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A Little History on Indian Rifles & Pistols.

By Buck Conner

The guns supplied by the British to the Indian allies in Canada have always attracted the attention of collectors paying high prices.

However, the pistols given to Indians during the War of 1812 and later have often escaped notice and are still reasonability priced. It has been thought by several collectors I know suggest that “this weapon just doesn’t look like very distinctive in Indian appearance and most collectors do not know how to identify them”. The best source of information about these pistols is an article by DeWitt Bailey in the Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly (Vol. 21, No. 1, 1985). Entitles “Those Board of Ordnance Indian Guns - Again!”

The article states: Britain had always supplied trade gods to their Indian friends in order to assure their continued loyalty and reward them for services rendered. Many of these gifts included firearms, gunpowder and lead for bullets. In the early 1700s, the Board of Ordnance supplied these weapons. But this stopped in 1753, and the Board of Trade started purchasing them on the open market with contractors of their choice. Gunmaker Richard Wilson and his son William received almost all of this business during the remainder of the 1700s.

When the American Revolution ended, British gifts to Indians slowed to a trickle – especially weapons. When the War of 1812 broke out, there was a sudden rush to arm Britain’s Indian allies for defense of Canada. Because of Canada’s population was so small at that time, Indian assistance would be critical to any successful strategy. This became increasingly apparent following the winter of 1812/13.

The first request dates to March 26, 1813. Documents indicate that longarms and pistols were built to general patterns that had already been used for previous Indian gifts. Barrels and locks passed through Ordnance stores were sent out to contractors for assembly into complete weapons. All contractors were regular Board of Ordnance contractors.

Board of Ordnance Proof Marks

PRE - 1813 BIRMINGHAM PROOF MARKS

LATER - BIRMINGHAM PROOF MARKS

 

LONDON MARKS

However, they were not required to make the Indian weapons to the same standards as normal British military weapons, especially when it came to uniformity. The barrels have Ordnance inspector’s marks (a crown over a numeral), but other parts so not seem to have gone through a full inspection. These other parts (not all) only have Ordnance storekeeper’s marks with government ownership marks being applied to the locks and stocks. Shown are a few markings that Dr. Bailey is referring too.

The first bill for payment of these Indian gift weapons is dated September 30, 1813. Of the 11,690 weapons in the original order, 1,000 were pistols. However, by 1816 the total for all classes of weapons had grown to 26,786 with many pistols included. Dr. Bailey was able to provide a list of makers who were involved in these contracts: see chart.

Samuel Galton 2,557

John Gill 943

Thomas Hampton 1,135

Richard & Wm Hollis 1,215

Ketland & Allport 2,779

Ketland, Walker & Co. 2,983

Thomas Lowndes 1,267

Morris & Grice 1,821

Thomas Moxham 1,532

William J. Rolfe 1,335

Ramsay & Richard Sutherland 2,587

Henry & John Whateley 1,580

Robert Wheeler & Son 1,491

Willets & Holden 1,194

Total 26,786

Of this grand total of 26,786 weapons, only 2,636 were pistols. The others were Common Guns, Chief’s Guns or Rifles. Amongst the pistols, 531 were delivered in 1813, 1,319 were delivered in 1814, 786 were delivered in 1815 and none were delivered in 1816.

Note that all of the gunmakers in Bailey’s list were regular Ordnance contractors and that most of them supplied guns for the civilian trade as well. Some of them even made guns that were sold to Indians through private sellers per Bailey.

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My father started collecting antique firearms in 1920 according to my Grandmother, his favorite were guns involved with North America. Needless to say I grew up with antique weapons ranging from wheel-locks, match-locks, flintlocks, early cartridge conversions to WWII weapons. Then there were always swords, sabers, knives, bayonets and spears, don’t for get powder horns, flasks and ball/bullet molds. My interest came by association with our house inventory my mother claimed, “how could he have gotten interested in anything that wasn’t related to his father’s interests”.

When we had an assignment in school I wrote about American History, antique arms of North America and those that used them. My friends had little interest in the antiques; their real interest was in guns they could hunt with (modern).

My interest went even further as we lived in Eastern Pennsylvania (history country). Living near Valley Forge Park and having ridden by bike over hills there collecting bits and pieces found in my travels of past encampments, once having a driver’s license my ranging was Gettysburg and other historical sites adding to my collection.

In the early ‘50s re-enactments were starting to appear, not much for choices; Rev. War or Civil War, nothing like today. My main interest was the mountain man (Davey Crockett series was just starting on TV). The “Leather Stocking” series was my reading material; this interest hasn’t changed in 60 years.

In the early 70s I started writing stories about a few friends and my experiences; shooting black-powder, primitive camping, cooking, knife and hawk throwing contests, etc. Surprisingly others started writing about their outings and events they were involved with, we shared information every issue. This writing experience was a tool to reach others with like interests that has continued since those early years.

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I wanted to share this information so you would understand my background and interest in the early flintlock pistols mentioned. Dr. DeWitt Bailey researches and writes about historic guns, their makers, those connected with the British Board of Ordnance (English Proofing).

My father and I collected North American made firearms, trading guns of builders from other countries for additional American Arms. For over a half century we have had medium to very large collections. One “grouping” my father’s reference to our wares was over 400 weapons. Those “groupings” have changed several times with his and my collections.

Through the years as we both grew older our interests changed from wheel-locks, match-locks, and early cartridge conversions firearms probably because of the numbers. The swords, sabers, knives, bayonets and spears found themselves on the chopping block as did other accessories like the powder horns and flasks. Our interests were directed to NRA 80% or better - excellent to fine condition and a time frame of the French and Indian War to the War of 1812 or a few years later.

My father was a personal friend of Turner Kirkland of “Dixie Gun Works” fame; this was a long friendship that started in the mid 40s until Turner’s passing. A good source for what we needed. We also knew many noted museum curators along with well known private collectors in North America. It was funny how the field got smaller of available items of interest with our new plan for a collection.

With this new mindset we spent our evenings talking to other collectors and weekends at gun shows, selling, trading or swapping for weapons wanted and moving old inventory no longer interested in. This became a double edge sword, seeing weapons that I grew up with leaving was sad, but then it was exciting to see prime American made arms coming to our new collection.

 

You can not believe the number of weapons available that were American made, fitting our time frame. That in some cases guns found weren’t even good parts guns. With my fathers connection with Dixie Gun Works, the museums and serious collectors we saw hundreds of weapons that fit our specs.

When you set your standards high the field of available items of interest gets narrow very fast, now looking at a number of weapons at a time and passing on 9 out of 10 viewed. Finally after 5 year (preset time limit) we had a nice collection of approximately 30 arms.

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The pistol pictured below was a survivor from my fathers earliest collecting. This pistol came from an estate sale in 1928, seems some of General Anthony Wayne’s household items became available with a remodel of the carriage house making new quarters for the chauffer and other servants that cared for the estate. Along with the pistol came a bamboo sword cane of late 1700s or a little earlier and a few other smaller items.

In appearance, size, lock design, barrel and breeching along with calibers and common details they look like the British Board of Ordnance pistols made by Blair, Dawes or Ketland. For most part to the average collector (not specialized in just American made only) they think the pistol is English, with no Board of Ordnance proof marks?

American Indian Trade Pistol - War of 1812 period.

American Trade Pistol - General Anthony Wayne’s estate sale 1928.

Some small American contractors that furnished common guns, rifles, and pistols (not Chief’s guns) had barrels and locks that had no markings like their counterparts. These guns are becoming harder to fine now that it’s found there aren’t as many survivors as once thought.

 

Common stampings found on NW Company guns, in some cases the only approval mark found on the entire gun.

The North West Company used the “fox” stamping and had adopted the “fox in the circle” - facing to the right with its tail lying down. The reorganization of “Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company in 1821”, “The Hudson’s Bay Company adopted another style “fox”, this one is facing to the left and has an upstanding tail, in a rectangle with a rounded top, thus called the “tombstone fox”.

Stamping found on HBC & NWC guns. In some cases the only approval mark found on the gun.

NOTE: The name “Northwest Gun” is not derived from the North West Company. As early as 1761, the internal correspondence of the Hudson’s Bay Company contains reference to “the N W Guns.” Per company records the North West Company was not an enduring organization until 1783 - 84. (Hanson 15). The true nor’westers of the early 19th century still used the term; example, David Thompson a known trader for the North West Company in 1811, showed in his records for items of trade, “8 N W Guns” valued at 16 beaver a piece. This is only one example of many found, that the “N W Gun” was a general term when referring to this trade article.

North “S.NORTH/MIDn CON”.

Waters “WATERS/MILBURY”.

Johnson “U.S./I.N.JOHNSON/MIDDtn/CONN”.

Johnson “R&JD JOHNSON/MIDDn/CONN”.

Starr “N.STARR/MIDLn/CONN”.

Aston “U.S./H.ASTON/MIDDtn/CONN”.

Springfield “U.S./SPRINGFIELD/C.S.A-N.C.”.

Tryon “TRYON/PHILA/PA”.

Tryon & Son “TRYON-SON/PHILA/PA”.

Whitney “U.S./R.&E.W.BLAKE/NEW HAVEN”

Leman along with a number of other contractors worked with the “Commissioner of Indian Affairs”. This is just a few of the more common makers seen, there are many found that are called by their state’s name; example “New England Contract Militia Musket” or “Pennsylvania Contract Militia Musket” along with the other states names from the original 13 colonies.

Shown are just a few of the better known producers of American “Inspector Marked” arms.

I have several common rifles, rifles and pistols with just inspector markings or other militia markings. One has several militia stamps found on the wood, one mark on the butt and another near the tang area. “With no markings these guns are less desirable because of the lack of the “Inspector Marks”, the advanced collector’s thoughts. You wouldn’t believe how many times we have heard that statement.

AN AMERICAN FIRM’S SUCCESS:

George W. Tryon was apprenticed to a Philadelphia gunsmith, Frederick Goetz. Tryon became a partner in just a few months; George bought out the older partner. Gunmaking was mainly done by hand in the early years. The Tryon shop was located almost across the street from the “Camel Tavern” and the famous old “Buck Tavern”. Tryon and his workman did not have far to go for a tankard of ale.

From 1817 to 1837 Tryon founded three separate companies: Tryon & Son, Geo. W. Tryon & Co. - and Tryon, Merrick & Co. - importers of military and Indian Trade Guns often sold to such customers as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Republics of Maryland and South Carolina.

To show the costs; they received an order for 1000 flintlock rifled guns of approximately .45 cal at $12.50 each from the Commission of Indian Affairs. For this sum they were required to furnish the following accessories with each rifle: Each rifle shall be enclosed in a first rate woolen cover, they shall be secured in strong boxes, no more than twenty-five per box. Each rifle shall be delivered with a bullet mold, a wiper, a charger and every other implement necessary to make a complete “outfit”. As low as $12.50 for a rifle and all accessories, and much lower prices for the smoothbore flintlock Indian Trade Guns. As were some other weapons designed for the Indian trade by Tryon as later contracts indicate.

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These guns made for the Indian Trade have always appealed to me being cheaper, a little easier to find and just a little different with their history.

The old statement we have all heard “there’s nothing that won’t change as research improves and continues” is so true.

Just think of how history was changed when Otzi (The Iceman) found in the Alps in 1991. His copper ax changed history books by moving the “Copper Age” back thousands of years. He changed history again with being the oldest human found in tack and changed it one more time being the oldest human ever found fully clothed with all his accouterments. That’s just one example of how modern research and methods will continue to make our understanding of material things and life in general clearer and more accurate.

Prices on Indian Guns today, inspector marked or not marked.

We had a trade gun at the Museum of the Fur Trade was in average condition, NRA 68%-70% good condition. Charles E. Hanson, Jr. looked it over, pulled the lock looking to see if it had once been converted and reconverted, he started his bidding wanting the gun for the museum. Charley started to try and buy the gun in hand, bidding over the two thousand dollars mark, my father looked at me and told me to “kick his butt” for not buying more of these damn “cheap guns”. Dad then told Charley he had paid $1.25 for a converted gun (not there at the time) and $1.50 for the untouched gun he was looking at in 1922 or 1923. Mr. Hanson about lost it when it finally registered what was said.

Pretty good return on your money, when by the turn of the century (2000), either one of the guns was valued at well over the $3,000.00 mark. Who said “antique guns weren’t a good investment”! NRA poor to good condition American made NW trade guns are bringing over $1,500.00. NRA very good to excellent condition are over $3,000.00. Additional money is added for age, maker, limited numbers, inspector marked or not and any information on who may have used the gun originally. Just in the last few years, the interest has grown, so have the prices on the originals, the old story of “supply and demand”.

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Fun stuff folks “keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground” is one of my favorite saying and pretty much can be used with many situations.

Take care; hope I didn’t bore you too much or get off the subject to far. That’s one problem you’ll find when researching history, American History is easier to follow than that of Europe. One reason is the United States of America is a baby when compared to other countries that have factories and foundries that are older than we are.

Later, Buck

Source References:

Bailey, DeWitt,“THOSE BOARD OF ORDNANCE INDIAN GUNS-AGAIN!” The Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly, Spring 1985. 1-20.

Blackmore, Howard L., “GUNMAKERS OF LONDON 1350 -1850”. York, PA , 1986. 126-127.

Bailey, DeWitt and Nie, Douglas, “ENGLISH GUNMAKERS. LONDON , 1978. 43.

Rywell, Martin, “GUN COLLECTOR'S GUIDE”. 1961-1962 Edition, Pioneer Press. Harriman, Tennessee.

Gluckman, Arcadi, Col. & Satterlee, L.D., "American Gunmakers", Harrisburg, PA : Stackpole Co., 1940.

Conner, Barry, “Buck”., “Success in the North American Fur Trade”, Historical Enterprises, Mason, Georgia, 1995.

Carey, Merwyn. A., "American Firearms Makers", New York, NY : Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1953.

 

 

 

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