Let's put it this wayJune 15 2012 at 1:12 PM
RedFeather (Login RedFeather)
Response to I've been away for a while . . .
Out of the entire expedition's equipage, the only thing that seems to have miraculously survived is this air rifle which has no solid provenance. From what I understand, there is no exact description in the expedition's journals or, at least, one sufficient enough to positively identify this gun from among several similar air guns of the period.
Beeman puts a lot of credence in coincidence. For example, he cites his gun's repaired lock as final proof positive. While the mainspring from the Beeman gun does seem to tie in to an account of a repair to the expedition's gun, it is pure conjecture on Beeman's part. Is his spring even the result of a repair? Beeman asserts that the spring came from a farmer's file due to some faint cross-hatchings that appear to be a tooth pattern. I'm not sure if a file from that time period would serve in a metallurgical sense. Would it have the temper and flexibility to be used as a spring? I do know that 'smiths often fashioned knives from files. A knife blade might have been a more readily available, not to mention dispensable, source. (Files didn't grow on trees but everyone had a knife and there were probably some to spare.) At any rate, there is no evidence as to when or where Beeman's spring was made, be it on the journey or in some shop on either continent.
I just skimmed Beeman's "New Evidence on the Lewis and Clark Air Rifle an Assault Rifle of 1803". He makes a good many assumptions. For example, he cites a repair to his gun attributed to damage rendered when a canoe ferrying the expedition's gun was swamped. All that is mentioned in the journals is that the gun was put out of order and the sights knocked. Any gun with sights so misaligned would have been called that. He also disputes an eye witness account of the gun being demonstrated, calling the author's credibility into question, thereby eliminating contradictory testimony. A historian would have to include that information, if only as a qualifier.
What is most troubling about the article is its attempts to strengthen Beeman's argument. There are even pictures of stock decorations with the accompanying captions -
(Describing several little flourishes carved on either side of a crudely inletted brass decoration, etc.)
"Underside of the forearm of the Beeman Girandoni, showing the carved "lightning bolt" lines which may have been added during the Lewis & Clark expedition. Cowan reports that Indian experts indicate that such marks very likely were made to increase the powerful magic effect of the airgun to the Indians."
That's reading a whole LOT into what is, frankly, six short wiggly lines, not at all the traditional zig-zags used in many cultures to symbolize lightening.
(Here we have another example, this time a braided line pattern.)
"Middle underside of forearm of Beeman Girandoni, showing "string of beads" carving of unknown significance. The "lightning bolt" and "string of bead" lines shown in the above two figures are not found on other known specimens of the Girandoni military repeating air rifles. Note, especially in places like the bottom of the carved loop and the defect in the "string of beads" shown in Fig. 19 above, and the tiny gouge marks around the lower left lightning bolt in Fig. 19, that these extra decoration marks clearly were not made by a master gunstock worker with fine stock carving tools, but rather they are the nature of carving that one would expect from someone very good with a very sharp, ordinary field knife - as on a wilderness expedition.
Even these special carvings have been very carefully copied by Ernie Cowan onto the four museum copies of the Beeman Girandoni."
One must, upon examination, agree with Beeman that these embellishments were not the work of a professional wood carver. Especially not the work of one who was "very good with a very sharp, ordinary field knife"! In fact, they are typical of folk art and can be found on any number of guns from the period. They appear, to my eye, to be the usual amateurish attempts at personalizing or decorating guns, usually performed at some later point in time when a gun has lost much of its original value and is in the hands of a subsequent owner. The interpretations by Native American "experts" smack mightily of finding reasons to support a conclusion. ("Tell me the answer and I will create the explanation.") Actually, in this respect, his article reminded me of Eric von Daniken's Chariot of the Gods.
The upshot of all this is that Beeman's gun might have been the one taken with L&C and that's about all you can truthfully and unequivocally say. Within the small community which has digested and regurgitated his claims and "proofs", it might pass muster but, if this were, say, the helmet of Alexander the Great or the Holy Grail, the majority of his assertions would never be accepted.
Here's a question - Has he ever had the wood carbon-dated to see how old the gun is? Some place used to offer this service to owners of antique firearms. At least it would rule out a later copy, etc.