Thursday, November 16, 2017

On this day in 1821, Missouri trader William Becknell arrives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, thus establishing the Santa Fe Trail.

In an effort to recover from financial problems William Bucknell , lead a team of mules west from Franklin, Missouri. The mules were loaded with goods he planned to take through plains Indian territory (what is now Kansas) to the Mexican city of Santa Fe. The trip was long and hard but trading was good. Becknell returned home with money in his pockets and tales of the friendly people and the different lifestyle of Santa Fe.
In 1822 and again in 1824 Bucknell, this time with wagons, he chartered his second course over the Cimarron Desert, which would later be known as the Cimarron Cutoff. Though the shorter this route provided less water, it saved the travelers ten days by cutting southwest across the Cimarron Desert to Santa Fe.

"Santa Fe Trail, Cimarron Route" by Wayne Cooper
Travelers risked attacks by Native Americans in addition to the shortages of water. Despite the hazards, the shorter route would end up carrying 75% of the later Santa Fe Trail pioneers.
In 1825, Becknell helped map the trail for surveyors hired by the U.S. Congress. For his efforts in opening up an improved route for regular traffic and military movement, Becknell became known as the Father of the Santa Fe Trail.

From 1825 until 1846, the Trail was an international commercial highway  used by Mexican and American traders. In 1846, the Mexican-American War began. The Army of the West followed the Santa Fe Trail to invade New Mexico. When the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the war in 1848, the Santa Fe Trail became a national road connecting the United States to the new southwest territories. Great caravans of freight wagons dominated the Trail. Commercial freighting as well as considerable military freight hauling to build and supply the new southwestern forts. The trail was also used by stagecoach lines, thousands of gold seekers heading to the California and Colorado gold fields, adventurers, fur trappers, and emigrants.
In 1880 the railroad reached Santa Fe and the trail faded into history.

This undocumented photo is believed to show the Cimarron Cutoff on the left and the Mountain Branch on the right? (c. 1850-60?)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Bedford School Percussion Longrifle by Jacob G. Briggle.

The lock is signed "J.G.B." below the bolster. This same marking has been noted on other rifles by Jacob Briggle II (1831-1896) of Bedford, PA. Briggle (also spelled Breigle) was listed as a gunsmith when he joined the 138 Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War. Many of the aspects correctly match other known Briggle rifles including some of those pictured in "Bedford, Somerset and Fulton County Gunsmiths" by Whisker and Whisker.

Lewis and Clark reach the Pacific

Lewis And Clark On The Lower Columbia River Painting by Charles Marion Russell

On this date in 1805, the Corps of Discovery reach the Pacific Ocean at the mouth of the Columbia River, one year, six months, and one day after leaving St. Louis, Missouri, in search of the legendary "Northwest Passage" to the sea.
Visionaries had long believed that the North American continent could be crossed on a ladder of rivers stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark hoped to find a short, easy portage that would connect the Missouri River, which drains the eastern half of the continent, with the Columbia, flowing west to the Pacific. 
By the time they arrived at the ocean, Lewis and Clark knew that the Northwest Passage did not exist.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A nice trim Pennsylvania long rifle signed by C. Gumpf.

The Gumpfs were active in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area from 1791 to 1884. 

The elder Gumpf, Johan Christopher Gumpf (b. 1761 usually just listed as Christopher), he is known to have manufactured contract rifles for the U.S. government in 1794. 
His sons were also gunmakers, including Christopher (1805-1884) and Christian Gumpf was also active in 1800-1843. Christian is known to have manufactured 1809 contract rifles. 
Other very similar rifles to this one have previously been identified as manufactured by Christian, but it could have been built by one of the others. 
The barrel is signed "C Gumpf" in script on top between the rear sight and breech. The lock is marked "DREPPERT."

The patch box, lock, side plate, stock architecture, and other parts are all similar to other Gumpf family rifles. The stock has a silver thumb plate and a silver hunter star on the cheekpiece.

The Evans Repeating Rifle is often considered to be one of the oddest rifles to ever be produced in the United States.

Only about 500 1st Model were made from 1873 to 1876. The Evans was invented by Warren R. Evans, a dentist from Thomaston, Maine. With the help of his brother George, they perfected the rifle and started the "Evans Rifle Manufacturing Company" of Mechanic Falls, Maine in 1873. Their rifles were marketed by Merwin & Hulbert. 
When Evans designed his rifle he also had to design his own cartridge. What he came up with is now known as the .44 Evans short. 

This is noted in the factory catalogs as being a 1” shell. The original cartridges were loaded with 33 grains of black powder and a 220 grain lead bullet. This gave a velocity of about 850 fps.The hope was that the rifle would be issued by the United States Army. When submitted to the military the rifle was promptly rejected for several reasons but mainly because it failed the standard dust test and for the poor cartridge performance.
It was then offered as a sporting rifle. From 1873 to 1876 Evans would produce about 500 of their 1st Model rifles for the civilian market.

Discouraged, Warren Evans had given up active participation in the company. However brother George had not been idle. He was in control of the company and busy developing improvements.
First came a transition model and then the "New" Model. 
The new model is easily distinguished by its larger, more robust receiver and sliding dust cover over the ejection port. The front edge of the receiver is cut straight not scalloped as in the old and transition models. A two-piece buttstock was added and a redesigned buttplate. 
These changes not only improved the balance of the rifle, the dust cover, which operated with the lever, kept debris out of the action and the addition of the lower butt stock offered better protection of the magazine from damage or dents which could jam the action.
Both these models were submitted to the military but once again, neither would be accepted.

The rifle has a radial block receiver similar to the Spencer, but the rounds were fed from an Archimedean-screw magazine which formed the spine of the rifle stock and could hold up to 34 rounds. The fluted cartridge carrier made a quarter turn each time the lever was operated, feeding a new cartridge into the breech.

The New Model Evans rifle used the 1 1/2” case. This was known as the “.44 New Model” cartridge. They were loaded with 40 to 43 grains of black powder and lead bullets ranging from 275 to 300 grains. With a 280 grain bullet velocity was about 1200 fps.
Both Evans cartridges were loaded by Winchester up to the early 1920’s.
The company received numerous testimonials from its customers. One of the more colorful ones came from Kit Carson who claimed;
“At twenty paces, have, with this rifle, shot the eyebrows from my wife, and every night regularly, in the presence of an audience I shot an apple from her hand, a pipe from her mouth, a penny from her fingers, or snuff a candle from her hand. I think the Evans is the safest and most complete repeating system ever devised.”

Testimonials like this were great advertising and highly sought after by all the arms companies.
Although the later models gained somewhat of a following, the company went bankrupt in 1879.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Battle of Fishdam Ford

In the Fall of 1780, British General Cornwallis was engaged in attempts to suppress the Patriot militia that were harassing his supply and communication lines in the Carolinas.
Two troublesome militia commanders in South Carolina were Thomas Sumter and Francis Marion. Cornwallis sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton to hunt the wily Marion down. Sumter made similar troubles in the backcountry, where Cornwallis sent Major James Wemyss with the 63rd Regiment and some Loyalist dragoons to find him.
Wemyss learned on November 8, from local Loyalists, that Sumter was encamped near Fishdam Ford. Moving quickly, Wemyss arrived near Sumter’s camp around 1 am on the morning of November 9. Fearing they would be discovered by Sumter’s patrols, Wemyss opted to attack immediately rather than waiting for dawn.
One of Sumter’s commanders, Col. Thomas Taylor of the Congaree militia, feared a possible night and took measures to guard against surprise. 
Sumter’s main camp was along a creek, Taylor had his men cross the creek and built up large fires of durable material, sent out a patrol in the known direction of the British, made sure his men had a safe retreat down the creek if necessary, and took all precautions he deemed appropriate. He then withdrew his men from the fires in the direction of the main army.
A second commander, Col. Richard Winn was also concerned, so he ordered his men to sleep with their guns in their arms and shot bags under their heads. He placed pickets around his men.
Around midnight, Taylor heard a great sound in the direction he had expected. The British came to the top of the hill above him, formed, then charged down on the fires, expecting to butcher a sleeping foe. As soon as they were in the light of the fires, Taylor's men opened fire and a few rounds decided the contest. The first shots emptied twenty British saddles, and Major Wemyss was one of the wounded.
His dragoons continued the charge into the camp, where the campfires illuminated them, again providing easy targets for Sumter’s men. Their first volley took the British lead company by surprise, killing and wounding several men. They retreated, and Wemyss infantry then advanced into the camp, where they also came under fire from the woods. The British attempted a bayonet charge, but it was confounded by a fence between the two lines in the darkness. After twenty minutes of battle, the British retreated, leaving their wounded, including Major Wemyss, on the field.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

On this day in 1811 the Battle of Tippecanoe was fought between American forces led by Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana Territory and Native American warriors associated with the Shawnee leader Tecumseh.

Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (commonly known as "The Prophet") were leaders of a confederacy of Native Americans from various tribes that opposed US expansion into Native territory. As tensions and violence increased, Governor Harrison marched with an army of about 1,000 men, from Vincennes, to disperse the confederacy's headquarters at Prophetstown, near the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash rivers.
Tecumseh, not yet ready to oppose the United States by force, was away recruiting allies when Harrison's army arrived. He had warned Tenskwatawa (a spiritual leader) not to engage the American forces until the confederation was strong and completely unified.

Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa
As Harrison's forces approached Prophetstown late on November 6, they were met by one of Tenskwatawa's followers waving a white flag. He carried a message from Tenskwatawa, requesting a ceasefire until the next day when the two sides could hold a peaceful meeting. Harrison agreed to a meeting, but was wary of Tenskwatawa's overture.
Harrison warned his men of the possible treachery by the Prophet. The troops were placed in a quadrangular formation; each man was to sleep fully clothed. Fires were lit to combat the cold, rainy night, and a large detail was assigned to sentinel the outposts.

Although Tecumseh had warned his brother not to attack the white men, the incensed Prophet lashed his men with a fiery oratory. Claiming the white man's bullets could not harm them.
Early the next morning warriors from Prophetstown attacked Harrison's army. Although the outnumbered attackers took Harrison's army by surprise, Harrison and his men stood their ground. After two hours of intense combat the native warriors retreated. Angered by his deceit, the weary warriors stripped the Prophet of his power and threatened to kill him. Taking care of their dead and wounded, the demoralized Indians left Prophet's Town, abandoning most of their food and belongings.

Of Harrison’s men, thirty-seven were killed, twenty-five others were to die of injuries, and over 126 were wounded, the Indian casualties were unknown, estimated 50–65 killed 70–80 wounded.
Harrison, expecting Tecumseh to return with a large band of Indians, fortified his camp soon after the battle. When Harrison's men arrived at the village on November 8, they found it abandoned and proceeded to burn it to the ground. After burning the town, the army began their painful return to Vincennes.