The Gatling gun, Colt .45, and M1 Garand all have two things in common: you’ve heard of them and they served major roles in history. Where does the Girandoni air rifle sit in a list of historic guns?
The Lewis and Clark expedition was viewed as one of the most perilous adventures of its time. Akin to a modern day trip to Mars, the 59 men that embarked upon the journey were unsure of the dangers that awaited them.
One firearm they took to accompany them on their journey and ward off potential enemies was the Girandoni Air Rifle.
Also recognized as the Corp of Discovery, the Lewis and Clark expedition stands out as one of the most iconic American endeavors of all time. It personifies the American ideals of adventure, ambition, personal energy, and the frontiersmen toughness we hold as important traits in our culture.
Imagine the benefits the Girandoni air rifle would have created for the Corp. The ability to let loose 40 shots without losing velocity would have been a tremendous asset at a time when the Native people of the plains could fire at least ten well aimed arrows in the time it took a musket to be reloaded. Showcasing the rapid fire ability of the gun and its smokeless nature impressed Native Americans when they saw it.
Most of the guns Lewis and Clark brought were for hunting purposes, but several, including a small cannon on the keelboat and the Girandoni air rifle, were brought along for protection purposes. The threat of violence from Native people was far over blown however. Only one close encounter of violence on the journey ever occurred and the hospitality of Native people throughout the entire journey was one of the key factors for the success of the expedition.
Perhaps violence would have been limited regardless of the firepower on the trip, or perhaps the exhibition of firepower helped to discourage potential attacks on the Corp. It is hard to say at this point, but the fact the Girandoni air rifle played a shaping role in the diplomatic meetings between Lewis and Clark and the Native nations they encountered highlights its importance on the trip.
When Lewis and Clark returned successfully from their journey of nearly three years, they had connected the continent and filled in map for the American people. Now with a clear picture of what to expect, and what lay in the previously uncharted territory, more fur traders, pioneers, and eventually settlers would be encouraged to move west.
The Girandoni air rifle not only helped the Lewis and Clark expedition to return home safely, but helped to shape American history as well.