Blasts From the Past: Hawken Rifle

Here’s something unexpected from the makers of the basic plains rifle

Hawken .52-caliber percussion rifle, Atchison
This all-original rifle once belonged to a steamboat captain.Courtesy of James D. Julia Auctions

Today’s Blast From the Past is a Hawken rifle. We think of the rifles made by Jacob and Samuel Hawken in their St. Louis shop from the 1820s to the 1850s as working guns for explorers and mountain men—and they were—but the Hawkens could make high-grade guns, too. This one is one of the most ornate ever made. Its owner was not a mountain man, but a steamboat captain named George Atchison. After serving in the Army during the Blackhawk War (1830–32), Atchison became a captain and a boat builder. Evidently he did well for himself in a short time, because he was able to have this rifle made in 1836, although he was also known for building a number of boats that blew up and/or sank.

Hawken .52-caliber percussion rifle, Atchison
The cheekpiece with Atchison’s name engraved.Courtesy of James D. Julia Auctions
Hawken .52-caliber percussion rifle, Atchison
The silver patch box.Courtesy of James D. Julia Auctions

It’s a .52-caliber percussion rifle with a 37-inch barrel, all of which is pretty standard for a Hawken. What sets this rifle apart is its all-silver metalwork, including a medallion on the cheekpiece with Atchison’s name engraved on it, as well as several mother-of-pearl inlays and a checkered stock. The engraving on the patch box includes an anchor, a reference to Atchison’s line of work. The rifle is all original.

In 1870, E.R. Butterworth, a hatter and rancher who would go on to become a well-known funeral director and invent the words mortuary and mortician, acquired the rifle. It stayed in the Butterworth family, which loaned it to the Cody Firearms Museum for 20 years, until 2017, when it sold at auction at James D. Julia for $109,250.

Hawken .52-caliber percussion rifle, Atchison
The Hawken name is engraved on the barrel.Courtesy of James D. Julia Auctions