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Identify Kit Carson's rifle on this statue

Discussion in 'Firearms Research' started by Zundfolge, Oct 5, 2007.

  1. Zundfolge

    Zundfolge Well-Known Member

    Attached is a photo of the Kit Carson statue at Fort Carson ... we've got some debate going here in the office as to what the rifle is and whether its historically accurate.

    Last edited: Feb 21, 2008
  2. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

    I'm no Kit Carson expert, far from it.
    But the statue seems to represent Carson as a young man during his scouting days.

    The rifle depicted appears to be a generic Hawkins style planes rifle.
    I believe that would be correct for the period the statue depicts in his life.

    Later on after the Civil war ended, he settled in Fraksvill, Colorado and became a rancher, and there are reports he favored a Spencer repeating rifle from his Army days.

  3. John-Melb

    John-Melb Well-Known Member

    Yep, it's reasonably accurate.

    Carson, according to a letter written by Samuel Hawken purchased his gun from Hawken for $25.

    The rifle displayed looks to me like a half-stocked Hawken rilfe.
  4. John-Melb

    John-Melb Well-Known Member

    From Wikipedia

    The Hawken rifle is a specific black powder long rifle, generally shorter and of a larger caliber than earlier "Kentucky rifles." Popular with in the mid-nineteenth century, the term "Hawken rifle" technically referred to rifles made by Samuel and Jacob Hawken of St Louis, Missouri but was often used generically to refer to a variety of "plains rifles" of the period.

    The earliest known record of a Hawken rifle dates to 1823[1] when one was made for William Henry Ashley. The Hawkens did not mass-produce them as they were hand made one at a time, but other famous men said to have owned a Hawken rifle [2] include (in alphabetical order): Jim Bridger, Kit Carson,Joseph Meek and Theodore Roosevelt

    Although popular during the mid part of the century, muzzleloaders were generally replaced by mass-produced, breech-loading weapons such as the Sharps Rifle.

    Characteristics of a "classic" Hawken rifle include:[3]

    Octagonal barrel
    Bore size of .50 caliber or more for larger game such as American bison, grizzly bear and elk
    Hooked breech
    Iron furniture (including nosecap)
    Double set trigger
    Front blade sight
  5. Fisherman_48768

    Fisherman_48768 Well-Known Member


    The rifle shown doesn't appear to be anything other than a generic plains flintlock rifle. The hammer looks like it is of military origin and being as it is a flintlock it would make this an early example of a plains rifle. However, it is a half stock would put it into a later period. The trigger guard isn't a Hawken design, early or late but it is of the style typically used on plains rifles. The patch box is anybodys guess. To me this rifle just deplicts some artist ideals of a plains style rifle without any specific example being copied.

    One of Jim Bridgers rifles resides in the Montana Historical Society Museum in Helena, this is definitely not it.
  6. JohnBT

    JohnBT Well-Known Member


    "This rifle is carefully copied from the original. New molds have been made to duplicate the original castings."

    But Don doesn't say anything about the location of the original. Somebody call him. If you call him tonight don't say I suggested it. ;)


    "STOCK: Maple
    Barrel: 1 1/8 to 1 taper 54 & up
    (Getz or deHaas) 31"(original) to 34"
    Davis Hawken lock (not included)
    Trigger: Custom Bob Roller
    Furniture: Iron
    Base Price for this premium parts set: $750"

  7. Fisherman_48768

    Fisherman_48768 Well-Known Member


    JohnBT: I guess I don't understand your posting to call Don Stilth. Did he do the bronze casting of Jim Bridger with the rifle in question? Lots of people have built Hawken replicas including the one above but does that make them knowledgable on the Bridger Bronze Cast rifle?
  8. JohnBT

    JohnBT Well-Known Member

    His site says the kit he sells "is carefully copied from the original". Now, whether that refers to Mr. Carson's original rifle or just the generic period-appropriate original rifle, I figure he might know what kind of rifle Mr. Carson actually used during the period in question.

    During my brief research on the subject, I found mention of a rifle Mr. Carson used for 35 years and another just like it.

    Of course, then there's the Spencer carbine at the museum.
    "Sights & Activities

    Kit Carson Home and Museum
    Museum/Gallery, Taos

    Kit Carson bought this low-slung 12-room adobe home in 1843 for his wife, Josefa Jaramillo, the daughter of a powerful, politically influential Spanish family. Three of the museum's rooms are furnished as they were when the Carson family lived here. The rest of the museum is devoted to gun and mountain-man exhibits, such as rugged leather clothing and Kit's own Spencer carbine rifle with its beaded leather carrying case, and early Taos antiques, artifacts, and manuscripts. COST: $5, $20 with Museum Association of Taos combination ticket. OPEN: May-Oct., daily 9-5; Nov.-Apr., daily 10-4.

    Address: Kit Carson Rd., Taos, NM, USA
    Phone: 505/758-0505"

    Maybe I misunderstood the original question. I was thinking it was about whether or not the rifle on the Carson statue was an accurate reproduction of his gun. Or one of his guns.

  9. Fisherman_48768

    Fisherman_48768 Well-Known Member

    Here is the original question as posed by Zundfolge:
    My first reply basically said it was a generic plains rifle copy based on what the artist wanted it to look like, nothing more or less. Is it historically accurate being the original question begs the answer, yes and no. Yes it represents the combiantion of a lot of Plains rifles and no, it deplicts nothing specific.
  10. hiram abiff

    hiram abiff New Member

    Kit Carson's Hawken Rifle

    Kit Carson's Hawken rifle is the property of Montezuma Lodge No. 1, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Santa Fe, NM. I am secretary of the Lodge and see it almost daily. It is a .54 Cal. S. Hawken and is in excellent shape. It was brought to the Lodge in 1868 after the death of Carson and presented to the Lodge at Carson's request (of course before he died). The rifle has not been fired since Carson used it and can be shown by request. You can contact me at hiram@montezumalodge.org if you have more questions.
  11. hiram abiff

    hiram abiff New Member

    More about Kit's Hawken

    There was a gun maker who came to the Lodge and photographed and measured the rifle, then made as close to an exact duplicate of it as he could.
    The first copy was given to the Kit Carson's House Museum in Taos, and I don't know how many more he may have made. The picture shown by JohnBT looks to me to be of the duplicate. It looks like the original, but the original has more wear on the fore stock where Carson carried in across his lap on the saddle, thus wearing the dark finish off, especially on the right hand side where the front of the saddle rubbed the gun as he rode.
    The gun is marked - S. Hawken - Saint Louis. All the metal parts are steel, no brass anywhere, no patch box on the stock. The oval plate on the left hand side of the gun in JohnBT's thread is a plate put on by Montezuma Lodge after receiving the rifle. It is inscribed "Presented to Montezuma Lodge No. 109 by Bro. Kit Carson (I don't remember if the month and day are there, but know the year is 1868). The duplicate rifle made by the gunsmith also has a duplicate of the plate. That is why I don't know if the picture is of the duplicate or the original. The one on the statue is a flintlock, and Kit's gun is a percussion cap.
  12. Old Trapper

    Old Trapper Active Member

    The Rifle is a Mess

    Anyone who has an eye for detail and cares about the material culture of Kit Carson's period in history must conclude that the artist who did the Carson statue didn't care much about historically correct details.

    Not only is the rifle just plain wrong, the saddle and tack are wrong as well.

    The artist is obviously very talented and much about the statue is to be admired. The details of historical authenticity are not among the things to be admired.

    There are lots of Hawkens in public and private collections, and lots of photographs of Hawkens available. Both the Bridger and Carson Hawkens are pretty typical and representative of half-stock Hawken plains rifles. Not only does the rifle in the bronze not look at all like a Hawken -- it doesn't really closely resemble any other common rifle from that period.

    It's interesting that the artist put a flint lock on the half-stock rifle. Hawkens enthusiasts tell me that all the known Hawken rifles still in existence that are flintlocks were converted from percussion to flint after having been first built by the Hawken clan as percussion rifles. If one was to find an original flintlock Hawken it would be a rare and valuable rifle.

    If you go to the Fort Garland museum near where Carson was stationed during the Civil War you will see on display among Kit's things a full-stock Leman rifle donated by Carsons grandson who said it had been one of Kit's rifles.


    At the beginning of the Mexican War, Kit recommened Hawken rifles for military scouts such as himself. By the end of the Mexican War, Kit is reported to have become an advocate of the Army's Missippi rifle.

    During the Carson's scouting decade, the 1840s, he might be correclly pictured with a Hawken half-stock, a Leman full-stock, or maybe even a Missippi rifle. The rifle in the bronze is none of those. It is an UAO -- unidentifiable artist's object.
  13. hiram abiff

    hiram abiff New Member

    Old Trapper has a good eye. The statue also shows Carson riding a horse. His animal of choice was a mule, which was more sure footed in the mountains, although he probably did ride horses from time to time. The more I study the picture in JohnBT's thread, the more I am convinced that it is one of the copies of the gunsmith who came to Santa Fe and photographed and measured the original. He was very accurate in his measurements and the copy he made which is displayed in the Carson Museum in Taos looks exactly like the original, except for the worn places on the stock, and a few nicks here and there.
  14. Old Trapper

    Old Trapper Active Member

    Just plain wrong -- the rifle that is

    Good point about the mule -- Bridger also preferred mules. It's easy to understand why given their demands on a saddle animal.

    It's not a question of the authenicity of what's displayed in the Taos museum, but rather what's depicted on the statue.

    The artist's rendition has a rediculous trigger guard that appears to be some kind of a strange hybrid with a Spencer lever. The patch box is like the Harper's Ferry or Mississippi rifle patchbox not a Hawken patchbox. Kit's Hawken was a percussion not a flintlock. And not least, I suspect Kit tried to keep a ramrod in his ramrod pipes.

    Overall the dimensions of the rifle in proportion to Kit's small body are too small -- more like a Thomposon Contender imitation than a real Hawken.

    Obviously, the artist didn't handle a real Hawken very much. I don't know how much Kit's rifle weighted, but Hawkens rifles are quite commonly 12-to-14 pound rifles. Even a fit and wirey little guy like Kit would not ride a running horse holding a 12 pound weight outstretched at arms length.

    Such points of historical authenticity are often most quickly resolved with experimental archeology. That is -- just go ride a a running horse with a long 12 pound weight held out at arms lenght -- then offer a more informed opinion on whether or not Kit's pose on the running horse is likely to be historically authentic.

    I suspect what inspired the artist for that pose was watching the stunt man playing Brian Keith's Henry Frapp character in the movie "Mountain Man." In one great scene the the character runs down the stuntman for Bill Tyler played by Charlton Heston and they go crashing into the river. In that scene Brian Keith's stuntman is waving around his rifle like it's a barrell racer's quirt instead of a long heavy piece of steel and hardwood.

    My friends who were extras on the set of that movie tell me the movie people had a bunch of painted rubber rifles made for the action stunt scenes that were about the size and proportions of a TC immitation rather than real plains rifles.

    Keep in mind that the modern mass-produced commercial imitations usually only have 26-to-28 inch barrels while the the real Hawken plains rifles were often 32-to-36 inch barrels.

    We should care about how well artists and Hollywood depict history becasue they often create myths and distortions of history. Sometimes little details in the material culture of history contribute a lot to our understanding of that time in history. For example, the fact that Bridger and Carson used percussion Hawkens in the 1850s tells us they were pretty frequently close to a source of supply for percussion caps. Back in the pre-1840 fur trade period most of the beaver trappers stuck with flintlocks because a once-a-year resupply at rendezvous wasn't a frequesnt enough opportunity to replenish your supply of percussion caps if you lost your caps or ruined them crossing a river. Even during the Mexican War many of the troops issued the new percussion firearms complained about running out of caps, and they were followed by Army supply trains.

    Sorry for the rant, but details matter a lot to a correct understanding of history.

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