Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 111: Seth Kinman Mountain Man Rifle

Auction Date: November 30, 2018

Historic Documented Southern Style Percussion Long Rifle "From the Cotton Bails at New Orleans" Inscribed Once Owned by Famed 19th Century Hunter, Pioneer, and Mountain Man Seth Kinman

Estimated Price: $20,000 - $40,000

Historic Documented Southern Style Percussion Long Rifle "From the Cotton Bails at New Orleans" Inscribed Once Owned by Famed 19th Century Hunter, Pioneer, and Mountain Man Seth Kinman

Manufacturer: Kentucky
Model: Percussion
Type: Rifle
Gauge: 68
Barrel: 47 1/2 inch octagon
Finish: brown
Stock: hardwood
Item Views: 6848
Item Interest: Average
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 72
Class: Antique

The nearly four foot long swamped octagon barrel of this massive rifle has a bone blade front sight and traditional winged notch rear sight and is marked "Seth Kinman Old C[otton] B[ale]" (bracketed areas illegible) on the long barrel tang which extends back nearly to the buttplate, "Gave Many an Englishman the Belly ake(sic)" (lower right flat) and "From off the Cotton Bails(sic) at New Orleans" (upper flat) and "Jan. the 8 1815 Old Kentuck" on the left flat. The furniture is all iron. The spurred trigger guard encloses double set triggers. The current lock and the iron butt and toe plates appear to have been added to the rifle later in Kinman's life post-1876 based on photographs. According to Seth Kinman's (1815-1888) own tall tales, his rifle was used by a Kentucky rifleman under the command of General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans the year he was born to kill British General Edward Pakenham. The general in reality is recorded as having been killed by grape shot from the American cannons though he may have been injured by gunfire. According to Kinman's account, his father purchased the rifle in 1831 from a man named Bridges from Kentucky who told him the tale of his own father using it at New Orleans. Kinman inherited the rifle when his father died 1839 and used it the rest of his life. He said the rifle was originally stocked in walnut but the original stock was damaged by a grizzly that chased him up a tree, and he subsequently restocked it himself. He reportedly crossed through the Rocky Mountains multiple times on foot with this rifle. His rifle, which he also called Old Cotton Blossum, is shown in many of the photographs of Kinman from the 1860s into the 1870s. Close examination of the photographs shows the stock being steadily modified over the years as it was damaged. It was also originally flintlock but was converted to percussion by the time it appeared in photographs. The current length of the forend can be seen in the photograph of him with then presidential candidate and Ohio Governor Rutherford B. Hayes in September 1876. The buttplate, toe plate, and current lock plate were apparently added late, reportedly by Kinman in the period of use. The original lock is clearly roughly fit in a damaged lock mortise in many of the period photographs, and a new lock was likely fitted late in his life to help keep the gun in one piece and/or functioning. Also included with the rifle is a copy of "Seth Kinman's Manuscript and Scrapbook," "I'm a Gonna Tell Ya a Yarn," a framed display on Kinman including a photograph of him holding the rifle, and copies of articles and other texts relating to Kinman's life. Among those is the article "The Last of the Mountain Men and His Remarkable Rifle" by Dr. Alan W. Maki in the April 2018 issue of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association's "Muzzle Blasts" magazine which details Kinman's life and his rifle and also includes photographs both from the period and present showing the rifle. The "They just don' make testosterone the way they used to" quote attributed to Kinman and displayed on the framed poster and in the article can't be correct since hormones weren't understood at the time and the term testosterone was not coined until 1935. Kinman was born in Union County, Pennsylvania, but moved with his family to Illinois in 1830. His father reportedly served alongside future president Abraham Lincoln during the Black Hawk War in 1832. In 1849, he went to California to join the Gold Rush. His wife and two of their sons died in the winter of 1852-1853 back in Illinois while he was exploring Northern California. That same year, he first started making a living supplying meat to the U.S. soldiers at Ft. Humbolt in Northern California and also supplied meat to others in the region. He is also known to have helped exterminate all of the grizzlies in the county by 1868. He also claims and was reported to have killed a number of Native Americans in California and may have been part of the brutal 1860 Wiyot massacre in Humboldt County. He had gained his first fame for the chair he presented to President Buchanan in 1857 after which he reportedly received an appointment to remove Native Americans on the West Coast for $1,300 a year per the Rock Island, Illinois, Daily Argus on June 12, 1857, via the New York Times, and Kinman capitalized on the publicity. Starting in 1861, decades before William "Buffalo Bill" Cody and other's capitalized on the romanticization of the West, Kinman was already selling chairs, photographs of himself, and other items, including scalps; playing his fiddles, telling tales, and putting on exhibitions to make a profit. He also opened up a museum to contain his artifacts. Dr. Maki indicates the rifle was hung in the museum until the museum was sold by the Kinman family in 1893 and then remained in the family for several generations until he purchased it from Kinman's great-great granddaughter. He presented additional elk antler or grizzly bear chairs to Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Rutherford Hayes as well as Vice-President William A. Wheeler. He cultivated a friendship with President Lincoln whom he claimed to have known since he was a boy living in Illinois. A drawing of Lincoln holding Kinman's rifle while accepting the gift of Kinman's chair on November 26, 1864, was sketched by Alfred Waud. Kinman reportedly spoke with Lincoln the day before his assassination and witnessed the attack at Ford's Theater. He was also part of two or more of Lincoln's funeral processions and gathered attention for his distinctive attire and rifle. Per the New York Times, "Much attention was attracted to Mr. Kinman, who walked in a full hunting suit of buckskin and fur, rifle on shoulder. Mr. Kinman, it will be remembered, presented to Mr. Lincoln some time ago a chair made of California elk-horn, and continuing his acquaintance with him, it is said, enjoyed quite a long conversation with him the very day before the murder." The Times also referred to him as the "Pacific Coast Nimrod" in recognition for his career as a hunter. That same article notes that he claimed to have killed over 800 grizzlies in his lifetime and as many as 50 elk in a single month. While in the East, he had many of the famous portraits of him and his chairs taken by Mathew Brady's famous studio. Despite his disheveled appearance and tattered animal skin clothes, he was actually quite a successful businessman, and he and his family owned a hotel and saloon later in his life and at one time had a farm and herd of cattle. He died as a result of complications from a self-inflicted accidental gunshot wound to the leg and subsequent amputation in 1888.

Rating Definition:

Fair overall (as is appropriate for this historic rifle) with dark brown patina and moderate pitting and oxidation on the iron throughout, various cracks and repairs along the stock including a large splice at the toe and spliced around the barrel tang, and various scrapes, dents, and wear spots. Mechanically fine (set trigger first). As Dr. Maki notes in the Muzzle Blast article, "It isn't often that we can document a piece of history going back over 170 years with photographic evidence, but in the case of this particular long rifle we have a considerable amount of information doing just that. Seth Kinman was arguably one of our last true mountain men. . ." This rifle is a wonderful representation of the rough and tumble character Kinman both was and portrayed.

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