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INDIAN USED MODEL 1841 “MISSISSIPPI” RIFLE WITH NATIVE GUNSMITH REPAIRS USING A HEAVY PLAINS RIFLE BARREL – AN EXCELLENT HISTORIC AND EVOCATIVE FRONTIER RIFLE:  A little preface to put this one in context.  Through the years I have noticed a substantial number of Mississippi Rifles that exist in private and public collections that show distinct, classic evidence of Indian use.  The Rock Island Arsenal collection of documented surrendered and captured Indian guns includes a significant number of Mississippi Rifles.  Some of these are in barely serviceable condition, but obviously were still in active use at the time of their seizure testifying to the sturdy character of these historic arms.  The Model 1841, or Mississippi Rifle, was a sturdy, dependable, serviceable firearm, originally intended for use on horseback and made in a handy, manageable length, and it presented well with the attractive brass mounts.  For all these reasons, and of course due to the Model 1841's passage into the surplus market after the Civil War, it is apparent that these rifles were a popular and common item of trade to the Indians.   

In spite of the sturdy design of the Mississippi Rifle, any firearm has it limits and the steel will only withstand just so much overloading or worse, improperly seated or unintentional multiple loads.  Upon inspection of this rifle, it undoubtedly suffered from just such an explosive event which apparently destroyed the barrel and lock, and caused some damage to the stock in the area of the lock mortise and the rear of the barrel channel.  While the destruction of his rifle certainly must have given the Indian pause, either he (assuming he survived) or one of his fellow tribesmen gathered up the useable remains and paired the damaged Mississippi Rifle stock with the barrel and lock from a plains rifle that had probably suffered a broken stock.  This sort of salvage-based gunsmithing was very common among the Indians and they were quite adept at it as evidenced by any number of surviving examples in private and public collections.   

In fact, there is an almost identical example of this sort of pairing of parts salvaged from different rifles in the Rock Island Arsenal Collection, cataloged as item number 1391.  Identified by the arsenal’s museum as a captured Indian gun, that rifle was originally a Mississippi Rifle which was repaired with an octagon .45 caliber barrel measuring 34 ˝” long.  The stock was heavily damaged at some point and the barrel and lock are held in place with large wrappings of rawhide stitched in place.  Notably, this heavily repaired rifle is also missing the trigger guard bow such as is seen on the rifle offered here.  It is possible that the presence of the guard bow interfered with the wrapped rawhide repairs and considered unnecessary, it was omitted from the repair efforts.   

The appearance of this Mississippi Rifle speaks volumes of its life on the frontier.  The work to enlarge the barrel channel to accept the octagon barrel was done quite nicely, evidence of the quality of work of which the native gunsmiths were capable.  I imagine similar work was necessary to seat the replacement lock and then the entire breech area of the rifle was wrapped in rawhide which was stitched in place with sinew to bind the lock and barrel to the stock.  An additional piece of rawhide was sewn forward of the breech in the area of the rear sight to further secure the barrel.  The rawhide is very old, worn and stained and there is no doubt that it dates to the period of use of this rifle.  Most importantly, it serves a genuine function of holding the rifle components together and is not some recently applied enhancement as seen on so many purported “Indian Guns” that have been decorated in modern times.   

There are traces of red paint on the barrel consistent with paint found on a significant number of Indian used guns.  Noted in several references, the painted guns were covered or highlighted with blue, black, dark and lighter green and red, however the significance of the paint has never been firmly determined to a certainty.  The sense of art, decoration and color that the Native Americans possessed has been long established and that a warrior would decorate his rifle is certainly in keeping with their practices and traditions.   

The rifle stock retains the original brass butt plate, patch box and trigger guard base plate, and the brass has a nice untouched soft patina.  The fore end of the stock retains the majority of its original length.  The butt stock is full form and the left side of the butt has several names carved into the wood, likely the names of the soldiers or settlers who first carried this Mississippi before it fell into the hands of the Indians.  The stock shows all of the desirable wear where one would expect to find it on the high edges of the barrel and ramrod channels and at the points where the rifle would have been handled or rested as it was carried on horseback, and the wood has wonderful aged feel and very nice coloring. 

The heavy octagon barrel, measuring 40” long and 1 1/8” from flat to flat, retains both front and rear sights and has an even smooth color overall.  The bore features what appears to be early hand cut button rifling which presents very well at the muzzle.  The barrel was originally made for a flintlock rifle and at some point was converted to percussion with the installation of a drum and cone.  There are some small minor patches of light pitting on the flats as is expected, but the surface is overall smooth.  The percussion lock is completely covered with a section of the rawhide wrapping which holds it in place on the rifle, but the hammer appears to be from a rifle of the same era as the barrel.  The hammer will not engage the sear and it feels as if the mainspring is likely broken, but there is no way to access the internal workings of the lock without disturbing the rawhide – a misguided effort that would severely decrease the value of the rifle.   

This spectacular Mississippi Rifle shows all the classic characteristics of hard use and genuine repairs in the hands of an Indian, having a great appearance that literally talks to you as you hold it, and is no doubt a veteran of fierce determined and desperate battles, and untold numbers of buffalo kills in the hands of a warrior.  I am confident enough that this gun was indeed used by Indians, that I have enjoyed this gun in my collection of Indian used guns for several years and am only now offering it for sale as it is a duplicate to others in my collection.  Genuine Indian used guns that have not been sullied or ruined by the addition of upholstery tacks, modern leather wrappings and other fantasy enhancements have never been common.  As more collectors are recognizing the historic value of Indian guns of this quality, they are now becoming increasingly difficult to find on the market.   

This is an opportunity to obtain an honest Indian gun that has not been tampered with since the day it passed from the Indians into the hands of that first collector.  If you hesitate and miss this one, for many years to come you will regret it as the one that got away.  (0912)  $4500

 

 
 
 
 
 

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