Rocky Mountain Rifle Works Leman rifle.
Leman underwent his gunmaking apprenticeship under the guidance of master Pennsylvania riflesmith Melchoir Fordney, noted for his extremely high quality and graceful long rifles. At age 19, and after working with Fordney for three years, Leman left Lancaster and worked with the Tryon gunmaking operations in Philadelphia for another three years. With full knowledge of the gunmaking business, Leman returned to Lancaster and opened his own shop in 1834. The extreme high quality of the rifles he produced displayed the skills of this craftsman and Leman was an immediate success in the gunmaking business. He produced some 250 rifles the first year of his operation. Fifty of Leman's first rifles were ordered by a large eastern trader that shipped the guns to St. Louis for trade with mountain men and Indians trapping beaver in the far West. The dependability and quality construction of Lemain's rifles made the muzzle-loaders a high-demand trade item, especially in the West and Southwest where a rifle free of troublesome breakdowns was an absolute necessity. Leman's rifles held such high esteem among the Indians that the Martin Van Buren administration ordered some 1,000 of the rifles in 1837; these were presented to high-ranking members of different tribes to encourage friendly relations between the white and red man.
Leman annually filled similar government contracts until 1860. In 1861 Secretary of War Simon Cameron offered the Lancaster firm a contract to produce 250,000 rifles, which Leman declined. He did contract to convert existing flintlock rifles and muskets to percussion ignition and through the war years his operation converted thousands of such arms while still producing a few guns for the western trade.
Although breechloading firearms grew in popularity during the later years of the Civil War, and especially during the yars that followed, Leman never produced anything but muzzle-loading firearms up until Henry Leman's death in 1887.
The Lancaster, Pennsylvania, gunmaking operation produced a variety of muzzle-loading guns, but the basic Leman rifle was of fairly stereotyped construction. Most original Leman rifles I've had the opportunity to look over were of half-stock styling. Barrel lengths have varied from around 28 to 40 inches, with bore sizes covering an equally wide spectrum. Calibers for everything from squirrels to buffalo were offered. Leman utilized a lot of walnut in the making of stocks for his rifles. There was nothing ancy about most Leman rifles and most of the firm's rifles, especially those produced for trade in the West, weren't adorned with any inlay work at all. The walnut stocks were simply oil finished and nosecaps for the half-stock rifles were commonly of poured pewter, the remainder of the rifle's furniture being made of polished brass.
More Leman rifles were used during the late Western fur trade era than any other make, including the famed Hawken rifles. Likewise, more buffalo were probably downed with Leman-built muzzle-loaders than any other rifle, including the "Old Reliable" Sharps, which didn't see widespread use until near the end of the buffalo hunting era. Leman's busiest production period coincides with the height of that era, the late 1860s and early 1870s.
Rocky Mountain Rifle Works of Kaysville, Utah, a new firm devoted entirely to producing muzzle-loading arms, is now offering a reproduction of this historically famous sporting muzzle-loader. Dubbed the "Green River Pattern Leman," the Rocky Mountain Rifle Works rifle is currently available in three different variations: half stock, full stock and as a scaled down, lightweight half stock. The half-stock model is called the Green River Leman Trade Rifle, the full-stock version is known as the Green River Leman Indian Trade Rifle and the lightweight half stock is simply referred to as the Little Leman Rifle. The light 6-pound Little Leman is offered in .45 and .50 caliber, while the two full-scale rifles are offered in .50 and .54 caliber only.
Although I've not had the pleasure of looking over the Little Leman and Green River Leman Trade Rifle Models, I have inspected several of the full-stocked Leman Indian Trade models and have had the opportunity to put several hundred rounds through one of the rifles this past summer. Like the originals, the Rocky Mountain Rifle Works Leman copy I've been shooting is of the absolute highest quality and constructed of the finest component parts currently available.
Wood on the several rifles I have been able to look over has been curly maple finished with a hand-rubbed oil finish. I have seen several original Leman rifles stocked with curly maple, and the use of this wood looks good on the Rocky Mountain Rifle Works full stock. The contours of the new-made Leman are also somewhat beefier than I normally associate with rifles of this styling, but don't in any way detract from the appearance of the gun.
The brass buttplate on the Green River Leman Indian Trade Rifle is also a little heavier than any I've seen on an original Leman. Where the curvature of the plate junctions with the heel, the brass is nearly a half-inch in thickness. This makes for a beefy, sturdy rifle, but is a slight deviation from original Leman features. Browning Mountain Rifle owners will probably recognize the buttplate as the same as installed on their rfiles.
Another distinguishable "Browning" feature is the lock used on this rifle. Again, it's the same lock that was used on the Jonathan Browing Mountain Rifle. Apparently Rocky Mountain Rifle Works picked up some of the tooling for the Browning rifle after the company decided to drop its black powder production.
The lock utilizes a traditional V-shaped mainspring. In most locks so powered, the mainspring either rides directly on a lip extending from the tumbler or is attached to the tumbler via a stirrup. The mainspring of this lock rides on a roller, almost completely eliminatng any drag as the hammer is drawn to half and full cock. A hex head and a slotted head screw fasten the bridle to the lockplate, solidly bridging other internal parts. A single sidelock screw fastens the lock in place.
Fit of wood to metal is extremely good throughout the rifle's construction. Inletting of the lock is so precise that to remove it from the stock, pressure must be applied to the sidelock screw once it's been unthreaded from the lockplate to force the lock out of the mortise. More often than not, a few taps on the sidelock screw head are required to pop the lock from the inlet. The same close inletting is found around the edges of the buttplate, for the sidelock screw washer and for the toeplate. The authentically styled Leman triggerguard is partially inletted at the front, but sits completely on the surface of the wood at the rear. A steel pin holds the front of the triggerguard in place, while a wood screw is used to fasten the other end to the stock.
A step away from 19th century gunmaking technique is the way Rocky Mountain Rifle Works fastens the barrel to the stock. The rear of the barrel is traditionally fastened in place with a wood screw through the breechplug tang. A hex head screw through each of the rifle's two steel thimbles thread into the bottom of the barrel, fastening the barrel to the full forestock. A hole through the exposed side of the thimble offers access to the screws for removal of the barrel if needed. Although a somewhat modern technique for fastening a muzzle-loader barrel to the stock, it eliminates the use of pins for holding both the thimbles and barrel in place.
At present, Rocky Mountain Rifle Works is offering their Leman rifles with a non-set-type trigger only. Such triggers on rifles of this design are in keeping with the original; Leman likely built about as many rifles with triggers of this type as with set triggers. Also, current production is limited only to percussion models but the printed material that accompanied my test rfile indicated that flint rifles may be available in the future.
The 30-inch browned barrel is cut rifled with eight lands and grooves of near equal width. A tightly patched cleaning jag rotates the ramrod almost a half turn as the patch follows the rifling the length of the barrel, indicating a rate of twist, around one turn in 66 inches. Depth of rifling is right at .010 inch.
My .54 caliber Leman full stock performed best with fairly hefty powder charges. A stiff 90-grain charge of FFg black powder (Gearhart Owen) performed well behind both .530 and .535-inch diameter Hornady swaged round balls. The rifle features a very deep crown at the muzzle, which aids in starting a tight patch and ball combination. The crown funnels the patched ball into the bore and a healthy whack of the short starter normally forces the projectile through the muzzle. OxYoke Original's .015-inch-thick All Day Wonder Wads, prelubed and precut for the caliber being shot, loaded a little tight with the .535 Hornady balls, but once the two were forced through the muzzle, seating with the rifle's 7/16-inch diameter ramrod proved simple enough.
Average group spread with the .530 balls was around two inches at 50 yards. A switch to the slightly larger diameter lead spheres tightened groups to just over an inch. In fact, most five-shot groups with the tightly patched .535 balls normally resulted in one big hole in the target paper. As I had received the rifle, my 90-grain charge of FFg printed only about 3 inches low at 50 yards and a little filing down of the silver front sight blade brought hits up to point of aim. The rear sight of the new Leman is a beffy semi-buckhorn that offers a superb sight picture with the narrow bladed front sight. Both are dovetailed into the top flat of the octagonal barrel.
Impressed by the target accuracy of the rifle when being fired from a sandbag rest, I decided to use the Leman for some spring woodchuck hunting near my home in westcentral Illinois.
On my first outing, almost as soon as I parked my pickup, I spotted an old chuck busy gorging himself on tender young soy-bean shoots. Using an old fence row for cover, I easily moved to within a hundred yards of the feeding varmint. There wasn't a speck of cover between myself and the animal from that point on, so I decided to attempt the shot. Prior to that time, I hadn't fired the Leman Indian Trade Rifle at that long a range. Using the top of a rotting fencepost for a rest, I waited for the chuck to sit upright and study the surrounding area, which he did every few minutes. Holding just under his chin, I squeezed the single trigger, which requires about 2 pounds of pressure to drop the hammer. At the break of the trigger, the rifle kicked back and the big chuck did a somersault.
Not all of the chucks I managed to take with the rifle offered such a challenging shot, but if they had, the Rocky Mountain Rifle Works rifle would have handled the job. This is definitely a well-built rifle that shoots as good as it looks. I have been especially impressed with the extremely short hammer fall of the lock and the speed of its ignition.
Personally, I feel this is a dependable rifle--one that any mountain man would have been proud to carry into the wilderness haunts of the 19th century West.
At this writing the suggested retail for the full-stocked Leman rifle is $400. For information on availability of the rifle, and for more infomation on the two half-stock models, contact Bob Templeto, Rocky Mountain Rifle Works, Dept. GA, 332 South Mountain Road, Kaysville, UT 84037.
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|Title Annotation:||reproduction of famous gun|
|Publication:||Guns & Ammo|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1985|
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