Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

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Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

J&S Hawken Rifles:

Contemporary notion has the Hawken Rifle synonymous with the Plains Rifle and indeed the reputation of the Hawkens brothers is most closely tied to that short-barreled,  heavy-caliber, half-stock style rifle.  However, as gunsmiths whose efforts extended over more than 30 years, the style of the guns they produced evolved along with the tastes and needs of their customers, both those in the fur trade and in the local community in which they lived.  

Thus a "Hawken" could be anything from an iron mounted Kentucky style rifle, to either a full-stocked or half-stocked plains rifle, or something in between.  The Hawken brothers also produced smoothbore long-guns, shotguns, and pistols. Records which show "Hawken" rifles in fur trade inventories should not be taken as "Plains Rifles", but were more likely a percussion, full-stocked Kentucky style rifle.  Although "Plains" style rifles were built as early as the early 1820's, this style did not become fashionable until in mid 1840's, after the end of the fur trade era.  Gun production in the Hawken shop peaked around the time of the Gold Rush in 1849 at about 200 rifles per year.  The Hawkens pioneered the production of a superior percussion rifle by the early 1830's, however, by frontier standards this was an exceedingly expensive rifle, running from $20-$28 in 1831 from the manufacturer (for comparison, the NW trade gun might be obtained for $3.50 from the manufacturer) .  This was double to triple the cost of a good quality trade rifle at that time.  All evidence shows that the Hawken was not the typical gun in the wilderness during the 1820-1835 time period, whereas during the 1840-1855 time period it was the standard against which firearms were measured.  

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