Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky
Most guns used by the Mountain Men used the flintlock ignition system. In 1807 Rev. Alexander Forsyth invented the percussion ignition system, although it wasn’t until around 1815 that the percussion system was perfected. In the early days of the percussion era the
percussion caps should their supply run out, be lost, or spoiled. Because flintlocks would fire successfully approximately 7 times out of 10 in dry weather and under good conditions, percussion rifles were gradually accepted because of their much greater reliability. Percussion
rifles, pistols, and caps were first advertised in St. Louis in 1831. In 1832, Lucien Fontenelle ordered 500 percussion caps for his rifle, and Andrew Drips ordered a spare percussion lock for his rifle. In December of 1834, while encamped in the Columbia Valley Nathaniel Wyeth's party converted three flintlock rifles to percussion. Wyeth writes "...during this time we percussioned 3 rifles, our powder being so badly damaged as to render flintlocks useless." (The Correspondence and Journals of Captain Nathaniel J Wyeth, 1831-6, p 238). Converting these guns while in the mountains suggests that the skills, parts and tools for making such conversions were neither unusual or difficult. Wyeth also expressed this opinion about flintlocks in his journal, "...our hunters are more conceited than good....and commonly have miserable flint guns which snap continually and afford an excuse for not killing." Wyeth may have been planning to offer a flintlock conversion service at the post he established in the mountains (click here for more thoughts on this). By 1834 gun dealers in St. Louis were advertising large quantities of percussion caps as stock on hand. Jos. Charless, Jr. advertised 200,000 caps, and H.L.Hoffman & Co. 280,000 caps. In 1836 Mead & Adriance advertised "1 million percussion caps." Even after widespread adoption of the percussion system, some of the old frontiersman continued to prefer flint ignition. In the mid 1850's its reported that Rube Rawlins continued to use flintlock rifles.
Triggers: There were two types of triggers in use during the period: simple single triggers, and set triggers or double triggers. With the single trigger,
the pressure of the trigger finger is transmitted directly to the sear within the lock mechanism. With a set trigger, a powerful spring mechanism within the trigger is cocked by the rear trigger. With just a light touch on the first trigger, the spring mechanism is released striking the sear in the lock. The finger
pressure required to activate the mechanism can be adjusted. Set triggers were common on rifles and fine guns, almost to the point of being a fad, however, combined with primitive, open-sites, probably didn't do a great deal to improve the accuracy of the firearm. The different trigger types could lead to confusion under panic situations-for an example see Beating Off a Grizz.