One of the things that we have always debated among the reenactors, is what type of musket or rifle would the Seminoles have had during the 2nd Seminole War?
What we would call a trade musket or Indian rifle varies widely over time. So we will concentrate on what they might have had during the 2nd Seminole War.
In the American State Papers, Indian Affairs, it lists the gifts for the Seminoles given out at the Treaty of Paynes Landing in 1832. You can find this list after the gifts for the Choctaw Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. Congress usually lumps all the expenditures together.
The expenditures for the Treaty of Panes Landing, in north central Florida, lists “2200 Deringer Rifles.”
As typical in history, the government armed the whole Seminole nation before they decided to go to war with them. With a Seminole population estimated around 5000 at the time, that would cover all the warriors.
So what is a Deringer rifle?
Before the War of 1812, the government would gift rifles to Indians in treaties. This would continue until 1871. At the time, parts were ordered from Britain; especially lock mechanisms. But due to supplies embargoed during the War of 1812, the government ran out of supply. Henry Deringer, Sr., was approached to make a rifle just as good as the previous British trade rifle. Deringer had been successful making what everyone called Kentucky rifles.
So the government wanted Deringer to make something exactly like what the British traded to the Indians, because that was the weapon of choice that the Native nations wanted in trade. He did exactly that, and the government came back and said they were too superior quality and too expansive. So, he went back and tried again.
Henry Deringer, Jr., carried on the work of his father, and obtained a contract to manufacture trade rifles for the government. From 1815 onward, father and son Deringer would supply tens of thousands of trade rifles to the U.S. government under contract, until about 1840.
Two examples of these rifles can be seen in full color, in the book, “For Trade and Treaty, Firearms of the American Indians, 1600-1920,” by Ryan R. Gale. The pictures are so large that it is impossible to get it all on the scanner. So I will only show you a portion. But I enjoyed it so much that I got my own copy of the book. The tiny reprints here do not to justice to the full color, double page photos.
Both these rifles are conversion to percussion firing. Deringer would take the flint lock mechanisms and convert them to percussion. Some of the conversions are what we would expect, and some look pretty unique.
Wiley Thompson, Indian Agent to the Seminoles, at one point complained that some of the rifles sent to trade with the Seminoles were flint locks, and he wanted all percussion cap. He insisted that they deal exclusively to the Indians with percussion cap, so the natives would remain peaceful or risk losing their supply of caps from the traders.
Below, is a photo of a Deringer rifle that showed up on gun auction. It says it is original, but I have no way of verifying that. It looks exactly like the one show in Gale’s book mentioned above. And not too different from the old CVA kit rifles, like I started out with in reenacting.
This is a simple percussion rifle. In the book, it shows a nice brass serpentine lock plate, which was common brass furniture in earlier British trade muskets. This was the earlier model. Such a beautiful piece, on what was overall a plain rifle.
The earlier Deringer has an overall length of 50.7 inches, barrel length of 36 inches, and bore size of .588 inches.
The next example of a Deringer rifle shown in Gale is nicer. It is also percussion with an octagon barrel. It has brass furniture and parts, with a lovely brass rectangle patch box on the stock. It has a plain brass J lock plate instead of the serpentine one, but overall looks much nicer than the earlier version. The little cheek plate with the deer on in is a very nice addition.
The second rifle was an overall length of 59 inches, and a barrel length of 42.5 inches. It had a .44 inch bore size.
Some of the British manufactured locks that were converted to percussion look very unusual, and might have been used by Deringer, who did buy those British locks for his rifles. Here is a surviving example of a conversion. Very odd, with a cap hammer just welded onto a flint hammer. (I hope I am getting the terminology correct, but you will see what I mean here.)
One thing that has not been published, is the report for Camp Izard on the Withlacoochee. Archaeologist Gary Ellis was able to determine the shots that were fired by the soldiers, and those which were fired by the Seminoles, due to their position in the ground in relation to the breast work.
The Seminoles had a very consistent shot size, about 35 to 45 cal shot. The soldiers had a wide variety, ranging from buckshot to one or two .75 cal balls. The soldiers had 700 Louisiana militia, who often had shotguns, and militia soldiers were supposed to provide their own arms, often from home. The widely varied force under General Gaines at Izard would account for the variation. Since the Seminole shots were relative consistent, we know they probably had a consistent source of firearms.
And I hope you don't mind me making a shameless plug for Gale's book, but it is one of the few I have found that shows an example of a Deringer rifle, which we know was given out to the Seminoles. I do not know of any on display in any museums in Florida.