Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Gun Flints:

Although any quartz bearing material can be used to strike a  spark from hardened steel, only flint or other, similar micro-crystalline quartzose material was strong enough to hold a sharp edge for reliable, and  continued use.  The ideal gun flint is tabular in shape with a sharp sloping front face.  The knapping of gunflints has been an industry since the introduction of the flintlock in

the early 1600's.  Huge quantities of gunflints were  produced during the 1700's and early part of the 1800's and the flint knapping industries of France and England developed a sophisticated product of nearly perfect shape.  English flints are dark grey to black whereas many of the French flints are easily distinguished by their honey-yellow or blonde color. Large quantities of gun flints were shipped to the mountains every year for Rendezvous because they were equally useful for starting fire with fire steels, as well as part of the ignition mechanism for guns and rifles.

In order to securely hold the gun flint in the hammer of the lock it was necessary to wrap the flint in strong but relatively soft material.  Most often this was leather, but thin sheets of lead were also used.  If the lead was purposely shaped for this use, it was called a flint cap.  

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