Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Overall the Plains Rifle was 12-15 inches shorter than Kentucky/Pennsylvania Rifles.  Early Plains Rifles were flintlocks, but rifles of later production, particularly those manufactured by Jacob and Samuel Hawken, used the percussion ignition system.  There are examples of percussion half-stock, short-barreled, heavy caliber rifles dating as early as the 1820's, however, this style of rifle didn't become the standard until the mid 1840's, after the end of the Mountain Man era.  The Hawken brothers were able to produce only a hundred or so guns of all types per year and even in 1849, the peak year of production for the Hawken brothers, production was only about 200 rifles.  The Plains Rifle saw heavy use by emigrants bound for California and Oregon, 49'ers during the gold rush, Army scouts, and buffalo hunters. 

Back to The Guns

The Plains Rifle:

The Plains Rifle is most closely associated with Jacob and Samuel Hawken, although the style was produced by other gun-smiths, both eastern and out of St. Louis.  This was a short, heavy rifle, lacking the grace and elegance of the Kentucky/Pennsylvania rifles from which it descended, it was nevertheless perfectly suited to the needs of the Mountain Man.  The Plains Rifle was characterized by a short heavy barrel, octagonal in shape, generally with a .50 or .54 caliber bore, low, iron-sights, set triggers and a half- stock.