Early Exploration & Industry in North America

The Guns of the Golden West Association performs re-enactments of the North West exploration and fur trade with all its richness and historical significance. These performances exhibit guns, gear, and outfits dating back to the mid-1800’s and earlier. In addition to re-enactments at corporate and community events, educational presentations for students provide a look into how things were in the days of the west’s first industry.

Guns of the Golden West Association historians are on standby to schedule educational re-enactments and presentations at schools, public venues, and historical museums. We are experienced in educating young and old in relation to our history. Contact us for further information, and visit our more detailed website dedicated to showcasing the Fur Trade & Explorers era.

Guns of the Early 1800’s

In the 1800’s, trappers used a variety of firearms for hunting and self-defense, including muskets, rifles and shotguns. “Trade Guns” were often used by trappers, which were smooth-bore muskets. These guns were obtained through trade with European settlers and were versatile for hunting. “Flintlock Muskets” were still used in the 1800’s, using a flint to create a spark and ignite the gunpowder charge. In the mid 1800’s “Percussion Rifles” became common as these firearms improved reliability and speed of ignition compared to flintlocks.

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The Hawken Rifle

The Hawken rifle, also known as a plains rifle or buffalo gun, designed by Samuel Hawken and first produced by the Hawken brothers, was a single-shot, muzzle-loading rifle used by frontiersmen and trappers after its development in the early 1820’s, and saw widespread use in the American plains and rocky mountains. They were generally shorter and higher caliber than other rifles of that era and were more expensive than more common firearms of the day.

The Percussion Pistol

Percussion pistols replaced flintlock pistols in the early 1800’s and were in common use by about 1825. A single lead shot was loaded subsequently to the powder charge through the muzzle of the firearm. A percussion cap, containing explosive chemicals that are sensitive to and triggered by sudden shock, was used to ignite the powder charge which fired the lead ball. Percussion caps were more reliable than flints for creating a spark and both simplified and quickened the loading process slightly. These single-shot, muzzle-loading pistols were the standard in the early 1800’s until Samuel Colt patented his first percussion revolver pistol in 1836. The photo depicts a colonial-era percussion pistol with it’s ramrod stored under the barrel and leather holster.

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