By Joel Hannahs | November 14 2010 11:31

A rare Hawken rifle is joining a display at the NRA's National Firearms Museum. Inside the The Prospering New Republic gallery, the rifle will find it's place inside the case that depicts a scene in the Hawken family's famed frontier gunshop.

Even among these galleries of historic firearms, this new addition stands out. The gun is a family heirloom dating back generations to when it was purchased by Florenz Dieckmann from the Hawken gunmakers in 1850s St. Louis.

Museum Director Jim Supica, David Dieckmann, and Senior Curator Doug Wicklund.
Jim Supica, David Dieckmann, and Doug Wicklund.
Dieckmann went on to fight in the Civil War for the Union forces, and lived in Union, Missouri. The gun was passed down from father to son, time and again, all the way to his great-great-grandson David Dieckmann.

Dieckmann, staying close to his roots, still lives in the same region of the country in Kansas. He decided the historic piece should be shared with the public, and entrusted that responsibility to the National Firearms Museum.

"We tell the story of Americans and their guns," said Senior Museum Curator Doug Wicklund. "This particular firearms is special. It's special because we know where the gun has been all along. We can tie it in to a specific moment in time."

An engraving on the top of the barrel is still clearly visible: "S. Hawken St. Louis." It marks the gun as made personally by Sam Hawken, instead of William or Jake Hawken. Just the third Hawken firearm ever donated to the Museum, it adds a sweeping new element to the Hawken display. Until now, the display had focused on the big booming guns that were sent West to bring down elk and buffalo and bear. This new firearm is a slim .38 caliber. While in beautiful condition, it shows the expected wear-and-tear of a favorite everyday tool that was used constantly. That's why David's great-grandfather called it his "turkey gun," although it no doubt brought in its share of deer and antelope. It tells the story of the frontier Midwest.

Frontier St. Louis was filled with gunmakers, and there were more affordable guns available than the Hawken, but the Hawken family's products were well-known by reputation. This was a gun chosen for it's quality. Another sign of it's favorite status is the one upgrade the original owner made. He set aside the wooden ramrod that would have came with the gun, and replaced it with his best steel ramrod, quite probably from a Civil War gun.

"This was one of the all-around guns that won the West. It would've put a lot of meat on the table day to day," Wicklund said. "These were the essential tools to Manifest Destiny."

The gun weighs seven-and-a-half to eight pounds. The stock was initially blackened, but the gun's constant use wore much of the black away to reveal the wood. The sight is set for some 75-100 yards, while the double set triggers allow for a very light squeeze at firing for greater accuracy.

The Hawken display is being updated to better tell this additional story of mid-American frontier culture, and Sam Hawken's enduring work more than a century-and-a-half ago will soon be at home there for you to see.

Pictured: From left, Museum Director Jim Supica, David Dieckmann, and Senior Curator Doug Wicklund.

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