Details of Serial No. 1 of the 15 rifles we made. Note placement of serial number on barrel. From ALL original guns examined, serial numbers were placed in a manner to the right of the oval “US” cartouche without leaving enough space to insert another number. “IP” stock cartouche in oval is for Joseph Perkins, final inspector of ALL 1803 dated rifles and some early production 1804 dated guns.
ABOVE: The “buckhorn” style rear sight found on Lewis’s 15 rifles and ALL pre-December, 1803 manufactured rifles. After that date they were altered to the flat profile “partridge sight”. The original sight on SN 15 still had blueing on the underside. Front sight was a silver blade instead of brass found on all rifles produced after his special 15 rifles.
The Lewis and Clark Harper’s Ferry “Short Rifle”
Manufactured by Richard H. Keller & Ernest E. Cowan
Not to be copied/used without permission
Great War Militaria, Chambersburg, Pa. 17201
www.greatwar.com / All rights reserved
This is the first part of our study on two important weapons carried on the Lewis & Clark expedition, the second being the Airgun. Each weapon played a highly significant role in a journey that allowed his party to cross a great expanse of a relatively unknown portion of our great nation acquired by purchase from France in 1803. The fact that President Jefferson thought mastodons might still roam these regions tells us just how little we knew of this vast wilderness and its people. Lewis’s task was to explore and map this region as well as collect unknown flora and fauna. In this process he was to make contact and befriend as many Indian tribes as possible who inhabited these areas with the intended goal of establishing trade relations that would allow peaceful expansion to the extreme western borders of the new United States. A show of force was part of the plan. Another goal was to find the mythical “North West passage”, a water route to the Pacific. Many of his Lewis’s party later became the “who’s who” of the first “mountain men” – early trappers and explorers drawn back to this wondrous area by the opportunity of making ones’ fortune in the fur trade. Many, having survived the journey, died at the hands of the Indians in those endeavors. The expedition became an epic tale of hardship, perseverance and survival that still draws great interest after 200 years. This article is dedicated to him and his intrepid party as well as the Native Americans who assisted him along the way, without whose help the outcome may have been quite different. Many people believe that without these two special arms it may not have succeeded. We will let the reader draw their own conclusion based upon the information herein. The charm of period grammar and spelling of the journals remains unaltered when possible. We hope this article will put to rest the mystery of what type of “short rifle” was carried on the expedition.
* Table of Contents
Chapter I The Lewis & Clark “Short Rifle”
Chapter II Harper’s Ferry and the Model 1800 rifle
Chapter III Harper’s Ferry Rifle – Serial Number 15
Chapter IV Harper’s Ferry Rifle Production Capabilities
Chapter V The “Short Rifle” of the Journals
Chapter VI Lewis’s “Short Rifles” – Summary
Chapter VII Footnotes
Chapter VIII The “Common Long Rifle”
Chapter IX Military Riflemen
Appendix I Short Rifle Categories Redefined
Appendix II Short Rifle Serial Numbers
For two centuries the distinctive half-stocked rifle manufactured at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), has been regarded as perhaps the most handsome and historically important U.S. military long arm ever designed. Not only was it the first military rifle produced at a government arsenal, but also the first U.S. military weapon to use extra fine double strength powder that stretched firearms technology to the limits of its day.
The Harper’s Ferry “short rifle” had long been linked by folklore and early historical writings to the epic Lewis and Clark Voyage of Discovery that threaded its way through the Northwest to the Pacific Ocean and back from 1804 to 1806. To date, no “short rifle” from the Expedition has been specifically identified and no attributed specimens have ever surfaced, but this all changed in 2005 when Serial Number 15, 1803 dated Harper’s Ferry rifle found its way into our shop for examination.
In the process of building 15 rifles of this prototype pattern, we discovered enough to change the entire Harper’s Ferry rifle story, most importantly – these rifles WERE built in quantity in 1803, Lewis did take the first 15 rifles produced on special order and that the rifle is .52 caliber (not .54 as found in all the books on guns) using a .520 calibre (ball size).
Writer’s today lump these rifles into basically one class – “Model 1803”, but the story is not that simple and needs to be told for future collectors and historians. We hope the information in this article will enlighten all who admire and collect these first military rifles as well as assure they take their proper place in history for the role they played in a major event in early 19th century American history – The Lewis and Clark Expedition. It is time to update the history of these rifles – not reinvent it. We can choose to cling to the past but to do so is an injustice to historians and collectors who want the truth.
A condensed version of the “short rifle” story was published in “We Proceeded On” journal. May 2006, Vol 32, No.2, written my Jim Merritt from our research. It was about this time we started giving talks on the short rifle and air gun as well as let a large audience shoot the air rifle at their National Convention. In the same volume is the air gun story written by Dr. Beeman based upon our study of his gun.
The Lewis and Clark “short rifle” Harper’s Ferry “short rifle” SN 15, built in 1803 was used as a pattern for our rifle project once we verified its authenticity. Surprisingly we found that this rifle had been known since 1996 but, due to its relic condition, had never been properly examined in detail. Owned by Leon Budginas of Salt Lake City, Utah, it traces its origin back 35 years to a St. Louis Antique shop, where ironically the expedition’s surviving arms and equipment were sold at public auction upon their return.(44) A thorough inspection of this early Model 1800 rifle revealed that all assembly numbers matched, making it a very important gun for both the collector and the historian. It proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Harper’s Ferry Arsenal made “short rifles” in 1803, going against all previous beliefs. It also proved that Lewis’s “short rifles” mentioned in the journals were one and the same rifle. This rifle will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter III and in the footnotes . Our ongoing study turned up a quantity of rifles that were unquestionably made in 1803 and bear some unique characteristics to prove that point.
The name “short rifle” was applied to the new weapon immediately to separate from the “common long rifle” then in use (called the M1792″ by collectors today). Both terms began to appear in period documents as soon as production of the M1803 rifle started. All the journals kept on the expedition used the new proper term “short rifle” when talking about this weapon. We will use the term “Model 1800” for Lewis’s 15 rifles to honor Charles Winthrop Sawyer who, in his 1921 book “Our First Rifles”, was the first to suggest that a Model 1800 rifle existed. His rationality can be better understood if we look at our early history, historical documents and surviving weapons. By establishing a time line of events in the development of the “short rifle” it becomes evident that they were produced in quantity in 1803, something that only could have been accomplished if the “prototype” stage had been completed and approved. (1)
Sawyer’s Model 1800 rifle theory was based upon the fact that on March 3, 1799, Congress passed an act authorizing the addition to the regular army of “One Regiment and battalion rifles” consisting of 1,840 privates, totaling 2052 men.(2) We had no rifles to arm this new unit. This was all prompted by our shaky relations with France over their ongoing conflict with England (with who we continued trade after a 1794 treaty, which France claimed violated their 1778 Alliance with us) that came to a head with the “XYZ Affair” of 1798 when France insulted our delegates. England’s addition of a rifle regiment to their Army in 1799, armed with a new rifle (Baker) was another factor that prompted us to look for a new rifle to replace the obsolete “common long rifle” in our inventory. This new rifle would also use the same SDS powder that the British adopted for their series of rifles shipped over for use in the American Revolution.(3)
Without enough M1792 rifles in inventory to arm this new force, additional rifles were IMMEDIATELY needed. The arms race was very much alive at that time and our fear of having to face British troops armed with a superior rifle forced the U.S. Army to come up with one equal to or better rifle than theirs. Th e Model 1800 rifle, using the “SDS” powder, met this requirement. The new heptagonal rifling allowed more shots between cleaning, making it better than the English Baker Rifle.
Napoleon reestablished peace with us in 1799. With that threat over, the American rifle battalions were dropped in the May 4, 1800 Army reorganization. A previous year’s work on the new Model 1800 rifle project would have been adequate to complete the prototype process with only the production phase halted. The War Department expended $9520.49 in 1799 on new arms manufacturing yet manufacturing of muskets did not get well under way until 1801. This money had to have been for the new “short rifle” project. A letter from Samuel Hodgdon to Israel Whelan, dated October 14, 1800, requests him to purchase “fifty pounds of thick & thin sheet brass” for use at Harper’s Ferry. This brass could only have been for the M1800 rifle project that takes two thicknesses. The arsenal produced nothing at that time requiring such “sheet” brass.(4) Despite the above information, a few people still do not accept that Lewis carried fifteen Model 1800 short rifles on his expedition, based upon old beliefs that we can now dispel:
First is the misconception that Lewis waited for 15 rifles from the first U.S. Government contract (2,000 rifles) placed on May 25, 1803. His Model 1800 rifles, with a unique system of interchangeable locks, were ordered in March of 1803 and well into production two months before Secretary of War Dearborn placed that order.
Second is a the very long-standing misplaced faith in the 1822 reconstructed “Bomford” records indicating that no short rifles (even prototypes) were made in 1803. Not only have we found many military rifles made before December of 1803, but we have irrefutable government correspondence placing a “prototype” in Dearborn’s hands by December of 1803. We also have found, by serial number and 1803 dated locks, that as many as 700 rifles were made in that year.
Bomford also shows rifles made in 1807 but from our research and collected data, not one rifle has been found with an 1807 dated lock date. (See Appendix II)
These glaring errors send up big red flags for his yearly production records – too many to be ignored. For decades arms writers have tried to explain away the many inconsistencies in his numbers on other types of early Harper’s Ferry arms without challenging them, perpetuating our belief that his records are not the gospel on the subject. From the study of just Lewis’s rifle (and other 1803 dated rifles we located) his records can conclusively be disputed.(5) To begin to unravel the controversy surrounding the type of rifle carried on the Voyage of Discovery, we need to examine how the “short rifles” appeared on the scene.
Harper’s Ferry and the Model 1800 rifle
Joseph Perkin, superintendent of the Harper’s Ferry Arsenal, Henry Dearborn, Secretary of War, and Meriwether Lewis are the principal players in this story. It is not a simple story and requires a basic understanding of what was happening in the fledgling United States during this precarious time in our history – including very real threats from abroad to our security, by France, Spain and Great Britain, with all demanding that our country keep up with world firearms technology to counter these threats. Dearborn’s May 1803 order for 2,000 rifles was in direct response to an Oct 16, 1802 act by Spain revoking the American right of deposit in New Orleans. Unknown to the United States, The Treaty of San Ildefonso (October 1, 1800) ceded Louisiana back to France but Spain basically ignored the treaty, most likely due to Spain’s reluctance to give up her forts along the east bank of the Mississippi river – land that was ceded to the United States by England in the Treaty of Paris. In 1794 George Rogers Clark went so far as offer to lead a military expedition on a state level to take these forts by force of arms. Americans along the Mississippi, especially the new State of Kentucky, were furious and the United States overtly began preparations for war (saber rattling) over this issue in early 1803. These actions undoubtedly brought to conclusion the desired purchase of the entire Louisiana territory, to include New Orleans, in April,1803, averting a war which neither Spain nor France knew they could win. It was under these clouds of potential war that the short rifle was born.
The unfortunate destruction of Harper’s Ferry in April 19, 1861, to prevent its capture by Confederate forces, deprived historians of valuable arsenal records, correspondence and pattern rifles being stored there that would have shed valuable light on the early days of rifle development. Those lost records have never been accurately reconstructed. (7) Official surviving correspondence relating to the short rifles is almost non-existent (at least to this date) other than the few letters from Henry Dearborn – thus we are left with a puzzle with many missing pieces. Whether Lewis had previous knowledge of the existence of the new rifle due to his close relationship with Dearborn, we shall never know, but he would have jumped at the chance to obtain the new “short rifle” for his expedition.
A letter from Secretary Dearborn, written on Lewis’s behalf and addressed to Arsenal Superintendent Perkin, dated March 14, 1803 states “You will be pleased to make such arms & iron work, as requested by the Bearer Captain Meriwether Lewis and to have them completed with the least possible delay…”.(8)
This was a literal “blank check” to use all resources to make Lewis’s arms in time for the upcoming expedition. Lewis’s timing for his visit to Harper’s Ferry on March 16th of 1803 could not have been better, since waiting in the wings was the perfect weapon for his expedition – a large bore, short, lightweight and hard-hitting rifle. It was far superior to the previous “long rifle” that was unwieldy for his various modes of travel and varied in calibers, requiring each rifle to have its own bullet mold and powder charge. This would have been totally unacceptable to Lewis – loss of a bullet mold resulted in the loss of a rifle.
Dearborn had experience with rifles in the American Revolution. At the battle of Bemis Heights (Saratoga Campaign) in September of 1777, Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates reinforced Colonel Daniel Morgan riflemen with 250 sharpshooters from Major Dearborn’s light infantry units. Morgan’s combined forces of riflemen went on to inflict great casualties among the British officers and artillerymen unfortunate enough to be caught in the open.(9)
Lewis was also no stranger to the use of rifles. He had been part of the militia that put down the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. It was from his post in Pittsburgh that he enlisted in Wayne’s Second Sub-Legion in May of 1795 and joined the “Chosen Rifle Company” of elite riflemen-sharpshooters commanded by William Clark. It was there that he became fast friends with his new commander during their short time together. Both officers witnessed the Treaty of Greenville on August 3, 1795 that helped secure claim to the area between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.
Clark was a 4-year Army veteran and had fought in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, so he also was no stranger to the tactical effectiveness of rifles on a battlefield. Clark resigned his commission six months after Lewis arrived (1796).(10)
Perkin had gained extensive knowledge in English arms production, having served his apprenticeship in the Birmingham gun trade before immigrating to America in 1774. He immediately went to work for John Strode, manager of Rappahannock Forge in Virginia where he became renowned for his “gunlock” skills. After the Revolutionary War he set up his own business in Philadelphia but continued to serve as a part time inspector for the Superintendent of Military Stores. His apparent diligence in gun matters won him a position of supervisor of New London Arsenal in 1792. When this arsenal was abandoned in 1798, he was given the task of setting up the new government arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. It was a tremendous job, but as time would tell, he proved himself capable of the task, which led to a position of great power and earned him the absolute trust and confidence of Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn.
His position as Arsenal Superintendent gave him access to a large reference collection of various types of rifles stored at the arsenal, including samples of British rifles of the American Revolution with their proven technology using fine German rifle powder (SDS), all of which found its way into the new United States Army “short rifle”.(11)
Again, it is very important to recognize that Lewis’s rifles had absolutely nothing to do with the upcoming 1803 military contract. After picking up his rifles and shooting them at the arsenal in July of 1803, he may have influenced Dearborn’s December,1803 changes to the gun, but other than that possibility, his connection with the rifle ends.
Lewis wrote Jefferson on April 20, 1803 from Lancaster, Pa., explaining the difficulty encountered in building the iron frame of the portable boat, and goes on to note, “My Rifles, Tomahawks & Knives are preparing at Harper’s Ferry, and are already in a state of forwardness that leaves me little doubt of their being in readiness in due time”.(12)
This was slightly over a month after his initial visit and tells us that Perkin was in the process of making Lewis’s rifles (along with the other items mentioned) a full month before receiving the military contract. It also confirms one other very important detail – even if the Army had NOT placed an order for rifles in 1803, Lewis would still have received his fifteen special rifles. There is no reason not to believe that Dearborn was very much aware of the new rifle ready for production and thus sent Lewis to Harper’s Ferry to acquire them.
Another remarkable letter exists from Secretary Dearborn to Superintendent Perkin dated May 25, 1803. It is worthy of being reprinted in its entirety for its minute detail and insight into the military thinking of the time. However, we must remember that this letter has nothing to do with Lewis’s rifles but rather the military rifle order, but the details contained within it gives us great insight into just how far the short rifle project had advanced by this date. Dearborn informs Perkin:
“There being a deficiency of rifles in the public Arsenals, and those on hand not being as well calculated for actual service as could be wished. It is considered advisable to have a suitable number of judiciously constructed Rifles manufactured at the Armory under your direction. You will therefore take the necessary measures for commencing the manufactory as soon as may be after completing the Muskits now in hand. The Barrels of the rifles should not exceed two feet nine inches in length and should be calculated for carrying a ball of one thirtieth of a pound weight – the barrels should be round from muzzle to within 10 inches of the Britch and not of an unnecessary thickness especially in the round part – the stock should not extend further than the tail pipe, from thence to within 3″ of the muzzle, an iron rib should be substituted for that part of the stock – the ramrod should be of Steel and sufficiently strong for forcing down the ball without binding. The butt end of the ramrod should be concaved suited to the shape of the Ball – the locks should be light and well executed – the mounting should be brass – there should be at least two thousand of these rifles made. If you should be of opinion that any improvements may be made on the above construction or any parts thereof, you will be pleased to inform me of such improvements as you may think useful. I have such convincing proof of the advantage the short rifle has over the long ones (commonly used) in actual service as to leave no doubt in my mind of preferring the short rifle, with larger Calibers than the long ones usually have and with stiff steel ramrods instead of wooden ones – the great facility which such rifles afford in charging, in addition to their being less liable to become foul by firing, gives a decided advantage to an equal skill and dexterity over those armed with the common long rifle”.(13)
The first observation of this document is the amazing detail of the rifle, right down to actual measurements. This is more than just a casual letter expressing what might be a nice idea for a new rifle since he makes it a point to state that he has “convincing proof” of the new rifle’s advantages, meaning the rifle had passed the test stage. What becomes immediately apparent is that Dearborn is describing an existing rifle, in hand, in order to have such a detailed description for Perkin. Dearborn and Lewis worked very closely on preparations for the expedition. The prior “proof” that Dearborn refers to may have come directly from Lewis himself after his March 1803 visit to the arsenal, but whatever convincing proof” he had was enough to place the May,1803 order for the Army.
The second observation worthy of note is the comment about the rifling being “less liable to become fouled by firing”. The new heptagonal .530 caliber bore of the 1803 rifle has wide flat lands with narrow grooves instead of the concave lands and grooves found in many of the second production (1815-1819) rifles. The .520 calibre ball would ride on the lands and fouling would build only in the grooves only, giving the rifleman more shots between cleanings. Shooting a copy of this rifle has proven this correct, giving well over 30 shots between cleaning. The fact that the heptagonal rifling was dropped during the second production indicates that the added production time and expense was not justified. It would not have changed the size of the ball. What is important is that Dearborn was well enough informed of the benefits offered by the new rifling design to make note of it in his letter. The .520 calibre round ball also meets Dearborn’s specification for 30 balls to the pound. Throughout this article, to avoid confusion, we use “caliber” for bore size and “calibre” for ball size (as the French did in their early writings).(14)
Left – 1804 dated rifle, 33” barrel with original 7 groove polygon rifling with flat land. Right -1819 dated rifle, 36” barrel with 7 groove round bottom rifling with curved lands.
The ball size (calibre) used in ALL of the “short rifle” series is .520. This has been a consistent error found in ALL gun books and writings relating to this weapon. This is explained in detail in the story. All 1814 and into about mid-production 1815 used left over barrels from the first production run. When that supply was exhausted, they went to the round-bottom rifling with 36” barrel for reasons also explained in the story. This error came from measuring the bores of the rifle at the muzzle, not considering that the muzzle is “swamped” to allow insertion of the patched ball with the thumb. No one ever bother to make a wax cast of the bore at the breech to establish that fact. We did and used it to prove the calibre of the ball.
The third observation is that an entirely new “lightweight” lock was specified for the rifle, meaning that no lock of that style had been previously used on military weapons. Dearborn makes no comment of interchangeability of locks for the military rifles, making this feature unique to Lewis’s fifteen rifles. Anticipating an extended trip into an uncharted wilderness, Lewis wisely requested a supply of spare locks, perhaps as many as 15, to be used as needed, either in whole or part to keep his rifles serviceable. Arsenal Superintendent Perkin was the ideal person to provide this interchangeability of locks due to his prior reputation for lock making at Rappahannock Forge in Virginia. Dearborn and Lewis probably discussed this interchangeability idea, leading to Dearborn’s instructions to Perkin to “make” whatever he needed. Both men were aware that not only was there no weapon in our arsenal in 1800 to meet the need, but, due to the limitations of interchangeability of gun parts in their day, the ONLY way this requirement could be met was to build 15 locks with very strict tolerances rules out the “retrofitting” of locks to a finished rifle. Lock fitting was so critical that Harper’s Ferry locks have assembly numbers (forward of the pan on the narrow edge of the lock in Roman Numerals) to keep it with the rifle to which it was fitted. These assembly numbers are found on almost every part of the gun and are important when checking the originality of any rifle. Only if a pattern lock, complete with pan and mounting holes, was furnished to a gunsmith prior to production (such as was obviously done with the 15 extra locks made for Lewis’s rifles)could any degree of interchangeability become possible.(15)
The fourth striking observation of the letter is the denouncing of the “common long rifle” as being unsuitable for “actual service”.(16) This confirms that by 1803 the need for a “standard” rifle was fully recognized by the Army. Between March and May of 1803, based upon his “convincing proof”, Dearborn made the important decision that the newly designed Model 1800 short rifle being built for Lewis’s expedition was also perfect for the U.S. Army’s needs.
After Lewis departed Harper’s Ferry in July of 1803 with his 15 Model 1800 rifles, the arsenal began tooling up for full production of the military version. Enough rifles exist with 1803 dated lock plates to prove full scale production in that year.(17,19) Dating was important because weapons had a serviceable “shelf life”, which, when expired or obsolete, were usually turned over to State Militia Arsenals as part of their yearly arms allotments.
Dearborn wrote again to Perkin on December 2, 1803, stating – “The iron ribbed Rifle in my opinion is an excellent pattern, with the following very trifling alterations (viz.) the upper end of the upper thimble should be a little Bell muzzled to receive the introduction of the ramrod more conveniently – the aperture or cut in the sight near the Breech should be a little wider and a Brass ferrule placed on the end of the Stock near the tail pipe, to prevent that part of the Stock from splitting..”.(18)
Dearborn undoubtedly had a new Model 1800 in his hands in order to make the above changes. This single fact alone is enough to show the inaccuracy of the Bomford records since he shows no short rifles, pattern or otherwise, produced in 1803. How could his records be so inaccurate? The explanation may be very simple.
The fiscal year 1804 was the same as the calendar year until 1838, so storekeeper production reporting of “new weapons” built in 1803 may simply be the result of Harper’s Ferry exceeding their “new production” budget for the year 1803, forcing them to delay production reporting until fiscal year 1804. Considering the emergency under which these rifles were ordered, they probably were NOT budgeted for 1803.((24)(19) From personal experience (working for the government), the same practice of delayed production reporting to meet budgeting constraints continues today within government production facilities.
Even if Bomford is incorrect in his yearly production figures, the total production of 4015 (not including pattern rifle) would be unchanged. Since the Army ordered only 4,000, the additional 15 were Lewis’s rifles.
TOP: SN 1 of our production M1800 rifles
BOTTOM: Half-stock fowler made by “BARKER” in the 1775-1785 period.
Note the similarities in design. Not much doubt that we copied a basic British gun design for our “short rifles”.
Harper,s Ferry M1800 Rifle serial number 15
This is the only picture I have to work with of the entire rifle. There are some other detail pictures in Appendix I. I had no detail photos of the stock itself which is the purpose of this photo. We built a case to house the gun when on display along with a list of details unique to the first 15 rifles.
It is important to note that all parts carry the same “batch” number which means the gun is a 100% correct assembly from the arsenal.
Reference #2 & #9: There are 4 “sun” inserts on the stock, one in front of the patchbox, one on the cheek rest and one on each side of the forend stock. They were carved into the stock and then filled with pine resin which hardened to a glassy apperance. The brass patchbox was removed and replaced with a wood cover nailed into place with square cut nails.
As stated early in this article, one of his short rifles survived. This Model 1800 rifle, serial number 15, bears some remarkable differences to the Model 1803 military short rifle. Again, every part examined and described herein displays matching assembly numbers, confirming that the rifle is an original arsenal assembly and unaltered since 1803. Unfortunately when Ernie passed away in 2018 I lost a lot of photos of this rifle. The ones I managed to find show up here and in Appendix I where we look at the difference in these 15 rifles and the military production. If I can recover some better photos of the stock will add them.
The most notable and significant difference in the Serial Number 15 rifle is the STRAIGHT upper ramrod thimble, indicating production prior to Dearborn’s December changes. Next is a center thimble placed two inches forward of any known military contract rifles. (Footnote 18). The rib is of hollow construction instead of the solid type found on later military contract rifles (See Appendix I).
This rifle had been inletted for the brass stock ferrule, but the band found with the rifle was a modern brass replacement making it impossible to ascertain exactly when it was attempted. It is not impossible to believe that Lewis proposed these changes to Dearborn since the inletting appears to be old, especially after having the rifles in his hands for many months. This is a very good theory since only Lewis had any real opportunity to field test the rifles and make such suggestions. He may have even had Shields perform the simple task of adding the brass band to his 15 rifles to strengthen that area, or SN 15 had a band added by a subsequent owner since the fore end displays an old longitudinal crack.
The rear sight is a “buckhorn” long rifle style (see appendix I), favored for using “Kentucky windage” by frontiersmen for long range shooting, stamped with the assembly number on the underside to match with the assembly number stamped in the dovetailed slot on the barrel (no other assembly number appears on the barrel, which is unusual since government rifles are marked on the underside, indicating perhaps a special run of guns. The front sight is also of German silver instead of the normal brass found on subsequent guns. Silver front sights were popular on long rifles for shooting in the dim light of virgin forests. All other rifles produced had brass front blades.
The butt plate is of two-piece construction indicating hand fabrication before a mold was made to cast them for full military rifle production.
The lock plate markings (lettering) are individually hand stamped, done before a full die stamp had been made for full production (see Appendix I).
The rifle is in almost relic condition, weathered, sun bleached and exhibiting an extremely hard life in the outdoors. About 5/8″ has been removed from the muzzle of the barrel (perhaps it too had split). It was converted to percussion and bored smooth for continued use. Could it have been one of the rifles that were shortened and given to the Indians?
The stock has many wood fillers (of various types and age) applied over the years for preservation with the patch box replaced by a wood covering held in place by handmade square cut nails. We can only guess what happened to the patch box cover. The stock displays four “sun” shaped inlays filled with pine resin that can be seen in the above stock photos. These are true “mountain man” or “Indian” decorations. Brass was a scarce commodity in the West of that day. It may have been removed to make brass “jewelry” of the day. Plains Indians also removed butt plates to use as hide scrappers. What a story this rifle could tell!
Harper’s Ferry rifle production capabilities
Could Harper’s Ferry have made his 15 rifles in the time allotted? Considering the importance of an expedition authorized by President Jefferson along with Dearborn’s instructions to Perkin to make whatever Lewis needed without delay, his 17 production workers (some books indicate as many as 20) would have had ample time to manufacture his rifles with the raw materials available at the arsenal with only labor costs. It is both significant and fortunate that Perkin had some of the best gunsmiths and artisans available for Lewis’s project, many of whom already were, or would become, noted gunsmiths in their own rights.
In 1798 Perkin was appointed to set up the new government arsenal at Harper’s Ferry. He brought with him 15 of his most highly-skilled workmen. By 1802, Perkin had established a manufactory similar to that in Europe where each craftsman was responsible for a specific component part of the gun or it’s mounting. This highly skilled work force was in place when Lewis arrived on the scene in March of 1803. We shall never know exactly how long it took the workmen to make his 15 rifles, but we know that in 1805 48 workers turned out 1716 rifles, requiring approximately 50 man-hours per gun. Using this as a crude standard, Lewis’s 15 rifles would have required approximately 750 man-hours to produce, meaning they could have conservatively been completed in less than two weeks with materials available at the arsenal. Since they had almost 4 months, it would have been an easy task even with interchangeable locks.(20)
Perkin finished Lewis’s Model 1800 rifles on schedule. Lewis wrote to Jefferson on July 7, 1803: “Yesterday I shot my guns and examined the several articles which had been manufactured for me at this place; they appear to be well executed”.(21) The fact that he shot the rifles at the arsenal also hints that they were of a totally different design than the M1792 long rifle with which he was already well familiar. Harper’s Ferry production capabilities in 1803 was more than enough to make his rifles in the allotted time.
The “Short Rifle” of the Lewis & Clark journals
The most convincing evidence of the use of the new Model 1800 short rifle on the Voyage of Discovery comes from entries in the various journals kept on the expedition by Lewis, Clark, and his Sergeants. If read in full context, noting the dates the rifles are mentioned by proper name, they are convincing enough to satisfy even the most skeptical about what type of rifles to which they were referring. The journals are very specific about their movements at any time and in various places. The term “short rifle”, coined by Dearborn 1803 to make a distinction between it and the old pattern “long rifles”, appears throughout the journals kept by different members and it means just what it is was intended to mean – the new Model 1800 rifle. After the official adoption of the rifle and its new nomenclature, both “long rifle” and “short rifle” begin to appear in inventory records. An 1810 inventory lists 3,113 “short” rifles and 188 “long rifles fit for service” on hand at Harpers Ferry. (22) The term “long rifle” is not found in any journals of the expedition.
Few people realize that significant gaps exist in the journals that Lewis started on August 30, 1803. There are no explanations for these omissions. Perhaps some of the journals were lost. Periods where Lewis made no entries are September 19 to November 11 of 1803, May 14, 1804 to April 7, 1805 (almost an entire year) and August 26, 1805 to January 1, 1806.(23)
His first known mention of the short rifle is in March of 1806. Considering that Lewis made no entries for 20 months out of 36 on the trail, we cannot look at this “late” entry or “lack of mention” of the short rifle early in the expedition as being of any significance. What may be significant is that he not only mentions the rifles within 3 months of starting his entries again in January,1806, but does so in 5 of the following 6 months. Thus, if any notes or journals exist for those lost periods, there is a good chance the rifles were mentioned in one form or another.
Entries in the Journals pertaining to the “short rifles”:
Lewis: March 20,1806 – “The guns of Drewyer and Sergt. Pryor were both out of order. the first was repared with a new lock, the old one having become unfit for uce; the second had the cock screw broken which was replaced by a duplicate which had been made prepared for the lock at Harpers ferry where she was manufactured. But for the precaution taken in bringing on those extra locks and parts of locks, in addition to the ingenuity of John Shields, most of our guns would at this moment be entirely unfit for use; but fortunately for us I have it in my power here to record that they are all in good order.”.(26)(24)
Clark writes of the same event: “The Guns of Sergt. Pryor & Drewyer were both out of order. the first had a Cock screw broken which was replaced by a duplicate which had been prepared for the Locks at Harpers
Ferry; the Second repared with a new Lock, the old one becoming unfit for use.(25)
Both entries show that the locks and their components were indeed interchangeable. Clarke added in his entry the additional comment that the guns were “Complete in every respect”.
The term “she” in Lewis’s remarks refers to the rifle itself and is a common vernacular of 18th century America. Throughout the journals the feminine noun is used often when referring to weapons, especially the air rifle. Thomas Rodney called Lewis’s air rifle “she” when he wrote about his encounter with Lewis on September 7, 1803 – “..he shewed us the mode of charging her…but she by some means lost the whole charge of air..”
Whitehouse used “she” when describing the air gun on August 30, 1804, and Lewis uses it again on August 7, 1805 – ..my air gun was out of order and her sights had been removed by some accedent..” This indicates that when Lewis writes “where she was manufactured”, he is not referring to the lock, but rather the rifle itself.
Lewis, April 12,1806 – “we caused all the men who had short rifles to carry them, in order to be prepared for the natives should they make any attempts to rob or injure them”.(28)(((26)
Clark writes of the same incident – “we Caused all the men of the party who had Short guns to carry them on the portage for fear of Some attempt on the part of the nativs to rob the party”.(27)
Both men made sure that all short rifles would be readily available, being the most effective means of defending themselves should they be attacked. This entry is significant in that it was made 4 months before any rifles were shortened by Shields.
Sgt Ordway, June 18, 1806 – “Drewyer and Shannon Sent on ahead to go to the villages of the pel-oll-pellow nation they took one of the Short rifles in order to git a pilot if possible to go over the mount with us”. (28)
Here even Moulton, probably the nation’s best versed scholar on the journey, makes a footnote that Ordway is specifically referring to a Model 1803 rifle. He recognized the connection of the Model 1800 rifle to the expedition, going as far as to say that they were prototypes and not the Army contract 1803 rifle.(29)
The date of this passage and the use of the term “short rifles” is very important since it is still before any rifles were shortened by Shields.
Lewis, June 18, 1806 – “..we sent them a rifle which we offered as a reward to any of them who would engage to conduct us to traveller’s rest”..(30)
Clark, June 18, 1806 – “We dispatched Drewyer and Shannon to the Chopunnish Indian in the plains beyond the Kooskooske in order to hasten the arrival of the Indians who promised to accompany us, or to precure a guide at all events and to join us as Soon as possible. We Sent them a riffle which we offered as a reward to any of them who would engage to conduct us to Clarks river at the entrance of Travellers rest Creek; we also directed them if they found difficuelty in inducing any of them to accompany us to offer the reward of two other guns to be given immediately and ten horses at the falls of the Missouri.”(31)
Ordway’s journal entry specifies a short rifle to be traded for a guide, so both Lewis’s and Clark’s use of only the term “rifle” really meant a “short rifle”.
Lewis, July 1, 1806 – “..set Shields at work to repair some of our guns which were out of order …. Windsor birst his gun near the muzzle a few days since; this Shields cut off and I exchanged it with the Cheif for the one we had given him for conducting us over the mountain. he was much pleased with the exchange and shot his gun several times; he shoots very well for an inexperienced person”.(32)
According to the journals, Windsor’s rifle had burst on the morning of June 16,1806.(33) Shields shortened this gun on July 1, 1806 as noted by Lewis.
Clark, July 2, 1806 – “We gave the Second gun to our guides agreeable to our promis…..two of the rifles have unfortunately bursted near the muscle. Shields Cut them off and they Shute tolerable well one which is very Short we exchanged with the Indian whoe we had given a longer gun to indue them to pilot us across the mountains.”(34)
They now gave away the second shorten rifle cut down by Shields. We can be certain of this since they made it a point to trade back the full length “short rifle” taken by Drewyer and Shannon on June 18 as noted in Ordway’s journal above. Logic tells us that they would not have given up another full-length rifle when another cut one was available. The Indians were probably just as pleased to get the shorter weapons since they were lighter and handier to use when hunting from horseback. Lewis specifically notes that it was Windsor’s shortened rifle that was traded for the longer “short rifle”, a fact confirmed by Clark’s entry. This also tells us that each person received and was responsible for his own rifle and carried it throughout the journey. This was common practice in riflemen’s ranks, allowing each individual to learn his own rifle’s shooting characteristics.
These dates and passages are very important to the researcher. It lays to rest any notion that the term “short rifle” used prior to or after July 2, 1806 was referring any type of cut down “long rifles” since both “cut” rifles disappear into history in the hands of two Indian guides.
As a footnote in history, it is interesting to note that on Zebulon Pike’s second expedition of 1806-7, whom scholars agree carried the M1803 rifles, three rifles also burst, reinforcing the fact that Lewis and Clark carried a similar rifle with the same inherent weakness.(35)
Many of the later 1807 contract rifles, using the same style 38″ half round, half octagon barrel, also burst during proofing with 8 out of 18 barrels bursting under a proof test of 3/4 oz. of powder with 2 balls. The conclusion was that 1/3 of the entire lot of 1,779 rifles would burst if “proved”, so they were condemned. It was these fiascos from private contractors that sent rifle production back to the arsenals.(36)
Barrel failures are one of the most significant clues left to us as to the type of rifles carried by Lewis’s men. A 65-grain charge of SDS (fine rifle) powder with a 215 grain .520 calibre ball produced a muzzle velocity of 1450 feet per second. A full 90 grain would easily reach the 2,000 FPS mentioned by Sawyer. At these pressures, just as in modern firearms, any obstruction in the muzzle, such as snow or mud, would have caused them to burst in that area.(37)
The short rifle was America’s first experiment with fine powders and high pressures. The strength of the iron in the round section of the barrels was being stretched to the limits. Just the type of catastrophic barrel failures experienced by Lewis, 2 out of 15 completely rules out the use of the M1792 rifle that used standard grade rifle powder. During our research, we found no recorded instances of any octagon barrel ever bursting. It was the Model 1800 ‘s tremendous muzzle energy that was the cause. (38)
Just how accurate were their Model 1800 rifles? That his men had become expert shots is recorded in the journals as they held shooting contests with Indians along the way. This rifle, with its tremendous muzzle velocity, would have also impressed the Indians as it was the finest, most technologically advanced rifle of its day. One such shooting incident recorded by Lewis on May 12,1806 is worthy of mention when his men “struck the mark with 2 balls. distn 220 yards”. The size of the “mark” is not mentioned, nor the total number of shots fired, but most likely it represented a “man sized” target (for which military rifles were designed), or about an 18″ circle, which, in 1803 was very respectable shooting with round balls and thus noteworthy in the journals.
Above is a 10-shot group at 65 yards with Rifle SN 1, using 65 grains of SDS powder, 6” bulls-eye. At 200 yards we could keep all shots on a man size silhouette. The full 90-grain charge had excessive recoil and did not group quite as well (but all stayed on the black). The full charge would have been perfect for large game out to 100 yards.
Lewis (on his accidental shooting by Private Cruzatte), August 12,1806 – “…the ball had lodged in my breeches which I knew to be the ball of the short rifles such as that he had”.(39)
Lewis, February 1, 1806(Ft Clatsop, Oregon) “To day we opened and examined all our ammunition, which had been secured in leaden canesters. we found twenty-seven of the best rifle powder, 4 of common rifle, three of glaized, and one of the musqut powder in good order, perfectly as dry as when first put in the canesters … these cannesters contain four lbs. of powder each and(contain) 8 of lead”.(40)
Lewis now has in his hands, at the minimum, 108 pounds of “best rifle powder”, more than enough to retrace his footsteps again. One could say that he had overstocked on this commodity, but it shows the importance he placed upon having a quantity of the correct powder for his rifles. His use of the word “glaized” is interesting since it was a term used in British correspondence (spelled “glazed”) when referring to the fine rifle powder (SDS)used during the American Revolution in both the Ferguson and British Pattern “rifled carbines” (P76 rifles).(41)
Also, of interest on the “gunpowder” side of the short rifle story is that in 1815 Chief of Ordnance Colonel Wadsworth recommended the barrel of the Model 1803 rifle lengthened to 36 inches in order to more effectively burn the service charge of 100 grains. We believe this was done to handle DuPont’s new domestic “rifle powder” introduced in 1807 and called “FFFg” by 1808.(43) Dupont’s rifle powder, based upon a French formula lacked the quality saltpeter found in English powder, so it did not perform quite as well as the previously imported English rifle powder, but at least it cut our dependence on imported rifle powder. 1807 was the year the Embargo Act was passed suspending foreign trade, so the government had to come up with its own brand of “SDS”for the rifle powder.
Lewis’s careful preparation for the journey was incredible. If we look at those preparations, we can easily see that he was equipping for a larger expedition than approved by Congress. In July of 1803 Jefferson made the official announcement of the Louisiana purchase in the United States, the same month Lewis picked up his rifles at Harpers Ferry. President Jefferson would not have left Lewis in the dark about the upcoming deal with France. It is quite likely that Lewis and Jefferson decided to change the civilian exploring party into a military expedition by doubling the size. Neither Lewis nor Jefferson could act openly upon this change of plans for the safety of the expedition, plus, by making it a military venture, additional funding could come from the War Department. Lewis quietly went about gathering his supplies for his “small” party of men so as not to expose the real size of the expedition – about 30 men, all under Army authority and pay.(6).
There was another good reason to increase the size of the party in secret. Spain had not given their permission to cross into their territories beyond the Rockies, so to insure the safety of the party, the world at large was left to believe that the expedition would be only the planned 8 to 12 men as approved by Congress. If we look at what Lewis took from Harper’s Ferry, we can see he planned for exactly 30 men – 15 with short rifles and 15 with muskets.
Much conjecture has also surrounded the possibility of slings being attached to Lewis’s rifles. This theory has two origins.
First of which is an 1807 watercolor by C.B.J. Fevert de Saint Memin of Meriwether Lewis in fanciful frontier dress holding an artist’s conception of a “long rifle” with “sling swivels”.. As ridiculous as this print is in itself, it has no historical context nor any importance in regards to the expedition so it is not worthy of being included in the story except for the it’s effect upon the “long rifle” theory. One other important fact is that all remaining rifles were sold off at auction in St. Louis on September 23, 1806 so none were available of any type for the painting.(44)
Second is Lewis’s acquisition of 15 slings of unspecified type taken from Harper’s Ferry. If we take a closer look at “riflemen” of the period, knowing Lewis’s secret gathering of supplies for a larger exploring party than first projected, the journals themselves and the structural aspect of the rifle, this theory can be dispelled.
As for the slings – Lewis, assigned regimental paymaster to the First Infantry Regiment in 1800, had visited all the Western forts and garrisons and was so well acquainted with them and their men that in 1802 (after he became the President’s personal Secretly in March of 1801) Jefferson appointed him to prepare a chart rating the 269 officers then in the Army. It was from this chart that Dearborn chose 76 officers for removal during the Army reductions of that year. An inspector’s report of Capt. Amos Stoddard’s Artillery Company dated February 24, 1803 states that their arms were in “tolerable order, old and incomplete”, and noting that “..Ball Screwdrivers, Brushes Prickers and Gunslings wanting”. This is important information in understanding why he took new slings for muskets he intended to press into service.(45)
Among the invoice of items taken from the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry with the 15 slings were “15 Cartouch box belts” and “125 Musket flints”. (46) These two items put the slings into perspective – all would be needed to fully equip the 15 additional men he would recruit at the various frontier posts carrying muskets with bayonets, a formidable weapon for defense. There is no mystery here, just very careful preparations for a long journey into a wilderness where no replacement equipment would be found. He wisely intended to start the entire expedition with as much new, reliable gear as he could obtain, being unsure of the condition of the accouterments in the hands of the soldiers posted at the frontier posts. It must also be remembered that riflemen of the period did not use slings and thus were never a part of their accouterments. An 1812 publication “The Handbook for Riflemen” by William Duane, second in command of the United States Regiment of Riflemen from 1808 to 1810, states – “A rifleman is never supposed to leave his rifle unloaded, and contrary to the rule of the infantry, who always carry their arms on the left shoulder, the rifleman carries his, unless he shifts it for rest, on his right side, either trailed or at the advance”.(47)
Slings were never a part of the American “rifleman” culture in the 18th and 19th century for a good reason – they got in the way when stalking game and they snag on equipment when traveling on horseback or in canoes. Thus, you rarely (if ever) see a sling on a long rifle. Examination of rifles from this period confirms this phenomenon, to the point that they were omitted from many American made muskets of the Revolution. The men Lewis recruited in 1803 were hardened frontiersmen and as such would not have even considered the use of a sling, but there is another very good reason why they could not have used slings – the short rifle is structurally incapable of mounting one.
The only place a front sling swivel could be mounted was through the fragile front rib, which, being hollow on the first 15 rifles (based upon serial number 15 rifle), makes it incapable of bearing the weight of the rifle without an extra barrel mounted loop for this purpose. We discovered during the production of his rifles that this was a weak spot on the rifle. Several ribs, previously mounted to finished barrels, let loose during subsequent work. Therefore, they went to a solid rib on the military contract and omitted a sling. It gave more bonding area for the soft solder. The short rifle, in any form, could not mount a sling without an addition barrel lug for support, so we know for sure the 1800/03 series of rifles were never intended for use of a sling. If someone did manage to rig a homemade sling on a rifle, it would block the sight picture. Private Willard’s mishap of “letting his gun fall in” while crossing Boyer’s river on a 25-foot log would not have occurred. (48). The adoption of the full stocked “common rifle” (now the Model 1817 in .530 caliber and fitted with sling swivels for use by mounted riflemen) two years before the completion of the second run of “short rifles” tells us that the military Model 1803 rifles had some serious shortcomings. The barrel was not protected by a wood stock (soft iron barrels were easily bent by soldiers’ misuse) and it did not mount a bayonet or carry a sling which became important for the “mounted infantry” concept.
From our experience the ribs probably separated from the barrel during hard field use. All “short rifles” found their way into state arsenals (and many other places) with two being held in each infantry regiment for hunting purposes for which they were unsurpassed.
Of interest also are two of the six woodcuts (shown below, pages 95 and 267) that appeared in the 1811 edition of Sgt. Patrick Gass’s published journal. Although crude woodcuts of the period, they are of interest in the fact that they seem to be purposely depicting the short barrels of the M1800 rifle.(49)
We know from the 1812 rifleman’s manual that each soldier could select a powder charge best suited for his individual rifle, which usually was less than the standard service. Lewis’s men probably exercised this prerogative, especially the Kentuckians who grew up with a rifle in their hands. A reduced charge is more accurate, and it saves valuable powder. The standard service charge was 100 grains (in a rolled cartridge), allowing for 10 in the pan and 90 in the barrel. We found the Model 1800 rifle to be most accurate with a 65-grain charge.
Lewis’s “Short Rifles”
The evidence is overwhelming that Lewis carried fifteen of the first short rifles made at Harper’s Ferry in 1803, regardless of whether we choose to call it a Model 1800, Model 1803, or “prototype”. A short review of the known facts can lead to no other conclusion:
1. The octagon barrel of the 1792 long rifles could never suffered a 13% failure rate at the muzzle (or any other area), completely ruling out that type of firearm.
2. Lewis’s use of the term “short rifle” throughout the journal is the proper name applied to the new Harper’s Ferry Rifle to differentiate it from the “long rifle” term (the M1792).
3. Harper’s Ferry was quite capable of building his 15 short rifles between March and July of 1803, as well as completing a substantial number of military contract rifles in the same year. The multiple guns we have uncovered with pre-December,1803 characteristics proves this point.
There is really no mystery as to the type of rifles Lewis took for his expedition. That answer emerges clearly if we put the smaller pieces of the puzzle into one large finished picture. Those who kept journals (each Sergeant was to keep one) recorded every day facts in the terminology of the day – nothing more, nothing less. In all actuality, they could not have left us better evidence regarding their use of the new “short rifles” soon to be part of the Army inventory.(50)
Lewis’s expedition was undoubtedly the most difficult test trial that a newly designed weapon could undergo. We are fortunate that one of his 15 rifles survived, as well as other pre-December 1803 production military rifles, as they shed a whole new light on the Harper’s Ferry “short rifle” story.
Harper’s Ferry Park needs to rethink the role this new rifle played in history and give it a deserving place in their museum, after all, there is a much bigger and better story to tell the public.
If we are real romantics, serial number 15 may have been the one given to John Colter (and subsequently lost to the Indians) who went back to the West and become a legend in his own right.(51)
(1) The design (patterning) of new weapons at this time could be a slow process, identical to the British methods and done without drawings. It required the building of firearms for testing purposes. If it did not meet expectations, another weapon was built until a satisfactory pattern weapon emerged from which production could begin. The “short rifle”, which we believe is all based upon prior successful British rifle designs, may not have taken as long as the development of an entirely “new” rifle. Usually, as common sense would dictate, only one pattern rifle was made at a time.
(2) Charles Winthrop Sawyer, “The Firearms in American History Series/ Volume III”, (Boston: The Cornhill Company, 1920), Pgs. 127-135; and Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army, from its Organization, September 29,1789, to March 2, 1903, 2 Volumes. Washington, DC; GPO, 1903). Vol 2, Pg. 567.
(3) Viz. the 200 “rifled carbines” purchased by the British from Germany (Germanic Pattern 1776) and the 800 “rifled carbines” that followed (British Pattern 1776) based upon the Germanic rifle and the 100 “plug guns” (Ferguson Rifle). The same technology of SDS powder that made these rifles possible was adopted for our first military “short rifle”. The closest powder on today’s market equal to the 18th century “SDS” is “Schuetzen” black powder. It, being suitable for priming also, speeds up the loading process.
(4) Stuart E. Brown, The Guns of Harpers Ferry, 1968, (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing, 1994, P10; National Archives Collection, papers of the War Department; Coxe and Irvine Papers, RG92.
(5) IBID, Pg. 10 & Pg. 14. Lt. Col. George Bomford’s calculations were made in 1822 with an 1848 supplement. Sawyer’s judgment of their “incomplete” and “inaccuracies” is an understatement and has caused much confusion among writers, even Brown. Major historical writers on antique firearms could not find an explanation for the errors found in both the Harper’s Ferry 1805 pistol and 1795 musket production. Only by studying the documents surrounding the origin of a weapon and original specimens themselves can a production timeframe be concluded. Dearborn’s December 5th, 1803 letter is a prime example of a single document proving the invalidity of Bomford’s calculations.
(6) The Spanish administered the French speaking colony. France had acquired New Orleans from Spain in 1800, so they ignored these threats from Spain toward the United States. One explanation for this attitude could have been France’s desire to attach the sale of the port to the entire Louisiana Territory. Jefferson, up to 1802, held ongoing negotiations with France toward purchase of only New Orleans. Other than needing money to continue their war with England, Napoleon had no troops to keep us out of the territory. He confided in one of his associates that his primary reason for selling the entire territory was that the United States would encroach upon it and take it regardless of his desires to the contrary. It is important to note that we only bought the rights to legally acquire full ownership from the inhabitants of the territory. Judge Thomas Rodney, who met Lewis on his way West and accurately described Lewis’s airgun, was appointed by Jefferson to settle all land disputes in the new Louisiana Territory, especially those holding previous legitimate land titles. The remaining unclaimed land would be acquired by treaties, negotiations and conflicts lasting well over 100 years.
(7) Sawyer, op. cit., Pgs. 127-132. Sawyer says it best: “From time to time attempts have been made by army officers and others to reproduce the Harpers Ferry records from fragmentary outside sources and compile tables of the arms made there in the first quarter of the 19th century. Such lists are both incomplete and inaccurate; they omit arms from years when existing specimens show that they were made; and they exaggerate the number made there during certain years by incautiously jumbling Model 1800 rifles, Snipper rifles, Wallpieces, Whale guns, and barrels only which were furnished both to contractors and to militia companies, all in one list”. He was the first arms writer to recognize the glaring errors in Bomford’s reports and the first to use the correct “Model 1800 Rifle” designation. He was also aware of not only their influence that the fine-grained European rifle powder played in its design, but also the fact that Lewis and Clark documented the performance of this radically new “short rifle” in their journals.
(8) Donald Jackson, ed., Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and related Documents, 1783-1854/ Jackson, 2 Vol., (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1968), Vol 1, pgs. 75-76.
(9) Tony Hunter, “The Wilderness Fighters: Part Four”, (Muzzleloader Magazine, JULY/AUG 2005), Pgs. 33-35.
(10) Stephen E. Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, (Simon & Schuster, 1996), Pg. 46.
(11) Merritt Roe Smith, “Harper’s Ferry and the New Technology”, (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1977), Pg. 53.
(12) Jackson, op. cit., Vol 1, Pgs. 38-40; Pg. 98. His “tomahawks” were no doubt the same as those supplied to the riflemen of Wayne’s Legions in 1792 as part of the “long rifle” accouterment set (axe, pouch & horn). It is a hammer poll type with a large “US” marking. The original example was unearthed in Ohio on a camp site occupied by Wayne’s Legions. Lewis had 18 of these “tomahawks” made in Harper’s Ferry, no doubt upon the same established pattern, picking them up on May 18, 1803 along with 15 rifle pouches, 15 powder horns and 15 “scalping” knives to accompany the 15 short rifles. These tomahawks were highly valued. In one incident, a rifleman left his tomahawk at a previous campsite and Lewis sent him back to retrieve it. Also shown is probably the type of powder horn issued with the axe to his men. It is the first style American issue military horn. We believe the rifleman’s bag was of the same two-compartment design issued to later riflemen using metal powder flasks, the only difference being their bags would not have had the flask suspension straps. Gass’s woodcuts show the horns carried on a separate strap.
Model 1792 rifleman’s horn(our desination). Only military horns have wood screw type base plugs as shown below.
(Above two photos) M1792 original rifleman’s axe (top) and reconstructed M1792 axe with original M1792 horn below as we believe were carried by Lewis’s 15 “riflemen”. Both were supplied by Harper’s Ferry arsenal.
(13) Major James E. Hicks, U.S. Military Firearms/ 1776-1956, (James E. Hicks & Son, 1962), Pg. 25.
(14) For many years the “caliber”(bore size) of the short rifle has been defined as .54, an error caused by measuring the rifle at the muzzle where it is swamped for easy insertion of the patched ball. Every Collector’s Guide on U.S. military firearms has the calibre of these very important rifles wrong (as well as other flintlock government contract rifles to follow – but that is another story) because no one took the time to properly gauge the bore. Each new writer simply took the word of a previous author without checking for themselves. After 200 years of error, it is time to set the record straight. Since this bore size conflicted with Dearborn’s specifications of 30 balls to the pound (a smaller size than a .540 bore would require), we decided to gauge the bores of as many original short rifles as possible. We had access to a large selection of rifles in various collections, many of which still had excellent bores. A wax plug was driven the full length of the barrel and then measured for the true size. The results were undeniable – the bore has a 1 in 56 twist with .530 lands and .15 deep grooves. This combination allows the .520 calibre ball to be loaded with ease (as described in Dearborn’s letter) even when the steel rod gets slippery from use.
To farther test our findings, we also made a “go – no go” gauge of .532 calibre (which would easily fit any “.54” caliber rifle) and found that it would not enter the rifled bore (even if worn slightly) of any short rifles made from 1803 to 1819.
Our findings on the ball size were finally substantiated to our satisfaction by a book Colonial Frontier Guns, by T.M. Hamilton, Pioneer Press, 1987. He published an interesting table Appendix E on page 169, based upon two sets of 19th century bore gauges in the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers Proof House in London. The first set were “Liege” gauges, the second was a set of 50 workshop bore gauges (all based upon “balls per pound”). These gauges show that a 30-bore gun uses a .517 ball. A note accompanying this find remarks that in every instance, the measurement was .002 smaller (making it a .519 ball for a 30 bore) than a gauge list reputed to have been adopted by the London Proofing Company in 1883 (which is used in many books today).
The .520 calibre pure lead cast balls used for test shooting the Model 1800 rifles weighed in at 208 grains (pure refined modern lead). Old manuals on the rifles list a 218 to 219 grain ball. These weights probably varied due to the purity of the lead of that period.
To complete our “calibre” study, we measured as many original short rifle military bullet molds that we could locate in collections and in all instances they measured .520. There were no .530 calibre U.S. military round ball molds (for a .54 bore) to be found. This sealed the fact that for all these years the caliber for 1803-1819 rifles listed in gun books is wrong. All anyone needs to do, for their own satisfaction, is to professionally check it out for themselves. This is also is true for the series of “common rifles”.
Just for a matter of information, U.S. arsenals were also using the French metric thread system on the short rifle screws simply because we copied a Charleville type musket in 1795. This practice continued until the end of the 45-70 period with the only exception being the Civil War type percussion weapons that used the English musket nipple thread of 5/16 X 24. The French term “calibre” was balls per “livre” (489.5 grams per “livre”). The English system of “averdupois” uses 453.6 grams per “pound”, and they used the term “caliber” to denote “bore” size, not ball size. This all gets confusing when using British and French documents for research and reference.
It gets somewhat easier when we recognize that the 18th century British military establishment used only THREE calibre balls – “Musket” (approximately .693/14 balls to the pound), “Carbine” (approximately .650/17 balls to the pound), and “Pistol” (approximately .610/21 balls to the pound). All British “military” weapons used one of these three calibre balls to make supply of ammunition practical. Not understanding this causes a lot of errors even in the most modern books on British muzzle loading rifles.
(15) Since locks were built by a specialized artisan in the arsenal, he too has his own small assembly numbers on each part of the lock that are independent of the rifle assembly number. The gun assembly number was added during final fitting of the lock (found just forward of the frizzen on the upper flat of the lock plate). It will match the other assembly numbers found on the stock and barrel. These were usually applied in three visible areas – stock, barrel and lock – to reassemble a rifle after cleaning.
(16) The “common long rifle” (M1792) did have one serious drawback that made it totally unsuitable for continued Army use – the non-standardization of calibers. Loss of a mold meant the loss of a rifle’s use. Correspondence from 1795-1805 between the secretary of war, purveyor of public supplies, and military storekeepers, indicates that the rifles had barrel lengths ranging from 42″ to 44-1/2″, and were .45 to .49 caliber. Standardization of calibers was something Lewis certainly calculated when settling on only two types of weapons – muskets and short rifles, requiring only two caliber balls. See the special Chapter VIII for more information on these contract rifles.
(17) Many collectors contributed information on existing military contract short rifles in the 1803 & 1804 range. Since we could not personally examine all the guns serial numbers submitted, we had to acknowledge them as either “confirmed” (examined and assembly numbers matching) or “unconfirmed” (unexamined and unknown if assembly numbers match). The lowest numbered 1803 dated military rifle examined and confirmed was SN 318, the highest number SN 844, but unconfirmed. The lowest SN of an 1804 dated military rifle was 909 (confirmed) and the highest 1,520 (unconfirmed). The disassembly of these rifles and examination of the assembly numbers, viz. the lock, barrel, and stock, is the bare minimum needed to tell if the rifle is an original assembly. Many of the guns examined had unmatched locks. From our experience, the lower numbered guns (1803 & 1804 dated) were the most mismatched in terms of serial number ranges and lock date. This may have been done as part of an actual arsenal (or state) overhaul or just to enhance their value to a collector. Historians (writers) are out of step with gun collectors in this area, relying upon OLD & incorrect production information. Collectors know these rifles were made in 1803 and pay handsomely for an early example, but “Caveat Emptor” when buying any short rifle of the 1803 to 1806 period. Unfortunately, serial numbers were not used on the 1814-1819 production, but rifle assembly numbers will still be present.
(18) When Dearborn requested the December changes, finished weapons had the straight upper ramrod pipes BRAZED to the rib. The rib assembly was then SOFT SOLDERED to the barrel. Heating the brazing to change the pipe would have caused the solder (which melts at a lower temperature) to release the rib from the barrel. This was not cost effective; thus, we find Pre-DEC 1803 production rifles retaining the straight upper pipe, just as with SN 15. All these early 1803 rifles have had the other two December 1803 changes applied – flat sight and the stock ferrule. Sometimes, the pre-December,1803 production rifle sights were simply filed down flat but retained the outer rounded profile of the original buckhorn sight. Rifles made after the DEC 1803 changes have a squared side profile barleycorn sight. We believe the sharp ears of the buckhorn sight were detrimental to field use, plus you would have to be an experienced shooter (as were Lewis’s men) to understand the way in which the buckhorn sight was used for long distances (called “Kentucky windage”).
As for the change to a solid rib – while making the barrels of our guns with hollow rib, we had one release from the gun while mounting the sight, so we know why they changed to a solid rib – to strengthen the rib bond with a larger (stronger) adhering surface. We also encountered some pipe distance variations on the Lewis rifle and some pre-December,1803 military guns. The center pipe was not placed at the “center” of the rib but about 2″ forward of center. This pipe placement was a common British characteristic found on the Ferguson rifle and the P76 series. It was obvious that we were copying a British style weapon when designing the new M1800 rifles. From shooting the rifles, we did discover that the center pipe being slightly forward of center helps guide the rod into the ramrod channel.
(19) George D. Moller, American Military Shoulder Arms, Volume 2/ From the 1790s to the end of the Flintlock Period, (University Press of Colorado, 1993), Pg. 337, 347 & Appendix 5. Until the end of 1838 the fiscal year was a calendar year. Moller makes an interesting statement regarding storekeeper George Ingall’s (Schuylkill Arsenal) 1810 records in his chapter on the 1807 contract rifles and is worth quoting in its entirety – “The dates that the rifles were entered in the storekeeper’s records usually summarized several earlier deliveries and should not be construed as the actual dates of deliveries”. This practice would not have been confined to just one arsenal. One only needs to read the many books giving weapons production figures to see that no two authors, using a variety of records, seem to totally agree. For instance, Moller’s total 1803-1807 rifle production of 4,013 was based upon Harper’s Ferry storekeeper’s Samuel Annin’s records, but a footnote states that 4,015 rifle bullet molds and chargers were made, casting doubts on that figure.
Smith’s footnote credits his list as being compiled from combined records and verified with the Chief of Ordnance entries. (Smith, op. cit./Table 1) Brown’s calculations were based upon the reconstructed “Bomford” records, whose total is correct, but we now know that his years of production are also incorrect.(Brown, op. cit./Table D) The totals agree from two different sources, giving credibility to 4,015 total production.
(20) Smith, op. cit., Pg. 57 & Table 1.
(21) Jackson, op. cit., Vol 1, pg. 106-107
(22) Brown, op. cit., pg. 37
(23) Ambrose, op. cit., Pg. 110
(24) Gary E. Moulton, ed., The Journals of Lewis & Clark Expedition, 13 volumes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988-2001), Vol 6, Pg. 441.
(25) IBID, Vol 6, pg. 442
(26) IBID, Vol 7, pg. 111
(27) IBID, Vol 7, pg. 112
(28) IBID, Vol 9, Pgs. 324
(29) IBID, Vol 2, Pgs. 213-214
(30) IBID, Vol 8, pg. 34
(31) IBID, Vol 8, pg. 36
(32) IBID, Vol 8, pg. 75
(33) IBID, Vol 8, pg. 27
(34) IBID, Vol 8, pg. 80
(35) Garavaglia Worman, Firearms of the American West, (University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 1984), Pg.9; Brown, op. cit., pg. 9.
(36) Moller, op. cit., Pgs. 347-8
(37) Just for a comparison to a later 19th century rifle, the Model 1895 Winchester rifle in .405 caliber firing a 300-grain bullet produced a muzzle velocity of 2,000 FPS with 3,000 foot-pounds of energy. The short rifle was working on the extreme edge of the maximum pressure an iron barrel of 1800 could withstand. If the barrel of a .405 Winchester became plugged with mud or snow, the chances are it would suffer the same catastrophic fate as the 1800 rifles, despite the vast improvements in barrel material. (Phillip Schreier/ “Winchester Model of 1895 .405 Win”/American Rifleman, April 2007/ pg. 100).
(38) Iron barrels of all types in the early to mid-18th century were of very poor-quality iron. Trade guns, with their octagon breech and round barrels were prone to burst at the muzzle if overcharged. Overcharging was common practice in those days, especially by Indians who were unaware of the effects of such heavy charges. The term “loaded for bear” came from the practice of double charging rifles. Documented cases of OCTAGON barrels bursting in any manner have yet to be encountered by the author. Standard rifle powder (FFFg) of that day simply cannot produce the pressure needed to burst an octagon barrel, especially at the muzzle where the energy has expended. This basic fact completely rules out the use 1792 rifles on the expedition. One trick of a frontiersman used to find his maximum load was to shoot his rifle over a snowbank and then check for unburned grains of powder. Powder was too valuable on the frontier to waste. Lewis’s men had no reason to double charge any of their rifles since the 2000 FPS achieved from the Model 1800 rifle with only a 33-inch barrel using the full 90 grain charge far exceeds that attainable by a “long rifle” with any type of “maximum” charge.
(39) Moulton, op. cit., Vol 8, pg. 156
(40) IBID, Vol 6, pg. 265. Lewis’s took 50 pounds of “Best Rifle Powder” from Harper’s Ferry and purchased 176 pounds of “English Cannister Powder” from Beck & Harvey in Philadelphia, who made the best rifle powder in the world. (Jackson, op. cit., Vol. 1, Pg. 98). This acquisition of a large quantity of rifle powder is very significant since the only weapon requiring this expensive powder (three times the cost of regular powder) was the new “short rifle”. The very nature of this fine powder, being sensitive to moisture, may have been the reason Lewis made 52 eight-pound water-proof lead containers, each of which held 4 pounds of powder with the lead to be cast into bullets when empty. In May of 1803 the sheet lead was sent from Schuylkill Arsenal to Harpers Ferry for Lewis to pick up for that purpose (which he did on May 18, 1803). They were eventually made by George Ludlam in Philadelphia, Pa. at a cost of $.50 each with the bill paid on May 23, 1803. This was enough to hold 208 pounds of the 226 special powder carried, with 18 pounds left for immediate use – just about right to fill 15 horns for the start of the journey and to practice with the new rifles. Also, of interest is that the 8 pounds of lead in each cannister would cast 220 .520 calibre balls (using the 218 grains per ball figure) and the 4 pounds of powder would make 220 100-grain charges (10 for priming, 90 in the chamber). This is probably not a coincidence.
(41) De Witt Bailey, Ph. D, British Military Flintlock Rifles/ 1740-1840, Andrew Mobray Inc, 2002, Pg. 26. A letter also exists from Tench Coxe to William Eustis (Secretary of War) dated Nov 11, 1811 states “It is considered that these rifles are so short as to be dangerous to the soldier, being only thirty-three inches. It is held that they would be safe if they were 3 feet 2 inches; and if so much barrel, rod and stock were added, and 14 1/2”.(Hicks, op. cit., Pg. 36) Thus two reasons can be found in documents for the lengthening of the short rifle barrel but since it was not implemented until 1815, we believe, as stated previous, the desire to use DuPont rifle powder(FFFg) was more of an influence on the decision than any other reason.
(43) Correspondence with and Documents provided by E.I DuPont Manuscripts & Archives Department/ July,2004.
(44) Jackson, op. cit., Vol 2, page 424
(45) Robert J. Moore / Michael Haynes Lewis & Clarke/ Tailor Made, Trail Worn, Army Life, Clothing, & Weapons of the Corps of Discovery, (Farcountry Press, 2003), Pgs. 14 & 68.
(46) Jackson, op. cit., Vol 1, Pg. 98
(47) Col. B.R. Lewis, U.S.A., “Early U.S. Military Riflemen”, (The American Rifleman, December,1958), Pg. 30.
(48) Moulton, op. cit. Vol 2, Pg. 426
(49) James Kendall Hosmer, ed., – “Gass’s Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition”, (Mansfield Centre: Lone Wolf Press, 1999, Reprint of 1904 edition of “Gass’s Journal”), Pgs. 30, 120, 208, & 250.
(50) On August 6, 1805, Lewis’s air rifle had the sights knocked off by an accident with the canoes rolling over. The next day he reset the sights and “regulated” the gun. This was his terminology for shooting it in again. Today, that same term would not apply to anything regarding a rifle. It is important to keep in mind that when reading period journals, we “think” in the language of that period. Thus, the term “short rifle”, used by Dearborn in Harper’s Ferry records and Lewis’s journals, can only be viewed as the proper name for the Model 1800 rifles. Along the same thoughts, the term “long rifle” never appears in the journals, being inappropriate since in Lewis’s day using that term would have specifically meant the M1792 rifle. Clark used the term “small rifle” when referring to his personal small caliber long rifle to avoid confusion with any other weapon in their arsenal. The use, or lack of use, of certain terminology in descriptions was intentional, all being proper for his day.
(51) John Colter returned to the West as a mountain man. Ordway writes for August 17,1806 – “John Colter one of our party asks leave of our officers to go back with Mr Dixon a trapping, which permission was granted him so our officers Settled with him and fitted him out with powder lead and a great number of articles which compleated him for a trapping voiage of two years which they determined to Stay untill they make a fortune..” One of the items given to him was a canoe. It is not unreasonable to surmise that part of Colter’s “settlement” would have included a rifle and the rifle of choice would have been the one he carried on the expedition. As mentioned previous (in the 1808 rifleman’s manual) it was normal practice to assign each man a firearm to become “familiar” with it and maintain it in good order. An entry of April 12, 1806 just might confirm this – ”We caused all the men who had short rifles to carry them, in order to be prepared for the nativs should they make attempts to rob or injure them”. I am almost certain, knowing Colter, he would have taken the opportunity to keep his rifle. (Moulton, .op cit. Vol. 9, Pg. 351; Vol. 8,, Pg.302). If an itemized list of goods sold at auction in St. Louis (September 23, 1806) could be located, we would know how exactly how many rifles were sold, giving us the number kept by members. There was probably more than just Colter who bought their guns. Any man returning West would have coveted such a powerful weapon, as it was the fore-runner of the large caliber Hawkins type rifles that appeared later.
Colter spent one winter (1806-1807) with Forest Hancock and Joseph Dickson, who, having followed Lewis west in 1804, were at the Mandan village when Lewis returned in 1806. Returning downriver, Colter met three other expedition members on their way back to the mountains – Drouillard, Potts and Weiser with Manual Lisa’s trapping party. Colter joined their party and led them to the Yellowstone Valley. These former members of the Expedition started the mountain man tradition to follow. John Newman, expelled from the party and sent back with the large boat in 1804, also returned to the mountains, to be killed by the Sioux. John Shields, the man who fixed everything, including Lewis’s airgun, returned to the Missouri to roam with Daniel Boone, a reputed relative. John Collins, who was flogged for being AWOL and stealing whiskey, returned West with William Ashley’s 1823 expedition, being killed in a battle with the Arikaras that same year.
In 1807-1808, Colter explored over 500 miles of new country with only a rifle and a 30-pound pack, including the wonders of Yellowstone Park. In 1808 he made his now famous 200 mile run for survival from the Indians. John Potts, another expedition member, was killed in this encounter. We have only his account of events for this survival story, with the known fact that he arrived at Ft. Remon almost naked with sore feet and starving. Indians did report at Edmonton Trading House that they had killed two trappers (Colter assumed dead) carrying one of the guns taken from them. Lewis held Colter in high esteem, and he was well known among his peers as an honest and truthful man, adding credence to his encounter and story of survival.
The several close calls with Indians that almost cost him his life convinced him to quit the mountains in 1810, selling his gun, 6 traps and powder to a newcomer Thomas James. Having lost his “kit” to the Indians several times, his Model 1800 rifle ended up in Indian hands early in his trapping career. Could serial number 15 have been the rifle that he initially took with him? It is quite possible – a 1 in 15 chance. The condition of the rifle indicates very hard, long use. Eventually it was bored smooth and converted to percussion, serving either an Indian or trapper for many, many years with crude sun decorations added at some point in its life. If any gun could “talk”, this would be the one that would tell some great stories.
Colter moved to Missouri, married and settled down near Daniel Boone at Dundee, Missouri, fathering one son. Probably bored with being stuck on a farm, in 1812 he enlisted with Nathanial Boone to fight in that war. Unfortunately he died May 7, 1812, not at hostile hands, but by jaundice (another term for blood poisoning). According to tradition his body was returned to his wife who buried him on a bluff overlooking the Missouri river near New Haven, Missouri. See “Muzzleloader Magazine”, “The Class of ’06”, by Alex Miller – September, October, November & December, 2006. It is a great tribute to these early mountain men from which much of the information in this footnote is taken. Also, IBID, May/June 2016 story on Colter. He was 38 years old (believed to have been born in 1774) and experienced a life that is excelled by few.
THE “COMMON LONG RIFLE”
Two “long rifles” of the 1792-4 period
TOP: Made by Christopher Gumpf
BOTTOM: Made by Jacob Dickert
In recent years historians have tried to link the M1792 contract rifles to the Lewis & Clark expedition, but it had absolutely no connection as explained in our main story. Since few people understand these rifles, their origins and how to identify them, we decided to cover them briefly. This will clarify why these rifles were totally unsuitable for Lewis’s needs.
When we decided to build a “Lewis and Clark” rifle I too thought they carried a long rifle of some sort, perhaps even the M1792. That shows I came into this project with no preconceived notions as to what they used. Ernie said to me “we will build them but only if you are sure that is what they used”. So, the first thing I did was get the Moulton 13 volume set on his expedition (borrowed it from Phil Schreier on a permanent type loan) and spend one whole summer reading all of them cover to cover. It became very clear to me (as it would be to anyone who read them) that they carried a “short rifle” made at Harpers Ferry with interchangeable locks which Lewis himself picked up at the arsenal so I got involved in the M1792 vs. M1803 controversy. All I had to do was prove that Harper’s Ferry COULD have made his guns within the allotted timeframe and that a lot of period “records” being used as “gospel” by writers for many years were wrong.
The best information on these first military contract rifles comes from George D. Moller’s book “American Military Shoulder Arms, Vol 2, 1790’s to the end of the Flintlock period”(1993). We have taken much of this material from that book. Any student of early military firearms of this period of history needs his two-volume set in their library. We can be grateful for his diligence and time expended on this subject.
To fully understand the role this rifle played in our military history, one must also understand the times in which it appeared. The late 1790’s was still a dangerous and unsteady period in America’s growth and assured independence, with enemies and threats from many sides. One of these threats were the Indians on our new Western frontier (ending at the Mississippi river) in the area won from England after the Revolution. Land claims given to veterans of the Revolutionary War were in this new area, but the Indians were not ready to peacefully give up their ancient lands to encroachment.
The Legion of the United States was authorized by Congress on October 24, 1791 after the defeat of General Arthur St. Claire by the Miami Indians in November of 1790. Its purpose was to defend the now open frontier. Under Major General Anthony Wayne, it was comprised of 5,120 officers and men composed of four sub legions, each of which contained four rifle companies, requiring 1,312 rifles to arm the 82 riflemen in the 16 rifle companies. 1,477 rifles were completed in 1792. A second contract was let in 1794 for 2,000 additional rifles to have a reserve on hand since the first contract was used up in the initial issue. All second contract guns were delivered by November of 1794. The need for these rifles was so urgent that all guns were accepted despite many shortcomings, regardless if they were shipped directly to the troops or to an arsenal. After Harpers Ferry Arsenal was established in 1799, their first task was to make a new rifle on a standard pattern – becoming the Model 1803 “short rifle”. The arsenal had no part in the 1792/94 contract rifles and none were ever stored there.
All M1792 & M1794 contract rifles were basically of an identical style, varying in barrel lengths, calibers, patch box styles, and possible inlays and carving, all being made by various gunsmiths in the York and Lancaster County areas in Pennsylvania. It is agreed that they followed the same basic shop patterns used for their civilian market. In this manner they were able to produce the much-needed rifles in the remarkably short time allotted.
The first contract was issued January 13,1792, requesting 44-1/2” barrels with 45 balls to the pound (.47 caliber bore). In additional correspondence of February 4,1792, barrel lengths of 42” were requested with 40 balls to the pound (.49 caliber bore). With such confusing instructions, the wide range of gunsmiths making the rifles assured inconsistencies especially when the changes were requested while guns were already in production. In the February 4th letter the tumbler on the lock was to have a “fly” (to keep it from catching on the half cock) and a 4-piece patch box with button release. Under pressure to deliver the guns, it is no wonder the final product varied considerably in caliber and barrel length. All rifles that I have examined that come even “close” to a 1792/94 contract rifle have set triggers – which was fairly common on all civilian long rifles of this period but not many with a “fly”. Another fact noted is “wedge keys” were used for barrel mounting, making them easy to disassemble and clean in the field. It has also been generally agreed that a lot of imported (“factory” purchased) locks were used on these rifles to speed up the process.
Apparently guns of both contracts were directly delivered to various sources where needed but 1,060 rifles show up in stock at Schuylkill arsenal on Jan 1, 1797, the surplus needed for emergencies as they arose.
Correspondence in the 1795-1800 timeframe indicate that the rifles varied in barrel length from 42 to 44-1/2” and in calibers of .45 to .49. with all being identified to maker. Bullet molds had to be supplied with each rifle, requiring the soldier to cast his own balls for his rifle and work up a proper powder charge with whatever powder was supplied at any given time. This created a big problem – if a soldier lost his mold the rifle became useless unless a companion had a similar caliber. This was no doubt the prime reason Lewis wanted a better rifle of a single caliber.
Late in the 1794 contract a “US” (later letters specified “UNITED STATES”) marking was requested but since none have ever surfaced with either marking visible on the exterior, it appears the rifles were completed before this could be implemented making it difficult today to identify these rifles.
It is obvious that the gunsmiths in York and Lancaster took the opportunity to clean out old inventory of rifle parts, even to the point of forming “cartels” to this end, sharing patch boxes, locks and other mountings. Each rifle was still an individually produced weapon with no interchangeability of parts.
Almost all first contract rifles (1792) found their way into the hands of Wayne’s Legion and state troops between June and August at Fort Pitt. Initially 908 rifles went to Ft. Pitt and 100 to Virginia. The remaining 460 rifles of the first contract remained in store in Schuylkill Arsenal in Philadelphia and eventually augmented by those from the second contract. Over time they were issued to a variety of states and even Indian tribes (as many as 600 to the Chickasaws during the 1793/94 period), leaving 911 rifles in stores on October 1,1802. Issues continued to various states until an inventory of February,1805 showed only 5 “serviceable” and 94 “unserviceable” rifles in stores, indicating that some sort of “inspection” had been done to separate them (and so marked by the inspector since). Arsenal inspection of weapons prior to release was ordered to begin in the 1797-98 period.
It is interesting to note that in 1802, 500 rifles were sent to the Mississippi territory (to William S. Hollings, U.S. consul in New Orleans) and may have been in the hands of riflemen at the Battle of New Orleans. Just before the battle 2,256 members of the of the Kentucky militia showed up, many without arms, so 1,173 were provided with arms from arsenal stores in New Orleans. Due to the lateness of the shipment these guns may have carried an inspector mark. Louisiana Governor Claiborne’s “return of arms” for the years 1807, 1810 and 1811 show these arms in inventory at New Orleans.
Left and right views of M1792/94 Gumpf rifle. It is a well- balanced and a fine example of the long rifle maker’s work.
“C. Gump” signature on M1792/94 contract rifle . Various spellings of his name are recorded
Note inspector marks “IW” on left barrel flat of “Gumpf” rifle in the same configuration of inspector marks on the M1803 rifles.
The “Gumpf” (Johan Christopher Gumpf – 1760-1844) “common long rifle” pictured above meets all the criteria for an M1792 contract rifle and, with its added “inspector” cartouche is probably the closest example we will ever get to a true 1792/94 “contract” rifle. He is credited in “Arms Makers of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania”, Woods & Whisker, Pg. 26), for delivering “100” guns on the 1792 military contracts. He shows up on the Lancaster County tax lists for 1785-1840. He delivered 106 rifles on the Feb 7,1794 (second contract placed) order of 2000. As specified by Knox the bore is .49 caliber, tumbler has a fly with set triggers, barrel length is 44-1/2″ and barrel mounted with lateral keys. It also has a “button release” for the patch-box (as specified in the contract) under the toe plate where it might not get accidentally bumped), scant incised carving and moderately engraved brass.
The one thing found on this rifle that we have never seen on ANY long rifle is a “cartouche” on the upper left barrel flat near the breech where military markings of any type are always placed, especially an inspector cartouche – in this case “IW” in a sunken half circle placed in the same manner as the later Model 1803 barrel markings – upside down so it can be viewed from the top looking down on the barrel. Barrel makers seldom marked their product in this period and if they did (as in later periods), it was on the bottom of the barrel. The only logical explanation is that it was put on by someone after the gun was made and stored at an arsenal. In addition, for this mark to be applied, the weapon passed some sort of inspection process by an arsenal inspector. It is generally agreed that no government markings were put on the 1792/94 rifles. Most went directly to the troops for which they were intended but part of the last contract (1060) were sent directly from Lancaster, Pa. to Schuylkill Arsenal in the 1795-1797 period, just as the inspection process began in earnest in 1799 at Harper’s Ferry and became a standard process for all firearms.
As noted in the M1792/94 story, in 1805, of remaining rifles in stores at Schuylkill Arsenal, 94 were designated “unserviceable” and 5 “serviceable” meaning that an “inspection” process was in now in place. This would have required the application of an external (as now being applied to all guns) to denote their “serviceability”. How inspections were done before this time is unknown as well as any markings that may have been applied during the process. The available “inspectors” of that period were very limited. There was only one individual working within the gun procurement circles at that time to whom the “IW” mark may could have belonged – Israel Whelan.
Listed in Moller’s book is “Israel Whelan”, Purveyor of Public Stores (May,1800 – Aug,1803). An entry of October 22, 1800 “Received of Israel Whalen, made by John Miles … 58 Rifles complete” (Indian Contract smooth bore guns). Perhaps he inspected and marked all guns that came through his hands at Schuylkill Arsenal after 1797 until he became Purveyor of Public Stores in 1800. It is interesting to note that those guns were marked with a ”U.S.” on the top flat of the barrel and carry a “P” and “C” inspector mark.
Tench Coxe took over Purveyor of Public Stores in 1803. It is known that Peter Getz and Thomas Palmer inspected guns contracted by him. Getz is known to have stamped an eagle’s head on Indian rifles he inspected in 1807. So if Getz was marking his guns as an inspector, Whelan probably adopted his initials “IW” in a cartouche to denote his work.
Whelan may have also been the inspector for Tench Francis, Purveyor of Public Stores from 1795-1800. When he died in 1800, Whelan was appointed to the office. Tench Coxe was Commissioner of the Treasury Department’s revenue office from April,1794 to December,1794. It was Coxe (for whom Whelan worked) who placed an order for 1000 of the 1794 rifles. The Gumpf rifle was most likely one of the rifles made on this contract and sent directly to Schuylkill Arsenal.
As Purveyor of Public Stores during the Lewis and Clark expedition, Whelan played a major role in obtaining supplies for Lewis as noted throughout Lewis’s documents. From 1796-1800, a number (332) of 1792 rifles were “loaned” to the Indian Department from storage at Schuylkill Arsenal In Philadelphia. Whelan seems to be associated with Schuylkill arsenal where some of the 1792/4 contract guns were sent. 1060 rifles were in stores by 1797, 923 were still there in April of 1801, 911 in 1802. By Feb 15, 1805, only 5 serviceable and 94 unserviceable rifles remained in stores (showing an inspection process had been accomplished). Whelen also took delivery of 100 rifles from John Miles during April-June 1800 for an order placed by Tench Francis in Feb of 1800 (hinting that he was Francis’s agent and thus regularly inspected guns).
Chapter IX – Military Riflemen
Our first “Handbook for Riflemen”, by William Duane, 1812. We can learn a lot about our early “riflemen” from this manual.
American riflemen have always been a subject of legend and myth, both in the years before our Independence from England and long after. British soldiers returning to England after our American Revolution spun tales about the unerring accuracy of our long rifle that are hard to dispel even today. Some were based upon actual events, but many were subjects of exaggerations. One truth remains – our riflemen did things with their weapons that awed those who observed. In the day when an average soldier could only dream of hitting an “X” on a wood block at 30 paces, a good rifleman in action was something to behold as he placed shot after shot into it. At 100 yards, the odds were very much in favor of being struck by an American rifle ball whereas a British soldier, using the smoothbore musket, could shoot all day and probably not strike a man sized target at 100 yards, thus our riflemen were greatly feared.
Our first official Rifle Corps was raised by act of Congress on April 12, 1808 consisting of 849 men. To understand just how special these men were, one must understand the training provided along with what was expected of them while using the new Model 1803 rifle. They were so special that Harper’s Ferry built the military’s first “sniper rifle” in 1814 specifically for the best of these men as the force was increased. This is the subject of this section, to talk about riflemen and their special weapons. Lewis’s men were the first to use the new short rifle and no doubt practiced some of the same shooting principles incorporated into the 1812 Rifleman’s manual.
Our first rifle manual was published 1812 as “The Handbook for Riflemen”, written by William Duane, second in command of the United States Regiment of Riflemen from 1808 to 1810. The book, by its own admission, was influenced by “Colonel Von Ewald’s” company of Hessian Jaegers in our Revolution. Riflemen were taught the basic drills of Company and Battalion Drill but then left alone to act alone under their officers & NCO’s.
By the manual, a rifle regiment consisted of 1000 men formed into 10 companies of two battalions, each battalion containing 500 men (5 companies each). These were divided into smaller sections (called divisions, sub-divisions, twenty platoons and forty sections) for field maneuvers. A special “select” division of two companies was also part of the organization. These consisted of the best marksmen in the regiment and were to be emulated by the others in the unit. They received special privileges and exclusion of normal camp duties. They practiced a pace of 90 to 100 (24″ step) Vs. the 76 of the Infantry. In addition, they practiced an “Indian-file” pace for movement when acting alone or detached from the main body, with the weapon carried in any suitable mode (they used no slings). His rifle was never unloaded and always carried at the “trail” or “advance” on his right side.
What was expected of these men and their training with rifles is worthy of quoting from the original 1812 dated manual: “He must be taught to fire at a target without a rest, for if he accustoms himself to fire without a support, he will rarely fire true without one; but as this method will be rendered easy by practice, he should begin by firing at fifty yards distance, and increase it by degrees to 100, 150, 200 and 300 yards. The rifleman must be acquainted with the nature of the sights, and the aim of the rifle; how to load with loose ball, to force it dexterously into the barrel, so that it shall lie close upon the powder without bruising the grains … He must be taught to mark every shot fired at the target which it strikes it, and to observe whether it be too high or too low …. too much to the right or left, so that he may correct his fire accordingly. he should weigh his powder, and note the difference of effect with a greater or less quantity of powder, and how far the quantity of powder affects the shot.”
The amazing distances they were expected to shoot is also recorded – “.. it becomes necessary to aim lower than the level line when the objects are near and to aim higher when beyond a given distance. But though there is some elevation of the rifle ball in its course, it is relatively so small that it is not required to aim lower than the object at any range though when at a considerable distance, say 500 yards to 700 yards, it is necessary to take a higher aim”.
This tells us that they were sighting their rifles to 300 yards with a mid-range trajectory designed to strike the center at 125 to 150 yards. This is respectable shooting for a rifleman using the 1803 rifle. It is important to remember that when shooting at longer distances, their target would consist of an enemy cannon crew, a group of officers, or an infantry line of battle. In such situations, a small group of well-trained riflemen would cause considerable demoralization and casualties within any grouped enemy ranks.
Riflemen were given great latitude in the loading and firing of their assigned weapon. It could be done, according to the manual, with a cartridge or loose powder from a horn and ball. Rolled cartridges were reserved for close order fire only. The principal means of loading when “ranging” as individuals was with loose powder and ball. For all powder charges, the following instructions were given – – “Some hold that a quantity of powder equal to three times the full of the mould in which the ball is cast, is the proper charge; others four times the full of the mould; on this plan a ball of twenty to the pound would be fired with nearly a fourth the weight of the ball. But some say that a one third of the weight of the ball is not too much; experience shows that to shoot at 250 to 300 yards, one fourth or a fifth is enough. The backwoodsmen of the western frontier, place the ball in the palm of their left hand, and cupping the hand as much as possible, cover the ball with powder, and make that their charge, The ball should be just of that size to rest on the grooves, and require not much trouble to force it down, but yet to pass without being forced. The grooves should not be cut too deep.”(#2)
It is interesting to note that the ball was to be loaded with ease. The steel ramrod, even when greasy from use, is heavy enough to push the ball down the bore if the proper combination of patch and ball used.
In many early articles on frontiersmen and their rifles, the same method was described to determine a powder charge. To find the maximum charge a rifle would hold, they would fire over a snowbank until unburned grains of powder begin to appear in the snow. It is also of note that they were not required to use the maximum charge and that a reduced load would often perform better. Most long rifles will shoot well with a charge slightly greater than the ball diameter – viz. a .45 caliber ball would shoot well with 45 grains of rifle powder. DuPont “rifle powder” (FFFg) made its appearance in the market in 1808, probably at the request of the U.S. Government since it is the same year the first rifle regiment was raised. Rather than be dependent upon British SDS powder, around which the 33″ barreled Model 1803 rifle was designed, the new rifle of 1814, with an increase in 1815 to a 36″ barrel, could now use the slightly less powerful French formula DuPont rifle powder. Expecting another conflict with England, it was a wise move to cut our dependence on British imported rifle powder.
If we consider that the .525 ball weighs in at 219 grains, a charge of about 55 grains (1/4 the ball weight) would be enough for accurate shooting (man sized target) out to 300 yards. Experiments using 65 grains produced a muzzle velocity of 1450 FPS with enough accuracy to strike a man consistently at 200 yards. From the above instructions, the 100-grain service charge (10 in the pan and 90 in the bore – used when shooting from the ranks) could be modified by each rifleman until optimum rifle performance was reached. This placed the responsibility of striking a desired target directly upon the individual shooter’s proficiency with his selected load for his assigned rifle. Lighter charges also meant conservation of valuable powder.
It has always been said that a good shot is born, not made, and it has been proven through history that the average “soldier” cannot be turned into a proficient rifleman. The shooting standards set for such men usually required prior experience with rifles – men raised on the frontier who grew up with a rifle in their hands from an early age. Such were the men drawn to the rifle corps and their expertise apparently did not go unnoticed or unrewarded. In many instances they were free from the normal camp and fatigue duties of the common soldier and were encouraged to practice with their rifles as often as possible. They were often free to roam on the flanks and advance of an Army on the move, providing intelligence on the enemy. In battle, they often provided advance skirmish support and as individual sharpshooters, inflicted casualties at long range upon opposing enemy officers.
“Short Rifle” categories – Redefined
With the discovery of Serial Number 15 Model 1800 rifle we have categorized, for the purpose of this study, the Harper’s Ferry rifles into five categories for a clearer understanding. All Harper’s Ferry series rifles are .520 calibre (ball) with .530 bore. This has been an error that has persisted since books were written on this subject. It was caused by measuring across the muzzle of the rifle where it is swamped (tapered) to allowed a ball to be started into the muzzle with the thumb – a characteristic found on our early long rifles but most adopted from British Pattern 76 rifle that was undoubtedly examined during the initial design phases of out M1800 rifle. You cannot put a .010 patch on a .530 calibre ball (meaning .54 caliber bore) and get it down the bore of any original rifle. The .520 ball also meets Dearborn’s 30 balls to the pound requirement.
Types of M1800 /1803 rifles
TYPE I – “Lewis and Clark” contract rifles (M1800 only) made specifically for their expedition. They were unique as explained in the text, therefore only Lewis’s 15 rifles would fall into this category. These were all inspected by Joseph Perkin and carry his “IP” in circle as a final inspection mark in the wood opposite the lock. All have heptagonal flat-bottomed rifling, buckhorn rear sight, no stock ferrule, straight upper ramrod pipe, round bottom profile and hollow pipe rib.
Note the hollow rib on rifle SN 15. It has begun to let loose from hard use. All military M1803 rifles used a solid rib for a better soft solder adhering surface. Pipes were hard soldered to the rib before assembly so they would not release from the rib during the barrel mounting process.
Another feature we believe unique to the first 15 rifles was the placement of the second pipe which is closer to the front pipe than those of military production rifles. Top is SN 909, bottom is SN 1 of our rifles built on SN 15 rifle pattern.
Straight upper ramrod thimble on SN 15. Guns produced before Dearborn’s changes of December 1803 used these pipe. Although not clear in the photo, his rifles mounted a silver blade front sight commonly found on civilian long rifles of the period. All subsequent rifles had brass blade front sights.
Lock plate from SN 15 rifle. I included it to show that the lettering was all hand stamped on his 15 rifles. Dies had not yet been made to make the one-piece stamping. Note the uneven “US” stamping below the eagle.
Breech markings on SN 15 rifle. It is important to note the spacing of the numbers that all start the same distance away from the “US” cartouche which in most cases would not allow another number to be inserted between the cartouche and the first number. We have seen several rifles with the first number removed (leaving a wide space) to make them into a “low serial numbered” rifle.
TYPE II – Military rifles produced BEFORE Dearborn’s December,1803 changes, then altered for compliance.
No rifles left Harper’s Ferry without at least SOME of the requested alterations. 1803 dated rifles made before December of 1803 fall into this category. The stock reinforcing band would have been added and the rear sight filed down to the barleycorn style but retaining the buckhorn lower sight profile. Only the upper ramrod pipe, either already mounted on completed rifles or those in stock as completed sub-assemblies, could not have been changed as explained in the text. Use of solid rib also begins with all military rifles. Barrel profiles were round at the breech for all 1803 dated rifles.
The lowest serial number we have examined with the 1803 changes or updates is No. 318. Joseph Perkin inspected ALL 1803 dated rifles and some of the early 1804 production, then James Stubblefield took over final inspection to the end of all production in 1819. His “V/JS” final inspection stamp will be found in the wood opposite the lock. All 1803 dated military rifles examined had a solid rib and rounded bottom breech barrel profile. The barrel bursts recorded probably brought this about.
All military production 1803-1806 rifles have the heptagonal flat bottom rifling (Dearborn’s “special rifling” reference).
Straight upper pipe on SN 94, made pre-December 1803 (changes) in the Cody, Wyoming museum. This pipe could not be changed for reasons explained in the text
Upper photo: 1804 rifle SN 909 made after December,1803 changes . Note the slightly flared pipe. Lower photo: 1803 dated rifle SN 15 with its straight pipe.
TYPE III – Military rifles produced after Dearborn’s December,1803 changes to include new style sight, stock reinforcing band and slightly flared upper pipe. Sometime in 1804 breech contour became octagon rather than round (and continued to end of all production) to possibly reinforce this area. Our serial number research shows that all first production military contract rifles (4000) were completed by the end of 1806 (none have been recorded to date with an 1807 dated lock plate), for a total of 4015 and possibly 4 early (Ca. 1800) prototypes.
TYPE IV – Military rifle with 33″ barrels made in 1814 to mid-1815 (before the 36” barrel request). These rifles are identical to M1803 second type III but WITHOUT serial numbers. Early production retained the heptagonal rifling if using a pre-rifled barrel from old stock, later production (about mid 1815) used the new round bottomed rifling if using a new made barrel.
TYPE V – Military rifles built with the newly designed 36″ (a June,1815 request) barrel with round bottom rifling. This continued until the end of production – mid 1815 to 1819. The ramrod pipe begins to gain a very distinctive upper pipe flair toward the end of the contract. NO serial numbers. 15,707 rifles were produced on this contract. With the advent of round bottom rifling the .520 round ball was probably retained. It would just load easier and probably had little effect upon accuracy.
One thing to note is that barrel thicknesses varied considerably on the military rifles of all production after the prototypes. We believe these heavier barrels were an attempt to avoid bursting problems.
Short Rifle Serial Numbers
The Model 1800-1819 series of rifles are one of the most tampered with rifles in the collecting world. After being given to states when obsolete, many were converted to percussion. Most saw hard use and abuse, with minor parts being replaced as needed and thus may not be marked to the gun. In the 1950’s, when gun collecting became big, many were converted back to flint. Workmanship varied considerably from poor to professional, however, each gun WILL give up its secrets if disassembled and studied in detail. It also helps to know what you are looking for, so you must know what an original gun looked like.
Most reconversions are easy to spot, but we have seen original rifles that have had the touchhole “bushed” (using hardened iron or brass) – which will not erode. If fired (used) it will display slight erosion around the bushing. This may have been a state level arsenal repair to extend barrel life, however, we have examined some late model rifles that show no use but have a bushed touchhole.
The only way to know for sure if the gun is all original is to take it apart and check at least the assembly numbers that are a mixture of dots and/or Roman numerals ( usually struck with a small chisel or file) on the barrel, stock and lock.. The style and placement of these markings varied considerably on the guns we inspected, from tiny detailed marks to big, crude scratches and cuts, so you must study them carefully. Some locks were marked on the edges with straight cut lines. Many other assembly numbers will be found hidden but are usually on the butt plate, side plate, trigger guard, patch box (and patch box release rod), ramrod thimbles (all three), and the tang. If the lock, stock and barrel match, the rest is probably good since all were hand built and components are not interchangeable. Small parts (such as screws) may be unmarked on later guns, but most early ones are. We believe as time progressed (1814-1819 rifles), these small parts became interchangeable. One thing to note on “new” rifles, all screw slots will point to the muzzle (horizontal with the rifle) when tightened, especially on the patch box. Use and wear quickly changes this. Even ramrods were marked somewhere along its length. Original replacements are often not marked.
You will note from our list the lock dates on some guns do not fit into serial number ranges indicating a replaced lock. Locks are “somewhat” interchangeable on the early rifles but in all cases they will display traces of “fitting”, either in the lock mortise or the lock itself (sear bent, mounting screw holes are enlarged, or some other noticeable work). Once a rifle is built its lock is unique to that gun. The fact that Lewis took 15 extra locks for his rifles is rather amazing. It meant that one person used a pattern piece of some sort to make them interchangeable. Perkins was known as an expert lock filer and may have done them personally. The idea that locks can be “retro-fitted” to other guns is absurd. Each rifle is unique, especially when fitting the lock.
From our experience and with the list above, we know that 1803 production may be as high as 567 (unconfirmed). Serial number 708 is the lowest 1804 dated gun we could confirm, so anything under that number COULD be an 1803 manufactured gun. The highest serial numbered 1803 rifle we could confirm is 318. Serial numbers 15, 94, 214 and 359 are the only rifles we found to date retaining the straight upper ramrod pipe – confirming they are PRE-DECEMBER 1803 production.
We have learned a great deal about 1803 rifles. The more detailed information we can gather on 1803-06 rifles will help immensely. We are especially looking for a rifle over SN 4000 as it would tell us if they started serial numbering at 16. The groups listed below should give the collector an idea of serial numbers ranges to be found within yearly production, viz. lock date matching serial number ranges listed – especially if we have confirmed serial numbers with correct lock dates. This list dispels all previously printed “myths” in many books on “short rifle” production. It does not get any better than taking serial numbers and dates from existing specimens. We were only looking at serial numbers vs. lock dates to establish a yearly production timeline. Conversions to percussion and reconversions back to flint was not a factor in this study. As it progresses it will become obvious as to which lock plate dates belong which guns by serial number blocks. Overall weights and lengths vary on the 1803-1806 series of rifles. One thing we noticed in our research was the differences between weapons when laid alongside each other. The individuality of the makers is amazing in all parts of the guns. Measurements on everything varied. It is easy to see the need for assembly marks on every part of the rifle, even down to the ramrod. Barrel lengths, thicknesses and profiles (wedding ring, octagon portion and diameters) varied widely. After studying so many, one cannot help but appreciate the hand craftsmanship and beauty of these rifles that continued through 1819.
We are extremely grateful to Mr. J. William Larue’s contribution of serial numbers gathered over a 25-year period from various sources (auctions, sales catalogs, collections and articles) and for his permission to print them with additional numbers of rifles we (and others) have located to date. Since we could not personally examine all rifles on the list for originality, we listed them with a code as follows:
C = Inspected & confirmed matching gun. These are good serial numbers to help determine correct lock plate dates with serial numbers
U = Unconfirmed, not inspected in detail but fall within SN ranges of confirmed rifles and we accepted as correct from the source.
*********************************************************************** 1803 dated rifles
15 (C) straight pipe with barrel band possibly added by Shields
35 (U) Norm Flayderman catalog #51, ca 1961
94 (C) retains straight pipe with upgrades
*318 (C) first recorded flared upper pipe
359 (C) straight pipe, 1805 lock plate w/upgrades
*SN 359 is a good place to end for Pre-December,1803 manufactured rifles. All of the above are estimated 1803 production SN ranges based upon the earliest serial number of a confirmed 1804 dated rifle (as done with each year block). From the numbers above we now know that a large quantity of rifles were made in 1803.
SN 94, (2)14 and 359 are pre-Dec 1803 military production, both with December,1803 requested upgrades (front band and sight change) except for the upper ramrod pipe.
SN 359 is the highest known pre-December production military contract rifle we have recorded to date. Serial number 318 has a flared pipe which means they simply used one of the newer sub-assemblies. In correspondence with Dave Kennedy at Cody, Wyoming museum, the 1803 rifle SN 94 is attributed to the “Pugsley Collection”. Ed Pugsley was an employee of Winchester and turned over much of his collection to the company. Winchester transferred most of their collection to Cody in 1976.
Unfortunately, other listed 1803 dated rifles (U) from various collections, auctions and sales catalogs could not be examined in greater details for straight or flared upper pipe. Hopefully more confirmed (C) 1803 dated rifles can be found and examined. NOTE – ALL 1803 dated rifles were final inspected by Joseph Perkins (“IP” in circle on wood opposite the lock).
*********************************************************************** 1804 dated rifles
373 (U) Buffalo New York History Museum
708 (C) (Lowest confirmed rifle)
844 (U) 1803 lock
909 (C) (highest confirmed 1804 rifle)
950 (U) 1803 lock
1054 (U) 1805 lock/ See Olson article, American Rifleman,
May,1985. At that time it had no lock.
1520 (U) 1805 lock
1805 dated rifles
2613 (U) 1806 lock
2682 (C) (highest number confirmed)
2817 (U) with 1806 lock
2885 (U) with 1806 lock
1806 dated rifles
We uncovered NO rifles with 1807 dated locks, which leads us to the conclusion that production of M1803 rifles was completed by end of the calendar year of 1806. Bomford shows 146 rifles made in 1807, but with serial number 3912 bearing an 1806 dated lock, only 88 are unaccounted for that could possibly have a lock dated 1807. This is another fact we uncovered in our research that confirms his production records are incorrect. There is the possibility that a few rifles may exist with an 1807 lock but none have surfaced as of this writing.
The above lists are as accurate a “yearly” production record we can hope to reconstruct based upon known rifles instead of conflicting documents. This list, with its confirmed serial numbers and lock dates, produces a relatively good chart to judge the authenticity of any rifles made between 1803-1806.
As noted, all 1803 and many early 1804 rifles have ROUNDED undersides at the breech end. Our research shows they were using their stock of existing round bottom barrels into 1804. After that date barrels of all lengths carried full octagon breeches to strengthen that area. Also, ALL 1803 and some early 1804 rifles carry Joseph Perkins inspector cartouche “IP” in a circle. James S. Stubblefield then took over final assembly inspection and carry his script “V/JS” final inspection cartouche. These are two important points to consider when looking for a REAL 1803 production rifle.