.56 caliber. 27.5″ wedge-retained octagonal barrel with full-length rib. SN: NSN. Bright finish, iron furniture, American hardwood stock. Top of barrel marked in a single line “J&S. HAWKEN ST. LOUIS” between the breech and the rear sight dovetail. Commercial percussion lock is lightly engraved and marked “WOLFE & BISHOP/WARRANTED” in two lines. Double set triggers. Long, 6″ slender, elongated tear-drop shaped breech plug tang is lightly engraved with flowing foliate and feathery motifs. Traditional Hawken style iron furniture including engraved scroll triggerguard, butt plate, toe plate, nose cap, wedges and escutcheons. Rifle is additionally mounted with a rare Hawken iron patchbox with an oval, bottom hinged door and mirror frame style surround, all lightly engraved with simple foliate scrolls and motifs and a with a game scene on the door itself. Patchbox release is mounted in the toe plate. Barrel with dovetailed fixed buckhorn rear sight and dovetailed Rocky Mountain silver blade front sight in brass base. Wood ramrod retained by a single iron thimble and an entry pipe. Rifle appears to have been shortened during the period use with visible file marks on the face of the muzzle. Wedges relocated to within about 4″ of each other. Mr. Ness’ notes indicate that the rifle is restocked and the patchbox was engraved by Tristan Campbell. This rifle is pictured in plates 54 and 55 of Hawken Rifles, The Mountain Man’s Choice by John D. Barid.
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.
A very nice example of a rare Hawken plains rifle with an engraved iron patchbox, shortened to be a handier rifle for use in the mountains, brush or on horseback. This gun was previously sold at Bonham’s on 6/28/10 as lot #401.
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