Howard Delo

Most of us are continuing to shelter in place. About all my wife and I go out for is a daily or every other day trip to the local post office and a grocery/prescription shopping excursion about once a week. I don’t stay any longer than necessary at either stop. This change in routine isn’t really that big a change for us, minus my usual socializing, so life goes on as normal.

I have a reasonably good library of books I’ve accumulated over the years. Almost all the books are related to guns, hunting, shooting, wildlife life cycles, college textbooks, and a small collection of historical works focusing on these same topics. Since we are spending more time in the house nowadays, I’ve started reviewing some of the information I have on muzzleloaders and black powder cartridge firearms.

A lot of these books fall more into the category of reference rather than “easy reading,” but if you have an interest in the topic, they contain a lot of interesting information. Here’s a small selection of books you might enjoy.

Firearms of the American West: 1803-1865 and a second volume covering 1866-1894 (same title, different dates) by Louis A. Garavaglia and Charles G. Worman was published by University of New Mexico Press in 1984 and 1985, respectively. This hardcover set goes into significant detail about the firearms available, both muzzleloading and blackpowder cartridge, that were used by the people pushing the American frontier westward during the periods discussed. Each book is several hundred pages with extensive photographs supporting the text.

Some classic references to specific frontier-era firearms include: Sharps Firearms by Frank Sellers, copyrighted in 1978, and two books by John D. Baird. The first is: Hawken Rifles: The Mountain Man’s Choice, first published in 1968 and Fifteen Years in the Hawken Lode, first published in 1971.

Seller’s work on the Sharps rifle is generally considered to be the best reference source available for that make of gun. Baird’s two books were some of the earlier works discussing the Hawken rifle and how it developed, style-wise, over the course of its history. These are primarily reference books but do contain a lot of interesting reading.

Modern author and blackpowder expert, Mike Venturino, has publisher three different books providing information on firearm types and loading data for blackpowder cartridge rifles and handguns. The first, published in 1997, is titled: Shooting Sixguns of the Old West. The second: Shooting Lever Guns of the Old West, was published in 1999. The third: Shooting Buffalo Rifles of the Old West, was published in 2002.

All three books contain information on the various models of firearms being discussed, some history, calibers available in each model, and some blackpowder loading data for the specific calibers. In their relatively short span of availability, all three books have come to be considered important references regarding these firearms in period history.

Another classic about the mountain man era is: Firearms, Traps, and Tools of the Mountain Men: A Guide to the Equipment of the Trappers and Fur Traders Who Opened the Old West, by Carl P. Russell. This book was originally copyrighted in 1966, but work on it began back in 1930 to 1934. My copy is a softcover version copyrighted and reprinted in 2011.

This book contains extensive information on the firearms and tools of the mountain man era. Stuff about knife styles, traps, axes, and other tools used at that time is here. There is a lot of original source information including fur company inventory listings, etc. Another classic chronicling the mountain man/beaver trapping period was written by Mari Sandoz in 1964 and titled: The Beaver Men. It was published by University of Nebraska Press.

This book primarily discusses the everyday lifestyle these explorers led while pursuing fur and evading the American Indian tribes who, generally, didn’t like having these trespassers hunting their game, trapping their furs, and, ultimately, paving the was for more white settlers taking their lands.

Sandoz wrote a second book about the next step in the conquering of the west, namely the elimination of the vast herds of bison roaming the American Plains. This book, The Buffalo Hunters, was also published by University of Nebraska Press and was copyrighted in 1954. This book details the life of a buffalo hunter in dealing with storms, prairie fires, Indians, cattlemen, the coming of the railroads to the west, and other situations.

You may be able to find some of these books on Amazon or eBay since the local bookstores and libraries are temporarily closed.

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