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How Lewis & Clark’s rifles worked


Hello everybody my name is Juan Vadell,
I’m an interpreter at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. I’m down here
at Fort Mandan and one thing I’ve noticed with us giving lots of
tours, a lot of people haven’t experienced the sight of firing off
one of these muzzleloaders so I decided here today to give you guys a quick
little demonstration on one of our muzzleloaders here and maybe teach you
guys something along the way. What we have here today is our 1803 Harpers
Ferry rifle. We’ll be firing this off today. Now this is one of the weapons we
believe the Lewis and Clark Expedition would have had, one of the weapons that
we believe they commissioned some of the guys at Harpers Ferry to create for them.
We’re not exactly sure if they did for sure have some of these 1803 Harpers Ferry rifles but just for demonstrations sake we’re gonna go
ahead and fire this off today. So this is a flintlock weapon and you can tell it’s
a flintlock by this stone right here so the stone is actually going to
be what throws the spark into what’s called the pan here and the the powder
in the pan is going to ignite, it’s going to work its way into the barrel by a little
peephole that’s on the side here and then from there it’s going to ignite all
the powder in the inside of the barrel and project your bullet out the front of
the muzzle. So this is one of the very rudimentary weapons that they
would have had back in 1803 and even earlier. Of course this would have been
pretty good technology back in those days. All right everybody, we’re gonna
start here by loading the muzzle of this thing. So what we’re gonna do here is
we’re going to take our measure here, we’re going to measure out to about 90 grains
of powder. We’ll take our powder horn, which of course is very iconic and just
about everybody’s going to recognize the powder horn, and we dump some powder from powder horn into our little measure here, dump this down the barrel, we’ll dig out a wad,
and now what we have to do is something called wetting the wad so I’m just gonna
take this wad and I’m gonna pop it into my mouth for a second. All right now this
is the time where we’d usually put the wad in and you drop the ball over on top of
that but we’re not going to use the ball today we’re just gonna go ahead and fire
without a ball. So we go ahead and pack all that stuff down in there with our
ramrod. All right, now the barrel is basically
primed and ready to be fired but we still have to load the pan and down
here we have the pan and you have your stone. With this rifle we’re going to
use something a little different than that powder. We’re gonna use a finer
powder here. We’ll fill up our pan here. So now we’re going to go ahead, we’re
ready to fire. So I’m going to put this into full cock there and then I’m going
to let it go. That’s how you basically fire off
one of these rifles that Lewis and Clark may have had on the expedition.

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