Few long guns have the immediate name recognition of the Hawken rifle, the mountain man's inseparable companion, used to take "griz" or "buffler" and a host of other game species on the expanding Western frontier. Adapted from the slender, long-barreled "Kentucky" rifle, the Plains rifle -- of which the Hawken is probably the most famous representative, was a shorter, heavier muzzleloader built to take rough handling that went with the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. Because Western big game called for a larger rifle caliber than the whitetail deer or black bear encountered in Eastern forests, Hawken rifles were usually of .50 caliber or heavier.

The famed Hawken brothers, Jacob and Samuel, emigrated to Missouri from Maryland in 1807. In 1815 they opened a gun maker's shop in St. Louis, offering their wares to westward bound trappers and traders. The Hawken brothers' trademark rifle, a sturdy maple-stocked rifle that could weigh up to 14 pounds, became a prized possesion for settlers, sodbusters, soldiers and scoundrels who crossed the Mississippi headed for the West. Designed to fire a heavy caliber patched round ball loaded in front of stout blackpowder charges, Hawken rifles and many imitators were used to hunt big game -- the grizzly bear, the buffalo and the elk. Inevitably, Hawken rifles found their way into the hands of Sioux, Cheyenne and Crow warriors resisting the incursions of the mountain men and trappers at the forefront of expansion.

Today's hunters using newly made re-creations of the Hawken and other period rifles, can recapture this early hunting experience. In many states, special seasons are set aside exclusively for blackpowder hunting, which may further delineate legal caliber, rifling or ignition system. Like their predecessors, modern hunters must carefully load powder, patch and ball and stalk closer to compensate for lower velocity projectiles and non-adjustable "iron" sights.

Hawken "Big Fifty" Rifle
Built by Samuel Hawken in his St. Louis gunshop circa 1849, this .50 caliber muzzleloader is an example of the late pattern Hawken rifle taken west by goldseekers and settlers. The heavy Hawken was made to be carried on horseback, allowing the rifle to be heavily constructed for durability and to counter the stout recoil of firing. Notable individuals who owned a Hawken include Jim Bridger, Kit Carson, Joe Meek, Mariano Modena and President Theodore Roosevelt. During booming California Gold Rush days, Samuel Hawken sold his rifles for $22.00 to $25.00. An unusual feature of this rifle's stock is the German silver patchbox, likely inletted from another rifle. Most Hawken rifles were plainly finished, leaving owners to improvise decoration.

Hunter's Buckskins & Possibles Bag (shown in large photo)
In the wilderness, clothing designed for streets and buildings of civilization failed to provide long service. Making one's clothing from available animal skins provided much more durable covering. The early mountain men followed Native American methods to tan skins and prepare hides, also adopting existing designs with utilitarian fringes that were convenient for tying down equipment. This handmade set of buckskins, made in 1989, took four skins to complete.

For the mountain man, the need for a container to carry anything possibly needed for survival and to shoot a rifle or maintain it far from a gunsmith resulted in the possibles bag. This bag could hold a bullet mold, spare parts, fire-making equipment and many other necessary items.