Every now and then one encounters someone or something so significance, so special and unexpected it’s hard to grasp the reality of its presence. That was how it recently was at the Hawken Shop.
For some time we had been in communication with a person who said he had a Hawken rifle. He was in search of a screw for the hammer of this gun which had been in his possession for a long while. He admitted to having no knowledge about muzzleloaders but was absolutely certain this was a Hawken.
In the early 1970’s; following the movie Jeremiah Johnson, several companies began offering what they referred to as a Hawken Rifle. Production was high and the market was flooded resulting in these guns being deemed as Hawken . With that, Hawken became a generic word and was tagged onto nearly any half stocked muzzleloading rifle being made. Years ago guns made in a production manner as such were calłed “Hardware Guns”. A handful of major firearm companies produced guns of a certain style making some minor mechanical and visual changes. They would give these guns a different name or model than those of their regular production and offer them up for sale in hardware stores. This was and still remains a common practice among some companies. In a similar vein this is what occurred with the Hawken rifle.
We were unable to get any definitive description of the gun this man had other than it was a half stock percussion rifle. There was nothing to lead us to expect it to be an original Hawken and we pretty much figured the odds of it being an after market clone of sorts were good.
We kept in touch with the owner of the firearm and received an email that in June he was taking the gun to a museum in Wyoming to be put on loan for two years. He really needed to get a hammer screw and wanted to bring the gun to the shop in hopes something could be matched to it. We agreed to see if we might have something compatible in our accumulated parts and if not we could make one for him. An original Hawken rifle or not, the gun needed a hammer screw and we would try to find one and end his search.
He came to our shop, introduced himself and briefly relayed how he came to own the gun and asked If it would be alright to bring it in for us to see. With the explanation of how it came into his possession we were beginning to see overtones of it possibly being an original Hawken rifle. We went to a corner of the shop and rolled out a cover atop one of the showcases for him put the gun on. He returned from the car with a gun case in hand and odd as it may seem there was just a feeling, a presence in the air that conveyed there was something pretty unique in that old gun case. He laid the case on the counter and a short moment of eye contact told me it was alright if I opened the case to take a look. This was beginning to be exciting.
It was a well kept but older gun case with a zipper that didn’t slide easily. While it held firm requiring a little tug it protested only momentarily and I slowly, carefully began to unzip it. With only a few inches of the case opened the buttplate emerged flanked by the visible end of the toeplate. At this point we were joined by another person and we proceeded to further unveil the secret of what the case really held. As each little increment of the gun came into view the unmistakable Hawken traits began to materialize. The buttplate when in full view was unmistakably work from the Hawken shop. It was of the correct size and shape and while there were signs of hard use and wear the beautiful wood to metal fit was very evident. It was a fact, we were in the presence of an original Hawken. We carefully removed the entire gun from its case and stood looking at a piece of history, a work of art in its own right.
While the toeplate was Hawken it wasn’t typical in that it was much more ornate. It was longer than a basic toeplate with design shapes cut into it and some light engraving still visible. The rifle sported the typical Hawken patchbox that has come to be referred to as the “pineapple patchbox” and repeated here were the signs of light engraving. Once again, wood to metal fit was amazing. The classic slight swell to the belly of the forearm, the nose cap, entry pipe, double set triggers and escutcheons all breathed Hawken. The owner allowed us to take photos of areas that were of key interest to us which in fact proved to be every inch. The cheek piece was slightly different and the panels around the lock and on the reverse side were non typical having been shaped to accommodate the lock design which was also non typical. There were slight variations here and there but it was without a doubt work from the St. Louis shop in the 1800’s. The rifle had the weight and balance of a Hawken and the wood was correct to that of a Hawken. It was cut of maple that had acquired a warm soft almost Carmel color glow throughout the years. The barrel was unique in that it had one silver wire band inlaid ahead of the front sight and three silver bands back by the breech. We ascertained the gun had probably been built for someone with a little discretionary cash for it to have the engraving and silver wires that it did. Then too, they could have been added at a later date. The basic rifle from The Hawken Shop of the day was absent of these little added extras.
As we spent time with the rifle and talking with the owner other people in the shop must have begun to feel our genuine interest and excitement in the piece. The chatter in the room began to soften and then subsided all together as they each in turn began to inch their way over to see just what we were looking at. They began to realize they were in the midst of something special and though they didn’t know how special, it was difficult not to be caught up in the aura.
We could have spent days just looking at and admiring this rifle but time did not allow for such a luxury. We felt extremely fortunate to have had the time allotted to enabled us to see this rifle up close and enjoy it. The owner has plans to bring his rifle to again visit our shop when it returns from its two year stay at the museum. Of course we are very much looking forward to that time. This was definitely a pleasure and an experience that would take any Hawken aficionados breathe away. I kinda think Sam enjoyed it as well and was probably standing there quite proudly as we admired his work and proud he should be, it was a fine rifle.
As an added note, we did have the proper screw for his Hawken rifle. After all, he did bring it to the Hawken Shop.