Hawken Muzzleloading Rifles: Their "Rocky Mountain" muzzleloading rifles were typically .50 caliber or .53 caliber, but ranged as high as .68 caliber. The earliest known record of a Hawken rifle dates to 1823 when one was made for William Henry Ashley. The
Westward expansion saw the long 48 inch barreled longrifle muzzleloading rifle to hard to carry on horse back so a shorter rifle was needed. Jake and Sam Hawken in St. Louis saw the need for a much different muzzleloading rifle and their rifles were half stocked, 28" to 36" octagon barreled rifles.
style would become the "sporter" for much of the western United States during the 1840's.
The Hawken rifles are generally shorter and of a larger caliber than earlier “long rifles” from which they descend. They averaged 10 and 1/2 pounds, although there are examples of 15 pound guns. Barrels were of varying lengths, and are octagonal on the outside. They tend to have double triggers; the rear trigger is a "set" trigger. When the rear trigger is pulled, the hammer does not fall but rather the action "sets" the front trigger, the front trigger becoming a "hair trigger," tripped with a light touch. When the front trigger is used without using the rear "set" trigger, it requires a firm pull.
The Hawken rifle was a brand of black powder muzzleloading rifle used on the prairies and in the Rocky Mountains of the United States during the early frontier days. It has become synonymous with the "plains rifle", the buffalo gun, and the fur trapper's gun. Born in the 1820s, it was eventually displaced by breechloaders (such as the Sharps rifle) and lever-action rifles which flourished after the Civil War.
The Hawken "plains rifle" was made by Jacob and Samuel Hawken in their St Louis, Missouri shop, which they ran from 1815 to 1858. Their shop continued to operate and sell rifles bearing the "Hawken" name under later owners William S. Hawken, William L. Watt, and J. P. Gemmer, until Gemmer closed down the business and retired in 1915.
Samuel and Jacob were trained by their father as rifle smiths on the east coast. They moved west and opened a business in St. Louis at the beginning of the Rocky Mountain fur trade. The Hawkens did not mass-produce their rifles but rather made each one by hand, one at a time.
The Hawken rifle company was sold in 1862, and the last rifle actually made by a Hawken was built in 1884. Although popular with mountain men and hunters of the fur trade era, up through the mid part of the 19th century, muzzleloaders were generally replaced by mass-produced, breech-loading weapons such as the Sharps Rifle and the Winchester Rifle.
Note: There were only several hundred larger bored Hawken rifles ever built as opposed to the thousands of smaller caliber longrifles.