Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Swivel Guns and Small Cannon:

Swivel Guns and Small Cannon include both very heavy rifles, smoothbores, and small cannons.  The rifles and smoothbores, weighing as much as 33 pounds, were not practical to fire from the shoulder.  The swivel gun had a bore diameter which could greatly exceed one inch.  The bore of swivel mounted cannon could exceed two inches.  Guns of this type could be heavily loaded with buckshot, devastating to human flesh at close range, a single large ball, multiple small balls, or any combination of these.  Practically every keelboat, and many of the larger skiffs were equipped with these guns.  On land these guns were mounted at strategic locations along the walls of forts.  After the first few years of the fur trade in the Rockies, the use of this type of gun in warfare was rare.  However, these guns found continuous use in signaling and for saluting and were regarded as a necessity. Swivel guns could be given more dignity by mounting them on makeshift carriages, and placing them within stockades or blockhouses.   

Wheeled cannon of the 4-pounder and 6-pounder size, although rare, did show up in the mountains for the fur trade.  These guns were mounted on wheeled carriages, and were generally limited to trading posts.  General William Ashley made history in 1827 by bringing the first wheeled vehicle to the intermontane west, the vehicle being a carriage mounted cannon. 

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