Like many a Midwestern daydream, Missouri HB 1989 is short and gets to the point; the bill, which quietly entered the State House a little less than a week ago, hopes to make the Hawken Rifle—the jewel in the crown of St. Louis gun makers—the official firearm of the Show Me State.
The gun we call the Hawken rifle today (named after brothers Samuel and Jacob Hawkins) would have been called the “Rocky Mountain Rifle” or more commonly the “Plains rifle” by early settlers and was widely adopted by prospectors looking to make their fortunes off the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade, which began to flourish in and around Missouri in the early 1800s.
As the westernmost eastern city, St. Louis represented for many pioneers the last post before the vast, untamed and relatively untapped frontier. Accordingly, the Hawkens’ shop produced guns in line with the demands of their customers, mostly fur trappers and traders in need of high quality, high caliber and light weight rifles they could carry with them during their entire journey West.
The result was a muzzleloading long gun that was shorter than earlier “Kentucky rifles” but chambered in larger calibers like .50 and .53. The Hawken’s brother’s St. Louis, Missouri shop made “prairie guns” from 1815 to 1858 and continued to sell rifles bearing the Hawken mark until 1915.
The gun was a favorite of frontiersmen Jim Bridger and Kit Carson as well as future president Theodore Roosevelt. The Hawkens also got the star treatment in 1972s Jeremiah Johnson with Robert Redford. The popular “mountain man” aesthetic of the movie turned into a cultural phenomenon and contributed to a renewed interest in old Hawken rifles and engendered the productions of replicas with Italian makers like David Pedersoli leading the way in 2012.
The Italian replica’s start at about $1,200 though Thompson Center makes 50 caliber “Hawken” rifle for about $220. Originals, with markings (many originals did not have markings), can go for many thousands of dollars.
Missouri State Representative Jeannie Riddle (R-Calloway) introduced the bill to the General Assembly on March 27. Riddle has been in office since 2008 and ran on a pro-second Amendment platform. For what it’s worth, the measures got Guns.com approval. We can’t think of a better choice of firearm to pay homage to history of the state of Missouri, gun making and the dramatic interplay between the two.