Charbonneau's Fusee

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An old flintlock rifle

Captain Clark, Sacagawea, Pomp and Toussaint Charbonneau were almost swept away in a ravine that drained into the Missouri just above the highest of the Falls of the Missouri, by a flash flood on June 29, 1805. Clark reported that, along with other items, they lost Charbonneau's "eligant fusee." A month later, on August 30th, Clark gives his own fusee—likewise "eligant," no doubt—to one of the men so that the latter can trade his musket for a horse.

Closup of the gun works, or locks

Originally, fusil (pronounced foo-see) was the French military term for a musket.1 For example, the first American military musket, the so-called U.S. Model 1795, was fashioned after the French Fusil D'Infanterie, modéle 1763—in other words, from the French Infantry musket, Model 1763. By the 1800s the word had spread by the French-Canadian trappers and become loosely applied to smoothbore non-military long guns. Buckshot moldA fusil could be a simple lightweight firelock intended for the Indian trade, or it could be very well constructed, have fine-figured wood, engraving on the metal parts, enrichment with silver inlays, excellent sights, and the newest refinements on the flintlock mechanism—or anything in between. Apparently, Charbonneau's elegant fusil was considerably superior to the common trade fusil. We can imagine the excitable French-Canadian's distress over the loss of so fine a piece of design and craftsmanship.

The specimen illustrated above has a full stock of tiger-striped maple with brass fittings called "furniture." The trigger guard has an acorn-shaped finial. The wrist has fine checkering and a silver escutcheon on top. The barrel is 40" long, .67 caliber, and half octagon, half round in profile. As with all fusils, the bore is smooth for the sake of versatility. It could be loaded with a solid ball to be used on large game, buckshot for medium-sized game, and bird shot for waterfowl and smaller birds.

1. Noah Webster, in his Compendious Dictionary of the English Language (1806), Americanized the noun into the phonetically literal form, fusee.

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service Challenge Cost Share Program.