Summer 2018

Without Dave, the museum isn’t quite the same, and the annual trip to Wyoming and Montana didn’t happen, but Andy has taken an abbreviated show to a couple of local events. The next outing will be August 10th – 12th for the annual Whidbey Island Rendezvous sponsored by The Hawken Shop.  If you’re in the area, take some time to come out to participate in or watch the competitions.  Also, take the opportunity to see, handle, and possibly shoot original and replica muzzle loaders.

David Henry Braun

August 4, 1953 – January 29, 2018

It is with great sadness we announce that our friend and co-founder, David Henry Braun (Dave) died suddenly and unexpectedly at home on January 29, 2018.

Dave originated from Joliet, IL, and moved to Whatcom County many years ago. He was a teacher at Lummi Nation School where he taught Science and Traditional Arts for more than 20 years. In addition to teaching, he was passionate about history. He loved spending time outdoors or working on various projects in his garage. He was also an accomplished artist with paintings ranging from small canvases to entire walls.

Dave was a regular visitor at the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum, Montana, where he spent many summers fossil hunting with his friend Dave Trexler, and painting murals for their displays.

Dave is survived by his beloved wife of 24 years, Jacqueline (Jackie) A. Braun, cherished cousin Nancy (Frank) Principe, and a whole host of friends and relatives.

The loss of Dave leaves not only a huge hole in the G. A. Ruxton Memorial Museum and Traditional Shooting Palavar, but in our hearts as well. We miss him more than words can express.

With Dave’s loss, the future of the G. A. Ruxton Memorial Museum and Traditional Shooting Palavar is uncertain. We ask everyone to bear with us as we regroup and figure out where we go from here.

This was posted on the Lummi Nation School Facebook page and decided to share their memories here as well.

Dear Lummi Nation School Community,

It is with a great deal of sadness that I inform you that David Braun, a long-time Lummi Nation School science teacher, passed away yesterday, Monday, January 29, at his home. Mr. Braun was at school during the morning, and reported that he was feeling ill, so he went home for the day. He passed away shortly after arriving home.

Mr. Braun was a beloved and respected advocate for the students of the Lummi Nation School, and will be long remembered for his tremendous contributions to the school and impact in the lives of so many students over the last two decades. His artwork that he painted on the walls of the science wing will remain as a testimony to his passion for science education, the outdoors, and archaeology. Mr. Braun will be remembered by many students for his hands-on learning projects, including model rocket-building, glider launching from the balcony of the commons, film developing in a darkroom lab, and his gold-panning and archaeological digs that resulted in a number of ancient fossils being found and cataloged.

The Annual Pilgrimage

Annnnd – They’re off!

Dave and Andy have embarked on their annual trip to west central Wyoming through southwest Montana and eastern Idaho.  If you are going to be in the neighborhood, stop in and say hi.

1838 Rendezvous, Riverton, WY June 29, 30, July 1
Museum of the Mountain Man, Pinedale, WY July 4, 5 and 6

Also, they will be stopping in to visit with Glenn at the Antique Gun Shoppe in Post Falls, ID on the way there and back (June 27th afternoonish & July 9th mid morningish).

“I’ve spilt my caps!”

Or . . .
What to put in a shooting bag

By Dave Braun,
Ruxton Museum and Traditional Shooting Palavar

On the morning of June 19, 1831, a “countless host” of Indian warriors on horseback descended upon a trade caravan headed up the Cimarron valley for Santa Fe. Josiah Gregg describes the ensuing chaos in his classic narrative Commerce of the Prairies:

“. . . a great portion of the men were unprepared for the emergency. Scores of guns were ‘empty’ and many more had been wetted by the recent showers and would not ‘go off’. Here one was calling for balls – another for powder – a third for flints. Exclamations such as, ‘I’ve broke my ramrod’ – ‘I’ve spilt my caps’ – ‘I’ve rammed down a ball without powder’ – ‘My gun is ‘choked’, give me yours’ – were heard from different quarters; while a timorous ‘greenhorn’ would perhaps cry out, ‘Here, take my gun, you can out shoot me!’

That doesn’t sound like it will end very well.

It does however, sound a lot like the sort of thing we hear on the shooting line, and more often than we’d like. Actually, I can’t remember a single club shoot ever, when at least one of those nasty, little disasters didn’t mess up somebody’s day. And sure, I’ve had them happen to me plenty times. It makes me wonder just how much better a company of us modern-day mountain men would fare if we were descended upon by a “countless host” of mounted warriors!

An after-action analysis of Josiah Gregg’s engagement leads to some valuable observations. First, flintlock and percussion firearms were both common on the Santa Fe Trail in 1831. That’s an interesting historical detail. Secondly, the boys who found themselves in trouble seem to have been negligent in one or more of a few basic muzzle loading practices:

  1. Familiarity with the basic operation and maintenance of their firearms. Ramrods break and balls get stuck when the shooter doesn’t hold the rod properly, uses the wrong size patch or lets the bore get too dirty. I wonder how many of those guys actually took their rifles out and practiced with them before they headed west – or at least before they got to Comanche country. And if someone were relying upon his rifle for oh, I don’t know, his very life, you’d think maybe he would put a little effort into keeping the thing clean and dry.
  2. Developing a personal loading routine and following it Doing it the same way every time is the best insurance against “dry balling” a rifle. .
  3. Target practice, which is the only way to develop confidence in your shooting skill so you don’t have to give your rifle to somebody else.
  4. Setting up a well-organized shooting bag that provides convenient access to appropriate supplies when you need them.

Let’s talk a little about shooting bags today.


This picture shows the contents of a fairly traditional shooting bag that measures only 51/2 X 6 inches. The bag is set up to support two long guns, a percussion .60 cal. smoothbore trade gun and a .47 cal. replica Hawken rifle. On the right is a shot flask for bird hunting with the smoothbore. I usually carry the shot flask in a coat pocket but it could easily be hung on a cord over my right shoulder.

The contents of this shooting bag in clockwise order are:

  • Strips of linen patch cloth including a roll of greased cloth
  • Three essential tools: a nipple wrench, a gun worm and a turnscrew
  • A tin of extra caps
  • A small tin of grease
  • A cloth pouch containing about a dozen 20gauge shot wads and over shot cards
  • Roughly a dozen fusee balls in a cloth pouch
  • A powder charger marked for 60 and 80 grains
  • A leather strip capper. These are very reliable, but cappers made from a leather disk are even better because all caps then have an equal chance of being used.
  • A leather, necked bag containing about 30 rounds of rifle ammunition. Since the two ball bags are made from different materials, they can easily be distinguished by feel.
  • A small, original powder horn with about a half pound capacity.

The contents of this bag are total overkill for a day of hunting or target shooting. Had I been along with Josiah Gregg in 1831, I would feel absolutely confident that my firearms were well supplied for a week long excursion away from the main caravan.

At this point, I expect that modern shooters could propose a “countless host” of essential items conspicuously absent from my outfit. So I consulted the sacred scriptures – Madison Grant’s The Kentucky Rifle Hunting Pouch (Maple Press Company, 1977).

After reviewing 122 images of original shooting bags, I concluded that Josiah Gregg probably wouldn’t have a problem with the contents of my bag. He might do a double take at my pouch of commercial, pre-cut shotgun wads. My guess is that something of the sort existed in 1831 but it probably looked a little different. A flintlock shooter would definitely need to carry a small wallet of flints and a vent pick, maybe a pick and brush set. Beyond that a few additional accoutrements frequently appear in Madison Grant’s photos but each is somewhat controversial and none is truly essential.

Short starters were uncommon, as were priming horns. Bullet boards were about as common back then as they are today. They’re a nice idea, but you don’t see very many guys using them regularly. Sheath knives are attached to maybe 25% of the original bags in Grant’s book, but a close look at construction and materials supports the conclusion that a good half of them were later period add-ons. Bullet molds were common. But you seldom see the associated lead ladle. Which makes me wonder why they would store two essential bullet making tools separately? Of course, items of personal preference such as razors, smoking pipes, turkey calls, fire starting kits, compact books of Psalms, etc. were carried in original shooting bags. But I think the bottom line is that the more equipment you want to carry, the larger, more cumbersome and less comfortable your bag must necessarily be – and the greater the odds it will be stashed away somewhere in the wagon when that “countless host” comes calling.

The one period item I might consider adding to my shooting outfit purely for the sake of period authenticity is, of all improbable things, a sewing awl. You see them a lot in photos of original gear and they’re even described in the literature as hanging from shooting bag straps. But since I’ve never yet needed one at a shoot or on a hunting trip, I think I’ll leave it off.


A look into my open bag shows that the necessary supplies are within easy reach and can be readily identified by feel: powder, charger, balls, patching and caps. Grease is accessible. The other tools are on the bottom. At a shoot, the essentials are taken out and distributed in convenient coat pockets for even more efficient loading – as would also be the case if I were under attack by a “countless host” of hostile warriors.


Viewed from the side, you can see that this shooting bag is very compact. It is lightweight, convenient, practical, and wears like an article of clothing. It contains sufficient ‘possibles’ to supply two guns for almost any frontier contingency.   Were I traveling with Josiah Gregg, this bag would be a regular part of my wardrobe. Then I’d never have to worry about spilling my caps, having the right size balls or being without powder when that “countless host” came whooping down. I still think I’d need to work on the confidence part, though.

Shooting bags by the way, are often referred to as “bullet pouches” in period literature. That can be a little confusing to modern readers. Speaking of period literature, so what ever happened to that Santa Fe caravan and the “countless host” down on the Cimarron in 1831?

Well, it’s in Chapter IV of Commerce of the Prairies. Check it out. It’s a great read!

The Annual Wyoming Trek

Andy and Dave departed this morning for their annual Wyoming rendezvous adventures. Riverton for the 1838 Rendezvous this week and the Green River Rendezvous (Museum of the Mountain Man) in Pinedale next week. After that they have a couple of alternatives for the route home that include stops at various historic places and museums.

I’ll update this post as they update me, and hopefully they remember to take photos.

Bill Willyums His Rifle

By Dave Braun


The antique gun in this photo exhibits the classic lines of a J. Henry halfstock plains rifle from the mid-19th century. Its 31 inch barrel is somewhat shorter than usual for a Henry, but that was the original length. The bore is just over .53 caliber. The wide, trade gun trigger and authentic brass tacks imply a Native American connection. The top barrel flat is stamped “J P Lower Phila “. Perhaps the distributor? The bottom of the barrel is marked “H Leman Lancaster”, indicating that Mr. Henry found it more economical to outsource some of his parts rather than fabricate them in his Boulton, Pennsylvania factory. In all likelihood, this gun is an example of a contract trade rifle used somewhere on the western frontier. That’s all interesting enough, but when we flip the rifle over and install its lock, things get even better.


This classic, percussion period American plains rifle is fitted with a British flint lock! For the sake of brevity, I’ll simply assure you that several experienced collectors have carefully examined this rifle and concluded that the piece is in remarkably pristine condition. The barrel was never fitted with a percussion breech or a drum and nipple. It was never shortened. There is none of the fulminate erosion typically found on old percussion firearms. All evidence indicates that the imported Brandor and Potts flint lock is original to the rifle.

That particular 150 year old lock by the way, functions better than any modern-made flint lock I have ever seen. Each “click” is still sharp, positive and loud enough to spook game. The shower of sparks is almost scary. Over the years that I have owned and demonstrated this rifle, the frizzen has never missed fire. I think the metallurgy, hardening and tempering of the steel must be close to perfect. It’s also impressive that the light, crisp trigger release of this rifle is accomplished without the use of a detent (“fly”) in the mechanism.

So what is a flint lock doing on what would otherwise have been a state of the art percussion period rifle? And what does that imply about the use of flint ignition on other late period styles, Hawken rifles for example? We know that flintlock trade fusees were manufactured late into the 19th century, and this gun can clearly be characterized as a trade rifle. But American rifle makers were innovative, continually striving to surpass one another in style and function. A flint lock on an American half stock plains rifle is definitely a throwback.

I think the mystery might be explained with a scenario something like this. Maybe Mr. Henry had a contract to fill and the specifications weren’t very rigid. Maybe he had a few imported British flint locks laying around the shop and this gave him an opportunity to put the obsolete things to use. It’s certainly cheaper and less time consuming to produce a flint breech as opposed to one of Henry’s signature percussion design, so he saved a couple bucks on a few rifles. That hand full of flint guns found their way into a contract lot of conventional Henry percussion rifles and nobody noticed or even cared. Eventually, the guns were sent west – perhaps via J. P. Lower.

I don’t expect collectors will find many other original, flintlock, halfstock plains rifles out there. I sure wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for somebody to turn up an original flint, half stock Hawken. This flintlock Henry halfstock may very well be one of a kind, or one of very few. That makes it a pretty rare piece.

But the story of this rifle isn’t finished yet. There is still the matter of . . . the inscription.


Between the trigger guard and the toe plate are crudely carved, the words: Bill Willyums His Rifle.

Bill Williams? You mean, THE “Old Bill” Williams, famous mountain man??? That’s sure not the way Old Bill spelled his name. Could it really be? Naw! Could it?

Honestly, I’ve never taken the inscription very seriously. I’ve rather thought it more like vandalism on a cool old rifle. I’ve always imagined some kid, maybe 100 years ago, playing with an old family relic. Maybe he was inspired by a book about American frontiersmen and he just got a little carried away with his pocket knife. Or maybe the piece played a role in some local legend connected to Bill Williams, that probably had no real basis in history. I’ve discounted the possibility of intentional fraud because I didn’t pay enough money for the gun. When I bought the rifle at a Cody gun show years ago, I paid the market price for a generic half stock rifle in good condition. The dealer who sold it to me didn’t seem to even notice the inscription. Why fake something like that and then not try to jack up the price? No, my favorite theory has always been the kid with the pocket knife.

And then . . . Last summer I was re-reading George Ruxton’s novel, Life in the Far West , and it got me thinking. In his final chapter, Ruxton described the scene of Old Bill Williams’ death in 1849.   He specifically mentioned Bill’s rifle being among the personal items that were recovered when Williams’ body was found. Could “Bill Willyums His Rifle” be a period way of identifying the piece as “Bill Williams’ Rifle”, carved into the stock by the semi-literate mountaineer who picked the rifle up?

Though Life in the Far West was a work of fiction, Ruxton made a point of stressing the care he took to preserve the historical accuracy of all the background events depicted in his story. He was attentive to minor details and much of what he wrote has been corroborated by other sources. In general, George Ruxton is recognized as a reliable commentator on the lives and times of the mountain men. That being said, finding Old Bill’s rifle is just the kind of plot element you would expect in a romantic story from the mid-19th century. The detail could easily be just a sentimental embellishment.

It’s impossible to actually prove a historical connection between our flintlock plains rifle and Old Bill Williams the mountain man. Even the circumstantial evidence is awfully thin. Any connection can however be definitively disproven, could it be shown that rifles of that style had not yet appeared in the mountains prior to Williams’ death in 1849.

Just when exactly did J. Henry start producing halfstock plains rifles? My intuition tells me that our rifle was made later, maybe in the mid to late ‘50s – or even a decade after that. It’s hard to tell. My opinion is based on a “feel” for the overall style of the piece and I could very well be wrong. As they say: ”If only this rifle could talk.”

What we know for sure, is that this gun was actually there – somewhere in the West during a truly amazing period in our history. That knowledge makes it a genuine thrill to handle the piece, to speculate about it and to wonder. I would sincerely appreciate the insight of any collector or student of fur trade firearms who might help shed some light on the history of this very interesting antique rifle.

You are cordially invited to inspect, handle, speculate about, psychically channel and/or otherwise play with this rifle yourself, when the Ruxton Museum and Traditional Shooting Palavar comes a rendezvous near you. See you there!



Lauren “Doc” Brown: WWII Soldier Receives Long-Overdue Service Medals

This article was recently printed in our local newspaper – The Bellingham Herald.  I’ve copied it here in it’s entirety.

Doc Brown is the maker of Andy’s Hawken rifle, which he talked about in a previous post:  My Favorite Rifle.  A beautiful flintlock rifle made by Doc is also part of his collection.

Summer 2015 Road Trip: Museum of the Mountain Man

The guys are on the road and having a grand time.

On the way to the 1838 Rendezvous in Riverton, Wyoming, they detoured to Pinedale to visit the Museum of the Mountain Man.  Not only did they visit, they became part of the display.  They will be back tomorrow (Tuesday June 30th) until 2:00ish, when they will depart for Riverton.    (photos borrowed from the Museum of the Mountain Man Facebook page)

So Exactly What Do We Mean By “Traditional”? Part II


I realize that everything I am about to say is open to debate and that there are exceptions to every generalization. I’m not going to document everything I say. I’m sure Andy would love to engage in that conversation with anyone who wishes to site opposing sources. He, after all is the company historian. I’m just going to tell you that I’ve been doing this stuff for a while and my experience has convinced me that the following generalizations apply fairly well.


Generally speaking, the frontiersman’s rifle was longer than the typical off-the-shelf replicas available today. The period of the old rifle really doesn’t matter that much. Old muzzleloaders usually had barrel lengths between 36 and 44 inches with 40” being just about right. I certainly have seen original short barreled Hawkens and other short half stocked rifles but generally speaking, even they have longer and heavier barrels than, say, a Thompson Center. At first, original rifles feel awkward and barrel heavy to shooters accustomed to modern firearms. Learning how to carry and maneuver a rifle with authentic weight and balance takes some practice. Modern custom builders are usually pretty good about getting the barrel lengths right.

Two original iron mounted southern guns exhibiting the classic proportions of the American longrifle

Two original iron mounted southern guns exhibiting the classic proportions of the American longrifle


Sights on old rifles were aggravatingly low and heat mirage was a constant problem. I don’t understand why early shooters tolerated this defect or how they effectively compensated for it but very low sights were in vogue from the flintlock period to the late 1800s. By low, I mean not much higher than a shotgun bead. A ¼ inch tall front sight blade is too high for virtually any frontier period civilian rifle. The most common mistake made by modern custom builders is having sights that are too high. Tall sights detract from the overall grace and geometry of a rifle. Undoubtedly they provide for more accurate shooting, but they are not authentic.

Muzzle ends of six original rifles showing low profile front sight blades

Muzzle ends of six original rifles showing low profile front sight blades

Neither are adjustable sights. There are a few exceptions, but generally, old muzzle loaders had fixed sights. Covered sights and adjustable tang peep sights did exist and evidence for them is found surprisingly often on old guns. I am also surprised by the number of original rifles I have personally handled that had ivory or bone front sight blades for better visibility. But again, these sight blades were generally very low.

Ivory front sight blades on two original rifles

Ivory front sight blades on two original rifles

Keep in mind that a modern Winchester adjustable elevation rear sight or Lyman peep sight may have been installed on an original muzzle loader for later period shooting. Such sights are authentic for the early 20th century but not for the frontier period.


Ramrods sure weren’t made out of fiberglass. Oh, I’ve heard all the horror stories about how a wooden ramrod’s gonna break off and impale your hand with the ragged, splintery end. Heard the stories, never seen it happen. I’m sure it did, but I’ve never seen that in forty years of shooting old guns. I broke a ramrod – once. Just about every buckskinner I know has broken a ramrod – once.

If you’re regularly breaking wooden ramrods and need one made of fiberglass, then there’s something wrong with the way you load. Usually shooters break ramrods because they grip the rod too far from the muzzle. Push the ball down with short strokes, no more than eight inches at a time.

About half of my old rifles still have their original ramrods (though some may be period replacements). There certainly are references in the literature to plainsmen cutting hickory for replacement ramrods. That sounds like a very prudent thing to do. But I have yet to read a primary source account of a ramrod breaking at a critical moment, causing the shooter to be injured, scalped or eaten by a bear. A reliable ramrod was an essential element in making the rifle work. If wooden ramrods were dangerous or unreliable, somehow I don’t think the West would ever have been won. And when Osborne Russell was shooting it out with the Blackfeet in Pierre’s Hole, I really don’t think he had a “range rod”. He loaded and cleaned with the rod that hung under his rifle.

Original ramrod tips and cleaning jags

Original ramrod tips and cleaning jags

On the subject of cleaning. I have never seen an old rifle with a cleaning jag mounted on the forward end of the original ramrod. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a period version of the type of cleaning jag commonly seen on ramrods today. All the period cleaning devices I’ve ever seen have taken the form of iron worms or screws that threaded into a metal piece on the lower end of the rod – hidden inside the stock, not out in front. The only exceptions would be a couple carved wooden cleaning ends I have seen on southern ramrods.

Generally, though not always, original ramrods tended to be tapered. Only occasionally have I seen period rifles with straight sticks for ramrods.

Vent Liners:

Vent liners were high end items rarely seen on American flintlocks. They are more common on European guns, particularly fowlers. They were generally made from rare metals and never had screwdriver slots. Stainless steel was not available in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Installing a vent liner is a correct period repair for a flintlock touch hole that has eroded and become too large. The liner should be filed flush with the barrel and hard to see.


Style is the real issue. Just what did period rifles actually look like? I’d recommend reading classic longrifle historians like Kindig, Shumway, Cline, Bivins, Kauffman, Hanson and Baird. Visit museums. Handle as many originals as you can.

When you start looking at a lot of old guns, you’ll find that they don’t often fit into neat, stylistic categories. High end museums, and pretty picture books tend to show off their finest specimens, not necessarily what was typical during the period. I strongly recommend visiting small town museums and county historical societies to see examples of “working guns” that were passed down through the generations. They may not be as fancy. They’re probably in a bit rougher state of preservation. But I think they give us a better feeling for the kinds of firearms that were actually carried by the frontiersmen and pioneers. Interestingly, most of what survives seem to be shotguns!

I believe there is an unintentional but self-perpetuating dynamic between modern gun makers and black powder shooters that tends to lead us away from our traditional roots.

Gun makers are after all, artists. They are also in business to sell their work. They have a personal vision to express and they want to create unique pieces that will stand out and attract buyers. Buyers in the market for custom made guns are looking for something special that they can be proud of and pass on. They’re also looking for something that evokes their personal romanticized conception of history. Over time, guns and accouterments evolve based on what sells, rather than what is historically accurate.

Occasionally, somebody stumbles upon a design or feature that really sells. It spreads through the traditional shooting community like a wildfire and eventually becomes so ubiquitous that it is accepted as authentic.   Sheath knives with real or simulated Damascus steel blades, decorative scallops and piercings and curly maple handles look really cool! They can be found in abundance at any rendezvous or black powder gun show. But knives of that sort never really existed during the frontier period.

We all struggle with our late 20th and 21st century sense of aesthetics when we try to replicate something that was made in the seventeen or eighteen hundreds. A few years ago, I was trying to replicate an authentic Bedford style rifle. I simply couldn’t find it within myself to correctly engrave a federal eagle for the cheek piece inlay. Try as I might, I couldn’t capture the “primitive” quality of an authentic design. I was always overdoing it, trying to show off my amateur engraving skills. I never succeeded. Luckily, about a year later I stumbled upon an original federal eagle inlay. I inlayed the period eagle into my Bedford replica. That was the only way I could finally get it right – and save a gorgeous original inlay.

A different federal eagle inlay on an original incised carved rifle made without a cheek rest.

A different federal eagle inlay on an original incised carved rifle made without a cheek rest.

Omitting the cheek rest is the only accommodation I have ever personally seen in original rifles to aid left handed shooters. I have never seen a period “left handed” rifle, though I will not deny the possibility that a very small number may have been made.

I think we’re all in danger of erring in the direction of over embellishment. It’s easy to overwork our stuff. It’s understandable. We all want to be proud of our work and show off our craftsmanship. But a laser perfect Kentucky rifle just doesn’t look right. Maybe we should use more authentic tools. Maybe we all just need to study more and keep practicing. We may never achieve perfect authenticity because, after all, guys like John Phillip Beck lived in another time. But we can have a lot of fun and, if we are careful, create work that looks pretty close to authentic. By the way, one of my personally most inspirational moments came when I had a chance to actually examine an original J.P. Beck rifle and see that the old master made some of the same mistakes I do!

My hat goes off to anyone seriously trying to create authentic, historical guns and gear. Best wishes to you! I’d love to see and learn from your work.

Respectfully Submitted,