Author Topic: California Rifle?  (Read 2450 times)

Offline Niederlander

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Re: California Rifle?
« Reply #20 on: March 14, 2021, 11:27:31 AM »
LOVE that inscription!  Can't really argue with it being a California rifle!
"There go those Nebraskans, and all hell couldn't stop them!"

Offline Tsalagidave

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Re: California Rifle?
« Reply #21 on: March 23, 2021, 01:26:44 PM »
I'm learning from this too. So what I am seeing is that a California Rifle is a western pattern, similar to a St. Louis gun with a short (compared to eastern long rifles) but heavy barrel in .36 to about .54 in caliber. They can either be made for the California market or they could have actually been made in the state by craftsmen who had come and set up shop during the Gold Rush.

I have had the privilege of learning so much about our muzzle-loading hobby over the years but I'd really like to know more about this topic. The more articles and leads, on the California Rifle, the better.

Thanks

-Dave
Guns don't kill people; fathers with pretty daughters do.

Offline Crooked River Bob

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Re: California Rifle?
« Reply #22 on: October 03, 2021, 09:41:57 PM »
Thank you very much to LongWalker for posting the link to the "California Rifle" shown on the ALR forum.  I had missed that one!  I believe the maker's name may be incorrectly spelled on that ALR post, though.  I think it was more likely John Wurfflein, who was a prolific Philadelphia gunsmith in the mid-19th century.  The photo that apparently showed the barrel inscription does not show in the images I see in the link. There is another example of his work with a little more about him here:  Lot 287: John Wurfflein Rifle Anyway, we do know Wurfflein shipped a great many rifles west, especially to California, and called at least some of them "California" rifles.  I didn't know they were marked as such, though.

Dang!  I wish I could figure out how to post pictures on this forum!  Anyway...

Tryon, another Philadelphia maker, was also sending a lot of rifles west, and all of the gun manufacturers were in stiff competition.  The California trade was booming.  The St. Louis riflesmiths did not want to miss out.

There was an enigmatic ad placed in the Missouri Republican January 20, 1855 by William S. Hawken and Tristam Campbell offering, among other things, "Mountain and California rifles made to order, and repairing done at the shortest notice."  People have wondered exactly what those California rifles were for many years.  Note that the term, "Plains Rifle," is believed to have been coined by collectors in the mid-20th century.  The Hawken brothers called their iconic heavy-barreled, iron mounted arms "Mountain Rifles."  Charles E. Hanson addressed this in The Hawken Rifle:  Its Place In History on page 42, along with a complete transcription of the Hawken & Campbell advertisement and some speculation about California rifles.

This interesting S. Hawken rifle surfaced a few years ago, and sold at auction:  Brass Mounted S. Hawken Rifle  I think this rifle is likely a Hawken "California Rifle."  I don't want to generalize from a sample of one rifle, but what I'm seeing here is a very plain, heavy, brass-mounted half stock.  It differs from the Hawken "Mountain Rifles" in that it is mounted in brass, and it has a single barrel key, instead of two.  It does have a patent breech with the classic Hawken "snail," but it looks like a solid patent breech to me, i.e. it is not hooked.  I think the brass hardware was more expensive than iron, but the single barrel key and the solid patent breech are money-saving features.  I think they built this rifle, and probably others similar to it, to compete with Wurfflein, Tryon, and others cashing in on the California and emigrant market. 

One feature that gets our attention is the triggerguard on the brass-mounted Hawken rifle.  Most modern folks will say it looks like a T/C Hawken guard, and it sort of does.. kind of...  Others will say it looks like a Dimick guard, which it does, but if you really cast a wide net in your search, you'll find a lot of mid-19th century rifles with that type of guard.  By that time, there were a number of riflemakers actually in California, and a lot of California dealers "importing" rifles from the east.  This style of triggerguard was very much in style at that time.  There was a terrific book published in 1977, entitled California Gunsmiths 1846-1900, by Lawrence Shelton.  He shows a lot of percussion muzzle-loaders by California builders, and a great many of them use that type of triggerguard.

There is a short, full-stocked rifle by Henry Leman shown on page 231 in Garavaglia & Worman's Firearms of the American West 1803-1865 which is marked on the barrel JOSH M. BROWN & CO. IMPROVED PATTERN BEAR RIFLE SAN FRANCISCO CAL..  This resembles Leman's "Indian rifles" in many respects, but is has a full-sized patchbox and double set triggers.  It has a heavy barrel in .58 caliber.  California was full of big game in those days, including the famous grizzlies.  I don't think this Leman rifle would have been consistent with Hawken & Campbell or Wurfflein's idea of a "California rifle," but it does suggest that hunting rifles in larger calibers may have been desirable in the Golden State at that time.

So, what is a "California rifle"?  Limiting the discussion to 19th century muzzle-loaders, it could obviously refer to rifles made in California.  However, more generally, I think this term could have been applied to a distinct style of rifle from the middle of the century.  Probably in a larger caliber, half stocked, and very likely mounted in brass or even German silver instead of iron.  Any one of us, myself included, would see one of these and probably call it a "Plains Rifle."  However, Hawken & Campbell distinguished "Mountain Rifles" from "California Rifles," and this is the best I can come up with by way of explanation.

Best regards,

Crooked River Bob
"Should have kept the old ways just as much as I could, and the tradition that guarded us.  Should have rode horses.  Kept dogs."

from The Antelope Wife

Offline LongWalker

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Re: California Rifle?
« Reply #23 on: November 28, 2021, 07:57:05 PM »
There's an original California rifle for sale here:  https://www.muzzleloadingforum.com/threads/a-j-plate-plains-rifle-original.139469/  Rifle was made by Slotter & Co in Philadelphia, and is marked for A. J. Plate in San Francisco. 

Folks, after I bought the Leman I cross-posted here, it is someone else's turn! 
In my book a pioneer is a man who turned all the grass upside down, strung bob-wire over the dust that was left, poisoned the water, cut down the trees, killed the Indian who owned the land and called it progress.  Charles M. Russell

Offline Niederlander

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Re: California Rifle?
« Reply #24 on: November 28, 2021, 10:12:03 PM »
I'm learning more all the time!  One thing that seems obvious to me is the tremendous VARIETY of features on rifles of that period.  Not surprising when you consider they were all handmade, by probably hundreds of different 'smiths. 
"There go those Nebraskans, and all hell couldn't stop them!"

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