Hawken Rifle Owned by Teddy Roosevelt, Kit Carson Up for Auction

by Braxton Taylor

When Teddy Roosevelt famously advised foreign policy wonks to “speak softly and carry a big stick,” he may have been thinking of this rifle.

This giant, .70-caliber Hawken rifle was not only owned by the president who founded the Boone & Crockett Club, hunted for the Smithsonian, and launched the modern conservation movement. It was also, according to the Roosevelt family, owned by none other than Kit Carson.

“We hear all kinds of family stories of how some particular item may have made its way into the family or who owned it previously,” observed Rick Henley, Executive Director of Acquisitions for the Rock Island Auction Company. “However, the documentation that ties this massive Hawken rifle, which is exceptionally historic in and of itself, to Teddy and the Boone and Crockett Club, along with the Roosevelt family tradition of having come from Kit Carson himself, puts this on a whole other level of interesting history.”

Now, some lucky sonofagun is going to pick up the ultimate safe queen at a Rock Island Auction Company (RIA) auction in Fort Worth later this year. RIA experts estimate the rifle will fetch between $55,000 and $85,000. If you’ve been saving up for a new truck, you may suddenly decide that your old beater can survive a few more years.

A Buffalo Killer

Hawken rifles were the weapon of choice for American mountain men in the mid-to-late 19th century. While this rifle is no doubt a Hawken (the browned barrel is cleanly marked with the “S. HAWKEN ST. LOUIS”), and it shares many features with other Hawkens of the time (percussion cap firing system, iron furniture, double triggers, etc.), its distinctive features make it a valuable collector’s item even apart from its famous owners.

First, it is unusually large. Rock Island says it clocks in at 19 lbs. 3.3 oz., nearly twice as heavy as a standard Hawken rifle. Much of that extra weight is due to the barrel. While a standard Hawken was fitted with a .54-caliber barrel, this one could fire .70-caliber projectiles.

Such a large rifle was likely meant for highly accurate shooting from a rest, but the caliber is not typical of target rifles during this time period. Rock Island experts believe that instead of shooting at paper from a bench, this Hawken was likely shot from a pair of cross-sticks at targets where “stopping power was a primary concern.”

The rifle’s sighting and barrel attachment systems are also unique. The peep sight is adjustable and fitted to an integral base on the upper tang, which suggests that it was meant for firing at long-range targets.

In addition, rather than barrel wedges like a normal-sized Hawken rifle, the heavy barrel is secured via a screw passing through a winged iron washer in the bottom of the forend.

Other features of the rifle include:

  • The muzzle is cut round for using a bullet starter
  • The barrel features seven-groove rifling
  • Traditional dovetailed blade and U-notch sights
  • Adjustable double-set triggers
  • Iron furniture featuring distinctive finials on the trigger guard and toe plate.
  • Walnut buttstock with a pewter forend cap, checkered wrist, and shadowline cheekpiece

hawken triggers

Carson, Roosevelt, Boone & Crockett

How do we know this was one of Teddy’s rifles? That’s largely thanks to the writings of gun historian, R.L. Wilson.

In Wilson’s 1971 book, “Theodore Roosevelt: Outdoorsman,” he describes this rifle as being a part of the Theodore Roosevelt Collection and Gun Room at Sagamore Hill. Sagamore Hill is the name of Roosevelt’s home, which he built in the 1880s on the north shore of Long Island, New York.

Roosevelt donated the rifle to the Boone & Crockett Club Collection, where it remained until 1972 when Boone & Crockett sold it along with 29 additional Roosevelt firearms. The owner remained anonymous, but it appeared at a public auction in 1981. It was sold by Christie’s (another auction house), and the item was headlined “A Historic American Heavyweight Target or Hunting Rifle.” In that auction, the provenance was listed as “The Theodore Roosevelt gun room, Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, Long Island. According to the Roosevelt family tradition the rifle belonged to Kit Carson.”

It was sold to a private individual and has not appeared in a public auction since.

The evidence for the gun’s connection to Carson is slightly more tenuous but still robust. Carson died when Roosevelt was still a boy, but Teddy is known to have admired the mountain man and idolized the rugged western lifestyle. In another of Wilson’s books, “The Peacemakers: Arms and Adventure in the American West,” the historian describes the rifle as being “from the collection of Theodore Roosevelt, the rifle was Kit Carson’s.”

What’s more, RIA reports that on July 23, 1907, Roosevelt wrote a letter to George Bird Grinnell, the anthropologist and historian who co-founded the Boone & Crockett Club. In the letter, Roosevelt mentions that he had been given the rifle by a Navy veteran named Edward Fitzgerald “Nate” Beale. Beale had fought with Carson in the Mexican-American war, and he told Roosevelt that he had personally seen Carson firing the large Hawken rifle.

hawken gun auction

Place Your Bid

If you’re interested in owning a shooting iron used by two of America’s most famous outdoorsmen, you can place a bid online on the rifle’s auction page by May 18, 2024. You can also see the gun in person on the day of the auction by visiting RIA’s new facility located in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex at 3600 Harwood Rd., Bedford, TX.

hawken gun for sale

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