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.
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.
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.
In 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.