The winner of an auction next month will be the proud owner of a rare piece of American mountain man history.
The full-stock Hawken percussion cap rifle is one of only six in existence, and Rock Island Auction (RIA) estimates the final bid will be as high as $65,000. The rifle is in fine condition, according to RIA, and comes from the shop of Jacob and Samuel Hawken, two of the most famous gun makers of the nineteenth century.
“This rifle is as real and as cool as it gets,” said Rick Henley, the Executive Director of Acquisitions for RIA. This is only the second full-stock Hawken rifle RIA has ever sold, and it’s the better of the two, Henley says.
The rifle is stamped with the “signature” of its maker, “S. Hawken St. Louis.” While it is possible to forge barrel markings, RIA’s experts are confident that Samual Hawken built this piece around 1850, when Hawken rifles were ubiquitous in the American West.
This rifle is especially unique in that it features a full stock rather than the signature half stock most commonly associated with the Hawken shop. “These full-stock Hawken rifles are highly sought after but less well-known than the half-stock rifles thanks to fewer surviving examples,” RIA says in its description of the firearm.
The .54 caliber, 36-inch octagonal barrel tapers from 1.11 inches at the breech to one inch at the muzzle and has seven-groove rifling, a silver blade front sight with dovetailed copper base, a dovetailed iron notch rear sight, and a solid breech plug with an integral tang that extends to just ahead of the comb.
The butt has a straight “Tennessee” style cheekpiece with an incised line at the edge, a difference noted between the Hawken full-stock rifles versus the beavertail cheekpiece of many of the half-stock rifles.
The Hawken brothers developed and sold the most iconic examples of a type of heavy muzzleloader that became known as the “plains” or “mountain” rifle. Jacob and Samuel were active together in St. Louis beginning in 1825, and their early rifles are known to have been used by fur-trading mountain men, including General William Henry Ashley and the American Fur Company.
As settlers moved west, they gravitated toward the larger-caliber Hawken rifle and away from the American long gun due to the former’s accuracy and ability to take down large game like bison.
While short-stock rifles were more popular among settlers and mountain men, some still preferred an American long rifle-style firearm, likely due in part to their lower cost. A labor-intensive half-stock would have cost about $25, while a full-stock was only $18.
The Cody Firearms Museum has two of the only full-stock rifles not in a private collection. Museum curator Danny Michael told MeatEater that while the museum currently has 13 Hawken rifles, these are the only two full-stock examples.
Photos: Cody Firearms Museum
The heyday of the Rocky Mountain fur trade ended in the 1830s, well before the RIA’s full-stock Hawken was built. But Hawkens were still in high demand by former fur trappers like Jim Bridger and Kit Carson, who found new work as hunters, guides, and scouts. Bob Woodfill reports in “The Hawken Rifle” that mountain men James Clyman and John Brown likely had full-stock Hawken rifles.
Interested bidders can submit an offer online. The auction will take place on May 21, 2023.