. Lightly engraved percussion hammer and hammer screw both appear to be period of use replacements. Barrel mounted with angled dovetailed buckhorn rear sight and a dovetailed German silver Rocky Mountain front sight blade in a copper base. Furniture of brass, with a crescent buttplate, plain toe plate, double-spur finger extension triggerguard and two thimbles and an entry pipe that secure a wooden ramrod. The rifle has the traditional long iron breech plug tang found on Hawkens, which extends almost the full length of the wrist to the beginning of the comb, secured with two screws and with the typical elongated “reverse taper” shape. The bolster is not the large snail shaped bolster typical of Hawken’s later Plains Rifles, but somewhat more diminutive and dainty. The geometry of the hammer to cone suggests the hammer is an old replacement. The lock fit in the mortise is less than perfect and may be an old replacement as well and the overall styling suggests that this may have been an early St. Louis flintlock Hawken later altered to percussion. Significant erosion in and around the bolster area, flash pitting on the lock and wood loss due to burn out in the bolster area all indicate that this rifle saw a substantial amount of use in its current percussion form and all of the wear is consistent with a heavily used, if well cared for, hunting rifle. The full-stock form and brass furniture are more indicative of the Maryland styling of the Hawken’s early days and their lighter “sporting rifles” but the gun is certainly assembled as a heavy duty western hunting rifle, but of simple form and construction more aptly named a “Plain Rifle” than a “Plains Rifle” which evokes the image of the traditional heavy barrel, iron mounted half-stocked Hawken rifle. Mr. Ness’ folder of information regarding this gun indicates that the rifle was inspected by noted Hawken collector and authority Rudyard Rapp and at one time Mr. Rapp wrote a letter about the gun stating that it was acquired at a farm auction in the 1980s from the descendants of the Kessel family of Ava, IL who were the original owners, their ancestor having acquired the rifle from the Hawken shop in St. Louis during the period of use. A copy of the letter is visible in the old auction listing where this rifle was originally sold, but the letter itself is not in the folder. This is a very interesting and possibly early production Hawken rifle that combines the features of their lighter sporting rifles with the heavier duty construction of his Plains Rifles to create a very practical mid-caliber rifle that could be used to take almost any North American game short of bear and elk.
No name is more synonymous with the rifles of the great plains and pre-Civil War western expansion than that of Hawken. Jacob Hawken moved to St. Louis from Hagerstown Maryland in 1818 and was followed by his younger brother Samuel in 1822. Jacob had learned the trade of gun making from his father Christian and also spent time working at the US Arsenal at Harpers Ferry. Initially the Hawken brothers appear to have focused more on traditional gunsmithing and repairs in St. Louis than firearms manufacturing. The earliest guns they produced would have certainly been flintlocks with percussion guns not becoming typical until the early 1830s. Early St. Louis Hawken-marked percussion rifles were brass mounted full-stock guns that followed the general form of the Pennsylvania type rifles they would have produced in Hagerstown. Subsequently the brothers introduced the prototypical “Plains Rifle”, also referred at times as the “Rocky Mountain” rifle. These were typically very sturdy iron mounted large bore percussion rifles with double-set triggers that ranged from .52 to .60 caliber. They utilized heavy octagonal barrels that were typically 30″ to 40″ in length, normally measured at least 1.125″ across the flats, were usually rifled with seven grooves and were often retained by two iron keys. The guns regularly utilized commercial locks marked by their makers or retailers. Fixed sights of the buckhorn rear and Rocky Mountain blade front were typical as well. These rifles were so perfectly adapted to the life of the mid-19th century plains hunter and mountain man that their popularity inspired a number of local gunmakers to offer guns of the same general pattern. Variations of the Hawken theme were produced by such famous St. Louis makers as Albright, Beauvais, Dimick and Gemmer. Despite the popularity of the Hawken “Plains Rifle” the firm also produced light sporting rifles like this example. They were usually smaller caliber, single key guns fitted with commercially available brass furniture and often featured Goulcher locks.
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