Model 1803

Demonstration by Scott Eckberg,
courtesy U.S. Department of Interior,
National Park Service

The Corps of Discovery carried several types of handheld weapons for hunting and self-defense. Among them were fifteen "short" rifles like this one, which Lewis procured in 1803 from the new U.S. arsenal at Harper's Ferry, on the Potomac River near Washington, D.C. Possibly they were prototypes of the first official U.S. Army rifle, of which Secretary of War Henry Dearborn ordered 4,000 in 1804.

The Model 1803 fired a .53 caliber ball from a .54 caliber barrel with an effective range of up to 200 yards, with 25% greater killing power than the famed Kentucky (or Pennsylvania) "long" rifle, which fired a .44 caliber ball from a .45 caliber barrel. Clearly, the Model 1803 Harpers Ferry was the preferred weapon for dealing with big game such as grizzlies and bison.

None of the weapons the Corps of Discovery carried is known to exist today. All of them, as well as powder, lead, powder horns, shot pouches, kettles, axes, and other public property were sold at a public auction in St. Louis shortly after the expedition's end in September of 1806, for a total of $408.62.