Heritage, 2011, Volume 4 Page: 32
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THE PLAINS RIFLE
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During the era of American western expansion, the need
for a different type of rifle became apparent. East of the
Mississippi River, the country was covered with forest, and
most shooting was done at fairly close range. However, west
of the Mississippi River, the terrain shifted to the expanse of
The Great Plains and the ruggedness of the Rocky
Mountains. For hunters, this wide-open territory greatly
increased the distance a rifle shot had to travel. Additionally,
game animals, such as bison (buffalo) and grizzly bears, were
larger and more dangerous, requiring a more powerful rifle
to make a reliable one-shot kill.
Eastern rifles, like the famous Kentucky Rifle, were usu-
ally less than .45 caliber and had a reliable killing range of
about 100 yards. Beyond that distance, the bullet lost effec-
tive velocity for a clean kill. A heavier, larger caliber rifle that
could be loaded with a bullet of greater weight and a powder
charge sufficient to drive the projectile at a higher velocity
became a necessity for survival in the western territory.
In the 1820s this redevelopment of the rifle took place in
towns such as Cincinnati and St. Louis, where gunsmiths,
including brothers Jake and Sam Hawken, H. E. Dimmick
(sometimes spelled "Dimick"), and N.N. Ralph (see photo
of his signature on a Plains Rifle barrel, at bottom of first col-
umn) built what became known as "The Plains Rifle."
These muzzle-loading rifles were constructed with heavy
barrels capable of firing a large .50 caliber bullet with a hefty
charge of black powder, which increased its velocity for a
greater distance and more knock-down power. This design
change more than doubled the effective range of the firearm
and also greatly increased close-in effectiveness. These Plains
This close-up view of the muzzle of the N.N. Ralph Plains Rifle
shows the heavy barrel and large caliber.
32 TEXASHERITAGE I Volume 4 2011
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2011, Volume 4, periodical, 2011; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254223/m1/32/: accessed August 20, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.