Chasing Samuel Hawken by Claudette Greene

Claudette Greene in Buckskins

Claudette Greene in Buckskins

In 1972 the movie Jeremiah Johnson hit the big screen bringing with it an interest in the HAWKEN rifle, a gun that Jeremiah coveted and eventually acquired. This movie sparked considerable interest in owning a firearm of this sty le. Many companies in the muzzle-loading field quickly brought forth their rendition of a HAWKEN rifle. Not many people knew “HAWKEN” was the name of an actual man with a shop building rifles in St. Louis in the 1800’s. No, not many knew but there was one.

In 1960 after 20 years of military service my father opened a small gunsmithing shop on Whidbey Island in Washington state. I joined him in the business and began attending trade shows to see what was new in the firearms industry. On one such trip at a very large show I ventured down an isle and was surprised to see that among the men in sport coats and ties was a man in full buckskin attire.

Samuel Hawken

Samuel Hawken

He was standing in a booth amid racks of HAWKEN rifles with other men dressed in a similar fashion. The display tables were draped in buffalo skins with tomahawks, powder horns, knives and other accouterments set about. I felt as if l had taken a step back in time and was comfortable in the atmosphere it all created. Then I saw it, hanging high above it all, a sign that read The HAWKEN Shop. While talking with the men in the booth, I learned that these rifles marked HAWKEN really were HAWKEN rifles. These were not imitations, they were the real deal! I was hooked and the HAWKEN rifle was embedded in my mind. The HAWKEN rifle came about from a need of people moving westward for firearms capable of taking down game larger than the rabbits, squirrels, and deer they hunted in the east. Moving westward, they would encounter elk, bear, and bison. A larger caliber rifle would be in demand.  sam-1muzzleloading-pistol-and-powder-horn

I learned that in the 1970’s this buckskin clad man had brought the HAWKEN SHOP back to life. He was an estate buyer in St. Louis and had purchased what was left of the shop from the 1800’s. His plan was to once again offer these rifles to the general public. This he did. He took original parts from the rifles and had molds made to assure that rifles of current manufacture would be a continuation of those built in the 1800’s. With letters from HAWKEN descendants attesting to their authenticity, he made the HAWKEN rifle again available. Rifles from the HAWKEN shop were carried by such men as Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, and other mountain men of notoriety. HAWKEN rifles found their way across the prairie, they accompanied trappers upriver in their quest for furs, and traveled on wagon trains heading for the gold fields. The rifle being of sturdy build could come in handy as a pry bar to loosen your wagon should it bog down in the mud. The HAWKEN rifle is as steeped in history as the men who carried it.

claudette-greenes-gunshopIn the late 1970’s the proprietor of the HAWKEN shop experienced some personal difficulties, forcing closure of the shop, and it was again put into storage. The HAWKEN shop never totally left my mind, and I went in search to find it. In 1990 my partner and myself located the owner and purchased the HAWKEN shop and are again offering this historically correct rifle. We have traveled to museums, historical landmarks, and forts, following the trails of the mountain men. We continually strive to learn more of the man Sam Hawken and his rifle and continue efforts to preserve this part of our country’s history.

Claudette Greene is offering an historical board game she developed and sells in her store.  It involves several years of research and is about the Hawken muzzle-loading rifle and the mountain men that tamed the West. Leave a comment for a chance to win.

Guest Blogger
Updated: September 15, 2016 — 9:10 am

24 Comments

  1. Claudette, welcome to the junction and thank you so much for the information about the Hawken rifle. The next rifle that shows up in one of my books will be a Hawken!

    The thing that really fascinated me is how you went looking for the Hawken shop after so many years. Samuel Hawkins sure had your number. Any chance there’s a family tie somewhere?

    1. You are so right, Sam did have my number and still does. Am so much enjoying the journey in tracking him down. No family ties that I am aware of, just fascinated by the man and the gun
      Would love to find a HAWKEN in you next book with firearms involved

  2. Great post!
    My late husband was a muzzle loader fan He hunted with one every year.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. The people involved with muzzleloading are really a great group of people and we are pleased to be able to be a part of it.

  3. Good morning, Claudette, and welcome to Petticoats & Pistols! This is fascinating stuff. Thank you for saving the Hawken and offering such a wonderful piece of history to the public again. I know right where the shop was in St. Louis (or really close) and wanted to go find it after I read of the rifle being manufactured there.

    I’m a cowboy action shooter and know a bit about period guns. What caliber (size ball) did the Hawken shoot? I’m curious–and I’ll have something to talk to my cowboy buddys about at the next shoot. 🙂

    1. Thank You, Glad you enjoyed the info. We have a few cowboy action shooters come into our shop and we do stock some Pietta, Uberti and Ruger firearms that fit the needs for those just starting out but our main dealings are with the muzzleloading enthusiasts.

      We have the Hawken Shop here on Whidbey Island and Sam seems to be content here. The Hawken rifles came in a variety of calibers. The person purchasing a Hawken could very well have received a mold for casting his own bullets at the same time assuring the ball would fit his particular rifle. The bore of the rifle would change as the tool used to rifle it wore down and hence there are some calibers that don’t seem standard to us in this day and time. We have decided to focus on only the 54 caliber at this point. We want to remain as historically correct and with that in mind can put our focus on the authenticity. The rifle we are building is 54 caliber and takes a 530 round b all with a patch bringing it to 54 caliber. Some use a 535 round ball with a thinner patch also resulting in 54. When you have a moment check us out on our web site http://www.thehawkenshop.com or at are gunshop site http://www.greenesgunshop.com.
      Thank you, if ever up our way do stop by.

  4. I enjoyed the post. So very interesting and all your research is appreciated. You got me curious now about Hawken. Guess I will have to read more:).

    1. Great! I think you will enjoy the era if you decide to read more about Sam Hawken.

  5. Love the post. Fantastic information. Thanks

    1. Happy to be able to share a little of what we know of Sam Hawken. We continually learn more and are discovering he was quite an interesting man.

  6. Thank you for such an interesting article. I had never heard about this rife. I did find the book one should probably read, Baird, John D. (1968), Hawken Rifles: The Mountain Man’s Choice. The Buckskin Press,” but yikes, it’s expensive.

    One wikipedia article says the rifle was made by the Hawken Bros, Jacob and Samuel, but when you look at their wiki page, it says they were raised to be gunsmiths by their gunsmith father but open up different shops in Missouri and Ohio, and then later got together in St Louis. That piece has a different source, “The Hawken rifle, its place in history” by Charles E. Hanson.

    The two wiki articles also give different descents for how the business was passed on. The rifle article said, “The Hawken “plains rifle” was made by Jacob and Samuel Hawken, in their St. Louis, Missouri shop, which they ran from 1815 to 1858. Their shop continued to operate and sell rifles bearing the “Hawken” name under later owners William S. Hawken, William L. Watt, and J. P. Gemmer, until Gemmer closed down the business and retired in 1915,” while the article on the brothers said, “Their shop, though it excelled in gun-smithing, was also a bastion of old-fashioned craftsmanship; for up until 1848, they repaired and restocked tools as well as firearms and produced brass axes, tomahawks, gun worms and even basket-style hilts for swords.
    Jacob Hawken died in 1849 and Samuel continued with the business on his own. In 1855, he retired and passed the shop to his son William, and William’s business partner Tristram Campbell. Samuel Hawken died on May 9, 1884, at the age of 92, in St. Louis.”

    So. You really found a gem of history. Were you able to get copies of family papers? Do you think you’ll ever write your own book on this?

    Thanks again.

    1. We are very lucky to have found Sam Hawken and start each day with renewed enthusiasm as we continue Chasing Sam Hawken.
      You are correct the Baird books are expensive now that they are out of print. As for Charles Hanson we were fortunate to be able to spend an afternoon with him in his museum. He kindly shared a lot of knowledge and his collection of fine firearms with us. His book while being a dry read is very factual and shows Sam Hawken to be just another gunsmith among many in the St. Louis area at the time. He gained recognition when Jeremiah Johnson Hit the big screen.
      As far as writing a book involving Sam, that would be very interesting I am sure but do think I will leave that for someone with writing experience. Thanks!

  7. This is utterly fascinating. I love that time period. If I could, I would try out one of these HAWKEN rifles… However, my current state of health prohibits that. Also, now that I know about them, I will use this as part of the background info for a romance novel set in the latter 1800s. Thank you!

    1. That sounds like a fine idea. I’m sure Sam would be proud to have his gun show up in a romance novel. Sounds interesting. We too love that era in history and pretty much live the life style. With only wood as our source to cook, bake and heat the house life can be interesting.

      1. I wish I was that self-sufficient. Good on you!

  8. What an interesting post. We have to reenactments in the past, but haven’t managed many lately. We appreciate the authenticity so many participants put into their gear. The last big event we went to was the rendezvous at Fort Bridger, Wyoming. What an experience. Do you attend this type of event to sell your guns, etc.? Gun shows aren’t our thing, so we haven’t seen what is being offered there.

    It is nice that you are continuing the traditions and quality of this art. There are many old trades that have been kept alive by a few and many are making a comeback. I am curious about your board game. I will have to find out more about it.

    Our son has a black powder rifle. I will have to see what kind it is. It was given to him by an elderly friend who collected guns. My husband and son are blacksmiths and wood workers when they get a chance. Work gets in the way more often than not. Blacksmithing is another old trade that has made quite a comeback in the past 10 to 20 years.

    Where is you shop? Is it on Whidbey Island in Washington where your dad opened his shop or did you keep it close to where the Hawken’s shop was originally? We will be traveling next summer and I think the shop would be an interesting stop.

    1. I went on line and think I found your shop. Is it the one at 4778 Monkey Hill Road, Oak Harbor? If so, I will have to copy the infer and put it in our travel folder.

    2. Yes, our shop is on Whidbey Island. We moved it as this is where we have our shop and Sam was ready to see just what the Northwest was all about. We are about 90 miles north of Seattle and are nestled among the San Juan Islands.
      Gun shows are not our forte either. We do one large show in March and the rest of the time are pretty much in our shop keeping Sam busy. We have hosted our first rendezvous in August at our shooting range and it was well accepted. We are now planning a small shoot in October in celebration of Sam’s birthday. We had a blacksmith at our August shoot and it drew some genuine interest. You are so right, the old trades tend to fall by the wayside unless we keep them up and going. Those who haven’t had an opportunity to touch base with the past are really missing an enjoyable adventure.
      Do stop by if your travels bring you up this way.

    3. We have an early copy of the board game. It is very detailed in the trials those early trappers and frontiersmen went through to make a living. And gives lots of historical points to bring you back in time. Sure makes you appreciate all the comforts of modern life.

      Greene’s Gun Shop on Whidbey Island is a great place and the people there are the best ever.

      Lynn L
      Cody, WY

  9. Claudette, thank you for your great post and interesting facts about the Hawken. I cannot imagine your thrill when you first saw the booth at the trade show that held the Hawkens. What a rush you must have felt! I am so glad you were able to bring these pieces of history back to life.

    1. Melanie,I understand you are the winner of the game. I do think you will enjoy playing it on a cold winter night when you are up for some adventure and a little challenge!

      1. OH, Claudette! I am so excited to be your winner. Thank you so much! I cannot wait to try out my skills playing the wonderful board game.

  10. Very cool! I love learning more about rifles of olden days.

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