There is a tremendous amount of supposition and some outright misinformation involved in early St Louis Hawken rifles.
This might rank as the same but somethings need to be considered before jumping to the conclusion that there were no Hawken rifles involved in the 1820s fur trade.
1. Jake was a skilled gunmaker and partnered with another gunsmith shortly after his arrival is St Louis. So the argument that he did not set up shop right away does not wash. He apparently went right to work in the trade.
2. Sam was a skilled gunmaker who had a business in Ohio when he moved to St Louis. By this time Jakes partner had died.
I would submit that maybe business was slow in Xenia and Jake wrote or visited and said St Louis is BOOMING. Otherwise why would Sam move? So he could dig ditches in St Louis? Doubtful. They were doing gun work, not street cleaning. Thinking 2 men of Jake and Sam's experience could find not gun work to do at the very hub of western expansion at the time is simply silly.
3. Both these events took place before the percussion system was all that popular, a decade before perhaps, since it was something less that reliable initially and once this gets around its not going to be popular with people going into what was extremely dangerous territory until well proven.
4. The fur companies ordered flint guns to the exclusion of all else, or very nearly so, till the end of the beaver trade. So the flintlock did not simply vanish with the development of the percussion cap.
5. Again. Until well developed apparently nobody was really enthused with the percussion system. In the first place finding caps in inventory in the fur company lists is difficult till near the end of the Rendezvous era. So how did some free trapper who did not return to St Louis get caps? Travel to Ft Hall perhaps?
Did they somehow not get written down? If so what else was available at rendezvous, for example, that didn’t get on the list?
George points out in "English Guns and Rifles" that while the English fowling piece switched to percussion virtually overnight the rifles lagged and the flint ignition rifle hung on longer. It is possible the early percussion caps were not consistent enough to give good accuracy (?).
So there HAD to be flint rifles made by the Hawkens in St Louis probably into the mid 1830s at least, there is a late FS Hawken rifle in the Smithsonian that was originally flint. A good flint gun is very reliable if properly cared for, the percussion has little advantage here. The idea that the early production in St Louis was anything *but* flint is simply unreasonable. They likely made more flints than percussions for some period of time. But we will never know when flints became less common than percussion.
The question of course is what did the rifles look like.
Initially they were surely Kentuckys.
But the scroll guard appeared on rifles in England in the late 18th century and the rifles likely appeared in St Louis in the 1820s if not before perhaps even in percussion by the late 1820s. The Petersen rifle would date to early in the J&S partnership, it might be a 1820s percussion Plains Rifle.
George has a photo of a 6 bore rifle that from the lock forward is a ringer for a J&S or S Hawken 1/2 stock though a little large. The book is buried someplace or I would cite the page. IIRC there is a FS stock rifle English with a wooden patch box with a scroll guard on the same plate.
If someone wants to see a good example of a Hawken prototype rifle see the flintlock Tatham Indian rifles in Bailey's "British Military Flintlock Rifles". Add a Americanized buttstock and a different forend cap (this rifle is somewhat atypical in this regard) and you have a 1/2 stock Hawken Plains rifle. This rifle style dates to at least the 1810s or 18teens in England and probably earlier, the Tatham's date to 1814-15. The lower grade Tatham’s were FS. So there is no reason to assume the 1/2 stock "Plains Rifle" was percussion like the Modena rifle or the Petersen rifle. They could EASILY have been making Americanized English rifles (i.e. full blown Plains rifles) in flint and percussion by mid-late 1820s. The evolution from the American Kentucky to the 1/2 stock "Plains Rifle" could have taken place over the course of a week, or a day. Not 10-15 years.
The Hawkens took what they saw as a very efficient design, they added pretty early a long tang and a long trigger bar (horses are notoriously hard on guns) and a crescent buttplate. Take an 1800-1820s English rifle add a crescent butt stock. Poof! Hawken Plains Rifle. Some Hawken Plains rifles have single triggers.
A few more things. The Fur Companies did not buy high end guns. But INDIVIDUALS DID. See Ashleys large bore rifle was a .68-69 caliber, apparently a Hawken. Why would someone of Ashley's position buy a Hawken rifle? Probably because they were very GOOD quality . He could afford anything he wanted. He bought a HAWKEN. SO they were not some unknown entity.
Why would he want a large bore rifle? Because you could kill anyone within 200+ yards of a keel boat with it (remember the "problem" with the Arikaras in 1823?
The fully evolved Hawken, circa the early 1830s(?) was the best rifle for use on plains. It was far stronger than Henry and Leman offerings or the English rifles it sprang from. But it was too expensive for the fur companies for sell large scale and the production was less than Henry could crank out for obvious reasons.
It is ENTIRELY possible that there are percussion Hawken rifles, full blown “Rocky Mountain” rifles full or 1/2 stocked that were originally flintlock. Rebarrel or shorten at the breech enough to install a patent breech, replace the well worn flintlock with a new percussion lock and there is a percussion Hawken. No front lock screw? So what? Not all flintlocks have 2 and in a rifle made with a large loading rod 7/16” to ½” they are a real PITA. So why put one in?
Yeah lots of supposition. But its not as ridiculous as assuming a gunsmith of Jake's ability was digging ditches in St Louis for a few years "since we have no proof he was doing gun work" (aside from being partnered with another gunsmith before Sam's arrival).
There is a lot of propaganda involved Jake and Sam's activities in St Louis early on. Like ALL gunsmiths they likely did a LOT of repair and odd work. But they were still experienced and skilled gun makers on arrival.
Flint guns were the norm in the west probably till near 1840. This indicates that they HAD to make some flint guns. We KNOW they could still get FL parts into the 1840s/50s from a surviving rifle. Yet there are people who have fabricated/changed information information to “prove” that Jake and Sam never made flintlocks.
So I can’t see why someone could not have a flintlock Hawken rifle similar to the Petersen rifle or the second FS rifle in Baird’s “Hawken Rifles” circa late 1820s.
There is, or seems to be, a faction who take great delight in trying to prove the Hawken’s never made guns for the early fur trade. But they were there, they were gunsmiths, Ashley apparently had one. So they had to have SOME reputation by that time. Were they as common as the JJ Henry, no, its not possible, its like comparing todays custom guns with a TC. But compared to the Hawken the Henry was a throw away. It was meant to be a low cost trade item that was still a sound gun.
The trappers who did not drink all their profits up actually made pretty good money. They were the oil field workers of their time. A good rifle was a bragging point.
George Drouillard , L&Cs “Drewyer”, even owned a servant valued at $400 when he was killed, so he apparently was not poor.
IMO thinking a trapper could not manage to own a $30-$50 rifle is silly. Besides a rifle was an essential item. It was not an option or something to be lightly considered.
Just because nobody wrote about them by name is no proof they were not there. How many mentions of JJ Henry rifles, by name, do we see in old journals?