Monday, January 18, 2021

Native buffalo/canoe gun 1830s by Eric Kettenburg


From Francis Parkman, The California and Oregon Trail, 1849.

"There are two methods commonly practiced, 'running' and 'approaching.' The chase on horseback, which goes by the name of 'running,' is the more violent and dashing mode of the two. Indeed, of all American wild sports, this is the wildest. Once among the buffalo, the hunter, unless long use has made him familiar with the situation, dashes forward in utter recklessness and self-abandonment. He thinks of nothing, cares for nothing but the game; his mind is stimulated to the highest pitch, yet intensely concentrated on one object. In the midst of the flying herd, where the uproar and the dust are thickest, it never wavers for a moment; he drops the rein and abandons his horse to his furious career; he levels his gun, the report sounds faint amid the thunder of the buffalo; and when his wounded enemy leaps in vain fury upon him, his heart thrills with a feeling like the fierce delight of the battlefield… The chief difficulty in running buffalo, as it seems to me, is that of loading the gun or pistol at full gallop. Many hunters for convenience' sake carry three or four bullets in the, mouth; the powder is poured down the muzzle of the piece, the bullet dropped in after it, the stock struck hard upon the pommel of the saddle, and the work is done. The danger of this method is obvious. Should the blow on the pommel fail to send the bullet home, or should the latter, in the act of aiming, start from its place and roll toward the muzzle, the gun would probably burst in discharging. Many a shattered hand and worse casualties besides have been the result of such an accident. To obviate it, some hunters make use of a ramrod, usually hung by a string from the neck, but this materially increases the difficulty of loading.

I defy you to find me more of a "PARTS GUN" than this!

Barrel is a .69 cal 1816 US musket barrel probably decommissioned and chopped ca. 1820s-1830s. Lock is a simple trade type lock, fairly large and stout with no internal bridle. The cock is a more recent replacement and the frizzen is a very old replacement with one heck of a stout sole/facing brazed onto it. I think the sole must be 1/8" thick at least, and while pan to frizzen fit is somewhat questionable, the lock sparks like crazy. *** Never reconverted! Neither lock nor barrel. ***. Frizzen screw is a newer replacement (with identical threads) to take up some slop but I do have the original frizzen screw although it's kind of useless. The lock now functions extremely well. Vent is still very serviceable but with 2F is somewhat self-priming; I would personally stick with 1F here. Bore was rough but has been slicked-up quite a bit and I have been having a HUGE amount of fun popping this off with light loads (@50 gr) and a naked undersized ball (.672) tamped with tow. Unless you are literally planning on running some buffalo, I'd call this one a "gong gun" now and keep it lighthearted with the loadings.

Overall the piece definitely seems 1830s to my way of thinking and is very crude; it is clearly stocked either at a frontier trading post perhaps, or possibly may be native-stocked by a native with some gunsmithing skills. Rough tool marks everywhere! What is most interesting is that the piece is clearly not cut down from a longer gun but was deliberately stocked with spare parts in this manner, apparently for a specific purpose. Call it a canoe gun, or a blanket gun, or a buffalo gun. I choose to view it as a buffalo gun as this function makes the most sense to me.

A great deal of secondary work/repair is evident. I'm not going to go into it all here but the gun sure looks well-used and functionality was maintained. Rammer looks old but not too old and is clearly made from a branch of some random tree. I also have an old-looking extra rammer (extremely stout!) as per the above 1849 description which you can add a thong and/or beads or whatever and tie around your neck.

For Sale

Contact Eric to discuss.

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