A very unusual brass mounted Maryland style Hawken
As a group, most students of Hawken rifles believe that neither Jake nor Sam ever produced a flintlock rifle in their St. Louis shop. They may have, of course, but if so, none were marked or otherwise identified. The Hawken rifle illustrated here may be the exception.
One of my great blessings was the US Army, who in their wisdom sent me to Alaska for two years back in the late 1960’s. I arrived there in Feb, 1966 and almost immediately made the aquaintance of Bill Fuller, who ran a gunsmith shop at Cooper’s Landing, on the Kenai Penninsula, about an hour and a half out of Anchorage. Bill had a half dozen original Hawken rifles at the time, including the one shown below. This particular J&S Hawken was in excellent shape, with a heavy slightly swamped barrel in 58 caliber. The bore was likewise in great shape and it shot quite well. The stock was a fullstock in walnut, unusual for a Hawken, the furniture brass, even more unusual for a Hawken and the styling pure Maryland with a Lancasterish bent. If this rifle had been produced in Christofer Hawken’s Maryland shop, it would not be unusual at all. But, no, the barrel is clearly marked J&S Hawken. You can see the stamping in the lower photo. The rifle also has a typical Hawken style patent hooked britch with long tang, but does not sport the double bolting or the long double-set trigger bar of the more typical St. Louis Hawken rifles. The lock is clearly a conversion from flintlock. The holes for frizzen screw, frizzen spring screw and frizzen spring detent are clearly seen in their usual places on the lock plate. The barrel is 40+ inches long and the rifle weighs 14 lbs.
Pictured above are Bill Fuller and the Maryland/Lancaster style J&S Hawken-St. Louis marked rifle, The photos were taken the summer of 1966. You can see the swamp in the octagon barrel. Note the typical, late Maryland style brass buttplate and the late brass patch-box. I call it late because the side plates are so plain and there is wood between the lid and the side plates. The side plates are decorated with a wobble of ‘chicken tracks’, a simple form of engraving. The trigger guard matches the style of the patch-box and is big enough to carry the double set trigger. The DST trigger bar is short, in typical earlier Eastern style. If I had to date the rifle by those features, I would say it was made in the East, probably Maryland, in the 1820’s.
The lock plate is also late, with the flat plate and abbreviated pointed tail of later flintlocks. It is probably a commercial lock, imported from elsewhere and sold to the gun-making trade. The frizzen and frizzen-spring screw-holes have not been filled, as was a common practice when converting locks from flint to percussion yet the finish on the lock is excellent with traces of color still present. The Hawken snail breech has filled in the flintlock pan area quite nicely. There is a bit of wood missing from just above the forward extension of the lockplate, implying that the rifle saw at least some use during its active life. The oil finish on the walnut is still in good condition, there are comparatively few wear or use marks. It appears to have been used sparingly or was awfully well kept.
The side-lock plate is brass and Marylandish with a curved bottom and sparing engraving. The cheek-piece is typical of Maryland/Lancaster rifles. There is no other carved decoration anywhere, which indicates production in the late first quarter of the 1800’s. You can see the Hawken style long tang, which appears to barely fit an older short tang mortice. Look closely and the earlier mortice marks stand out about a third of the way back on the long tang. the J&S Hawken stampings stand out in the rightward photo. Look how far forward the rear sight is, a feature often seen on Eastern rifles of all schools.
The real questions are obvious. Who made it? When was it made? Where was it made? When was it converted from flintlock, if it was converted. Did the Hawken brothers make it or did they convert it later, using their Hawken breech and long tang and stamping it with their moniker? I am sure that every reader will have an opinion. I am going to hazard mine. You may agree with me, or not.
I very much doubt that a heavy rifle like this one was made in Maryland. By the 1820’s, Maryland rifles, in common with Eastern rifles of most schools, were tending towards small calibers. Big game like elk and buffalo had disappeared by then as had the threat of frontier war. Big and heavy indicates manufacture in the West or at least for use in the West.. It was probably made in St. Louis for the transcontinental trade.
It was probably originally flintlock, then later converted to percussion . Its excellent condition probably means that it never went across the plains and was never used in the mountains. The owner was probably local, wealthy, demanding a true Hawken conversion rather than just a common drum and nipple, which was much cheaper. The care that it has obviously had indicates a careful and sparing user with enough means to get what he wanted.
When did the Hawken’s mark it? Obviously, sometime during Jake’s and Sam’s partnership. Who knows if they built the rifle in the first place. We only know that at some time it passed through their hands and they marked it, probably because they converted it. I suspect they also built it. They certainly knew the style. It was probably one of their earliest rifles, done on custom order, before they developed the classic Hawken style for which they are so famous, then later converted and marked.