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EARLY 19TH CENTURY HEAVY BARREL PLAINS RIFLE – .69 CALIBER - FRONTIER GUNSMITH PERCUSSION CONVERSION – VERY ATTRACTIVE BRASS MOUNTED CURLY MAPLE STOCK:  A classic example of the early-19TH  Century heavy barreled guns that were carried onto the Western Frontier by the fur trappers and explorers, this Plains Rifle at once presents both a beautiful appearance with the brightly tiger-striped maple stock, and a strong sense of power from the heavy barrel and large caliber.  While still retaining some of the earlier features of the rifles that were made in the Pennsylvania schools of rifle making which were built for the forests and mountains east of the Mississippi River, this rifle shows the heavier barrel and stock that began to emerge as these rifles were carried out on the western plains and into the far reaches of the Rocky Mountains.    

When collectors think of the famous mountain men, they associate those early fur trappers with the iron mounted half stock plains rifles such as those made famous by the Hawken brothers and other well known St. Louis makers.  In reality, the first men to follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, and those who accompanied the storied expeditions of the American Fur Company carried full stocked, heavy barreled rifles such as this one which still reflected the features of the earlier schools of gun making.  

The presence of the drum and cone suggest a conversion from an original flintlock configuration, not surprising as the rifle continued in use long after the percussion ignition system surpassed the flintlock.  Given the proportions of this rifle, it likely started out with a large bore, but it is also probable that the barrel was freshed out as the years of use took their toll on the rifling – perhaps several times to reach the impressive .69 caliber bore it features now.  All of this work could have been accomplished by a gunsmith located on the edge of the frontier or at any of the many trading posts throughout the West.    

Weighing over 14 pounds, this massive rifle is mounted with a 31 ½” octagon barrel that measures a full 1 5/16” from flat to flat.  The barrel, with its early hand rifled bore is held in place with two iron pins through the fore stock.  The exterior flats of the barrel have a smooth, even rich brown patina with no pitting.  The long tapered barrel tang is attached with three screws, a testament to the weight of the barrel.  The bore is excellent, apparently well maintained by the original owner, with strong, definitive rifling throughout, and only the most minor evidence of light pitting.  Both the front and rear sights are present, the front sight made of silver and the rear sight an early adjustable low buck horn mounted in a hand cut dove tail mortise.   

The lock appears to be original to the conversion of the rifle from flint to percussion.  The lock is robust in design and proportional to the balance of the rifle.  The lock plate retains a lightly legible “PHILIDELPHIA” stamp in front of the hammer, probably what remains of the lock maker’s name.  The drum and cone appear to be original to the conversion of the barrel, the work was well done, and the cone retains its shape, not having been abused with repeated dry firing.   The double set triggers function properly and they engage the lock sear, however the hammer wants to slip off half and full cock before the trigger is pulled.  Having looked at the lock internals, if the new owner desires, some simple work with a file on the sear notch would correct this.    

The maple stock, as mentioned above, has an above average, very attractive tiger stripe grain which has naturally aged through the years to a rich color and distinct pattern.  The proportions of the stock are commensurate with the weight of the barrel – a thicker than normal buttstock, a heavy rounded-profile wrist, and an equally heavy forestock to support the barrel.  In spite of these larger dimensions, the stock still retains the grace and style of the early 19TH Century Pennsylvania schools of rifle makers.  That this gun maker knew what he was doing when he shaped the stock is borne out as there are no cracks or breaks in the wrist or around the lock mortise where they are typically found on these heavy rifles.  The only crack of any substance is located on the left side of the stock between the head of the lock screw and the edge of the barrel channel – small, stabilized,  and not showing any signs of weakness.  The wood surface, worn smooth and with an excellent patina, is not marred beyond what one would expect to see in a frontier used rifle.  The toe of the stock is intact – often found chipped away and the barrel channel edges are smooth and intact with no splitting.  The furniture - butt plate, toe plate, side plate, trigger guard, thimbles and nose cap – is all brass and retains a very pleasant mellow patina.   

Handling this Plains Rifle evokes all of the color and the mystique of the early American West when mounting a defense against hostile men and grizzlies, or anchoring a buffalo required a bore of this size.  If you have ever been attracted to tales of the likes of early mountain men such as Bridger, Johnson, Smith, Carson or the legions of unknown explorers and trappers, hefting this rifle will transport you back to those long ago shining times in the mountains.  (0223)  $3250


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