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Extremely Rare Mexican Military "Brown Bess" from the Mexican American War

Extremely Rare Mexican Military "Brown Bess" from the Mexican American War

  • Product Code: FLA-3789-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

In 1821 Mexico succeeded in winning its independence from Spain, at the conclusion of an 11 year revolution. Despite the long conflict between the former Spanish colony and its European overlords, the Mexicans eventually prevailed in securing their freedom with the Treaty of Córdoba. The newly independent country would spend most of the rest of the 19th century as a relatively unstable nation, typified by the 53 different governments and 4 constitutions that would rule the country in the 35 year period from 1821 to 1856. This indicates that during that period the ruling administration changed roughly every 7 to 8 months! 


A leading cause of the instability was the economic situation in Mexico. The newly established Empire, soon to become a Federal Republic after the adoption of a constitution in 1824, was quite poor and found itself with limited ability to raise funds for a governmental administration or the maintenance of a standing army to protect the new country’s sovereignty. The constant governmental economic crisis would directly lead to the most significant conflicts that would occur in Mexico during the mid-19th century; the Texas Revolution and the Mexican-American War. The economic situation would also directly affect the way in which the Mexican Army was armed and equipped during those major conflicts.


The pressing need to raise funds for the new Mexican country led the government to seek loans from the bankers of the world at the time, the English. The major London merchant banks of the time, such as B.A. Goldschmidt’s, Baring’s, Berkley’s and Barclay, Herring, Richardson & Company (just to name a few) were the way in which a country could receive financial assistance, both in the loan of hard currency and in the acquisition of the necessary credit to obtain the arms and equipment to supply an army. Of course, the implicit agreement was that the bulk of the arms purchased would be acquired from English arms makers and merchants, thus the London funding houses were in fact fueling the manufacturing and trade economies of London, Birmingham and Manchester. It was this relationship between the source of Mexico’s London based funding and the fact that the world’s leading arms merchants were located in the same city as the banks that triggered the shift from the Mexican colonial era use of mostly Spanish-made small arms to the use of English-made arms.


The first major Mexican loan was taken in 1824 from the Merchant Banking House of B.A. Goldschmidt’s, in the amount of £3.2 million pounds sterling, roughly equivalent to $16 million US dollars at that time. The loan was guaranteed by the Mexican government’s pledging of roughly two-thirds of their annual customs duty income to Goldschmidt’s for the period of the loan, until the debt was retired. Interestingly, the Goldschmidt loan agreement was savvy enough to require a substantial portion of any future loans from other sources to be paid to Goldschmidt’s to help retire both principal and interest from the original debt. Clearly, Goldschmidt’s was concerned that the newly formed country might well default on their debt, particularly as the split from Spain had brought mining to a near halt in Mexico, and it was mining and the export of minerals and precious metals to Spain that had provided the largest amount of money for the colonial era Mexican economy. This left only customs duties as the other major revenue stream for the new government.


In a move that Goldschmidt’s had clearly anticipated, in 1825 the Mexican government took a second loan in the same amount from the Merchant Banking House of Barclay, Herring, Richardson & Company. The firm also established a branch in Mexico, laying the foundation for the beginning of a real banking system in the country that had previously relied upon merchants or the Catholic Church for traditional money lending services. Roughly a quarter of this second loan was subsequently paid to Goldschmidt’s in compliance with the terms of the first loan.


While part of the proceeds from these two loans were received as hard currency, part was delivered in the form of credit which the Mexican government used to acquire a huge number of small arms from the English with which to arm the Mexican Army. Although figures vary depending upon the sources referenced, the small arms purchased with the funds from this loan included between 90,000 and 110,000 muskets, between 14,000 and 15,000 carbines, some 2,000 rifles, between 5,000 and 8,000 pairs of pistols and some 20,000 sabers and swords. Some debate continues among scholars as to whether the arms purchased by the Mexicans were newly made commercial guns, British military surplus or more likely a mixture of both. What is not in dispute is that these muskets were India Pattern Brown Besses. It is almost certain that these guns were a mixture of both newly made arms and part of the significant store of used guns that were available after the conclusion of the war with France with the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in June of 1815. The end of the Napoleonic Wars resulted in a massive draw down of English military forces and put huge amounts of arms and equipage into storage. As the British military was looking to improve and modernize their stocks of small arms during the latter part of the 1820s and into the 1830s and 40s, the opportunity to sell off surplus arms to the new Mexican Republic was a stroke of good fortune. Based upon the archeological records, the Indian Pattern Brown Bess remained the standard Mexican military long arm through the Texas Revolution of 1835 to 1836 and at least some of these guns were still in use two decades after their original purchase during the Mexican American War of 1846-1848.


It is worth noting at this point that the two conflicts that were just mentioned were put in motion by the economic forces and pressures placed upon the Mexican government by the huge amount debt they were attempting to service. In fact, the untenable economic situation resulted in Mexico officially defaulting on both the Goldschmidt’s and Barclay’s loans in 1827. While the Mexican government would restructure the loans with the lenders numerous times over the next couple of decades, they would also default again several times as well. Between 1830 and 1861 the Mexican government would expend an average of 34% of its income in debt service on a yearly basis with a peak of 67% of its income in 1837, the year after the Mexican state of Texas won independence from Mexico. Interestingly, Goldschmidt’s failed in 1826, no doubt in part due to its exposed Mexican credit position and that failure was followed by Barclay’s doing the same, but apparently restructuring and surviving in a new form. In both cases, the creditors of the London houses still owned the Mexican debt, which they were quite intent on collecting.


The need to create a thriving economy, to populate and defend a massive boarder with the United States to its north and to help keep the Comanche and other Indigenous People at bay were all contributing factors that resulted in the Mexican government’s invitation for people from the United States to settle the vast area known as Tejas during the 1820s and 1830s. What the Mexican government did not count on was that the former Americans would not assimilate to become new Mexicans but rather retain their independent nature and became “Texians”, and eventually Texans. The resulting fight for Texas Independence in 1835-1836 caused additional economic stress on the Mexican government and the loss of the territory certainly set the stage for the Mexican-American War. When that war was fought a decade later it was the economic strength of the United States that was a major contributing factor to the American victory. The American military was well armed and equipped, well lead and well-funded, while the Mexican Army was none of those things. Interestingly the loss of territory by Mexico to the United States at the end of the Mexican-American War was almost an economic blessing for the faltering Mexican government, as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo included a $15 million dollar indemnity payment to the Mexicans. This was almost as much as the amount of the original B.A. Goldschmidt’s loan of 1824 and was money desperately needed by the Mexican government. 


When the Mexican-American War erupted in 1846 the standard Mexican infantry musket remained the English Brown Bess. In some cases, these were the same guns that had been purchased circa 1826, but in other cases these were part of a more recent purchase of 20,000 muskets from England in 1842. While some of the old India Pattern guns were almost certainly Napoleonic War surplus, the guns from the 1842 purchase were newly made specifically for the Mexican Government. These commercial muskets were an interesting hybrid arm that were nominally of the last British flintlock musket type, the New Land Pattern. The New Land Pattern had been tentatively adopted in 1802 during a lull in the wars with France, but with the resumption of hostilities the new design was scrapped in favor of returning to the tried and true India Pattern musket that could be produced in huge numbers by the contractors that were already set up to manufacture them. Only about 15,000 of the guns were set up prior to the program being put on hold and production of the New Land Pattern did not resume until the 1820s. 


The New Land Pattern was based on the older Indian Pattern musket but also incorporated some features that had been introduced in the Duke of Richmond’s Musket designs of 1792-1796. The brass furniture was even more simplified than that found on the India Pattern guns. The entry pipe in the stock for the ramrod was eliminated and the S-shaped sideplate was no longer inlet into the stock, rather it was secured by a small wood screw through its center. The simple Duke of Richmond buttplate design was adopted as well. The stock eliminated the simple “beaver tail” apron around the breech plug tang and a new, simpler flat lock with a flat reinforced cock was adopted. A new swelled ramrod was also adopted to assist in retention in the stock. The guns were produced with two barrel lengths, with the standard infantry musket returning to the 42” length of the Short Land Pattern Musket and the Light Infantry version retaining the 39” barrel of the India Pattern guns. The use of wedges (or keys) rather than pins was introduced to retain the barrels, with the British continuing to eschew the use of barrel bands like those found on French and American muskets. At the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars some 84,500 New Land Pattern Muskets were set up for the British Army and these remained in service until replaced initially by Lovell’s Pattern 1838 Percussion Musket in 1839 and subsequently by the Pattern 1839 Percussion Musket. 1838 also introduced the Hanoverian bayonet catch to British muskets, a spring catch located under the barrel to secure and retain the socket bayonet without the addition of a locking ring to the bayonet’s socket.


The muskets delivered as part of the Mexican 1842 order were a hybrid of the recently discontinued New Land Pattern Musket design that utilized some older parts that were likely on hand in some quantity with much of the Birmingham gun trade. It also incorporated the new Hanoverian bayonet catch. At first glance the Mexican contract muskets appear to be of the Light Infantry New Land Pattern design, with a nominally 39”-long, .75 caliber barrel with the Hanoverian bayonet catch added under the barrel. The stock has the simplified New Land Pattern, Duke of Richmond style buttplate, the screw secured S-shaped sideplate and the three New Land Pattern ramrod pipes without an entry pipe in the stock. However, the guns do not include the scroll-shaped semi-pistol grip found at the rear of the triggerguard tang on the New Land Light Infantry musket, nor do they include the Light Infantry Musket’s block rear sight. At least some of the locks were apparently left over India Pattern locks, with a slightly rounded profile instead of the flat New Land design and used the older rounded, reinforced India Pattern cock, rather than the flat reinforced India Pattern cock. The New Land swelled shank ramrod was abandoned for the traditional straight shank ramrod that was secured by a spoon in the stock, a feature that was not found on British military flintlock muskets and was introduced during the percussion era. However, there is no doubt when one of these muskets is encountered, as the repurposed India Pattern locks are clearly marked with the Mexican Starburst over Mexican Eagle & Snake motif between the cock and pan. It is interesting to note that when Mexican arms were captured, American officers reported that they were low quality. At least one group of muskets captured by Winfield Scott’s army during the war were destroyed, as they were considered worthless by the Americans. It is not clear if the captured guns were worn-out India Pattern arms from the 1826 purchase or part of the more recently acquired muskets from the 1842 purchase. Likewise, it is not clear if the poor quality was the result of poor maintenance by the Mexican army that was primarily composed of peasant conscripts or because of the actual production quality of the guns.


The Mexican  Military Contract Brown Bess offered here is an attic condition example of one of the 20,000 guns from the 1842 order and if it is representative of the other guns delivered under that contract it helps us to understand why American officers had such a poor opinion of the Mexican small arms. The gun remains in about GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD condition and is a hybrid of a New Land Pattern Light Infantry Musket with the expected Hanoverian bayonet catch, ramrod spoon and Indian Pattern lock. The use of the India Pattern lock with a New Land pattern barrel intended to be mated with a New Land lock causes an alignment problem between the pan and the touchhole. The New Land Pattern pan was tilted forward at an angle similar to the French M1777 and AN IX muskets, while the India Pattern lock had significantly less forward tilt. This meant that the lower edge of the pan of the India pattern lock covered the touchhole of the New Land barrel. Thus, the pan had to have to part of its interior machined away to allow a clear path to the touchhole. This sort of adaptive manufacturing work arounds to make two components work together that were not designed to do so might make financial sense for the manufacturers, but certainly did not make for a quality weapon on the battlefield.


The 6 7/8” long India Pattern lock has the usual pointed tail profile and double boarder line around the tail, lower edge and cock. The lock remains in its original flintlock configuration and the original integral rounded, fenced iron pan is in place. As noted, the pan has been modified to function with the location of the touchhole in the barrel. The interior of the lock and the reverse of the hammer neck both bear the matching mating mark of two punch dots, indicating that even the cock is original to the lock. The lock is clearly marked with the Mexican Sunburst and the Mexican Eagle & Snake Motif, indicating it was produced for the Mexican government. The lower edge of the lock plate is marked with a “V” shaped file slash mating mark made by two lines, \ /. The same mating mark appears on both lock retaining screws, the breech plug tang screw, the top jaw screw, under the barrel and in the ramrod channel. The barrel has the usual Birmingham commercial View and Proof marks at the upper left quadrant of the breech, but no other markings. The counterpane is marked WR, possibly the mark of the setter up who assembled the gun. A pair of tiny {CROWN}/BWmarks are found along the toe line of the stock, behind the triggerguard tang. This is almost certainly the maker mark of Birmingham gunmaker Benjamin Woodward. Woodwork worked from 1838-1842 at 23 Loveday Street, with the firm becoming Woodward & Son in 1842 and continuing in operation under that name and at that location through 1883. The only other mark on the exterior of the gun is a neatly carved symbol on the reverse butt that appears to be an intertwined IP.


As noted, the gun is in attic condition and is uncleaned, although I did wipe the gun down with an oily rag and removed some surface dirt from the stock. The metal has a thickly oxidized chocolate brown patina with moderate amounts of scattered minor surface roughness and some light pitting. The barrel measures 38 ½” in length, ½” shorter than the nominal 39”, but shows no indication of having been shortened. The stock extends to 4 ¼” of the muzzle and the standard New Land Pattern stocking leaves 4” of barrel extending past the nose cap to allow the mounting of the bayonet. The bayonet lug is located on top of the barrel 1 13/16” from the muzzle in the nominally correct position. I am completely convinced that the barrel is its original full length, but like the modified flash pan was simply an attempt to use available parts and make them work, as it was clearly not a priority to produce these guns for the Mexicans to the highest level of fit and finish. This is further indicated by the use of pins like on the India Pattern guns to secure the barrel rather than wedges (keys) as was standard for the New Land Pattern guns. The bore of the musket measures about .78” at the muzzle and in probably closer to the nominal .75 caliber further down the bore. The bore is in about FAIR condition and is dark and heavily oxidized like the exterior of the barrel with moderate pitting along its entire length. The bore is partially obstructed by old accumulated dirt and debris, including what appears to be the remnants of old "mud dauber" wasp nests. The lock remains in FINE mechanical condition and functions crisply and correctly on all positions. The original Hanoverian spring bayonet catch remains in place under the barrel, extending from the brass nose cap. Both original sling swivels remain in place as well, with the upper swivel’s screw helping to secure the barrel to the stock and the lower swivel in the traditional location on the forward bow of the triggerguard. Unfortunately, the gun is missing the original ramrod and an inexpensive reproduction rod is in the ramrod channel to fill that place. It is several inches short of full-length but looks better than an empty ramrod channel. An original rod or a museum quality replica would be a good investment to replace the reproduction rod. The brass New Land Pattern furniture all has a medium golden patina and may have been polished many years ago and has now toned down to a very attractive golden shade. The lock and furniture mounting screws all show at least moderate amounts of slot wear, with the rear lock screw showing major wear. It is obvious the screws were poorly treated at some point in time and removed by someone who was using a broken spoon rather than a screwdriver. It is impossible to determine if this was done by a Mexican army peasant conscript or an incompetent collector, but that latter is more likely. This gives me the opportunity to make the public service announcement that if you must remove screws from your collectable guns, buy a good set of hollow ground gunsmithing screwdrivers designed for the job, match the screwdriver to the slot for a good fit, or don’t try to remove the screws. Your home tool kit screwdrivers should never touch a gun’s screws. The stock of the gun remains in about GOOD+ to NEAR VERY GOOD condition as well. The stock shows wear commensurate with the balance of the gun and the heavily oxidized metal. The stock has warped slightly, more than likely from spending years leaning in a corner somewhere. While this is sometimes described as “cast off”, the intentional bending of a stock to more correctly align the barrel with the shooter’s eye, this is rarely the case. The slight bend in the butt is almost certainly the result of long-term leaning that has resulted in warping. It is not immediately obvious unless you view the gun from the top or the bottom and does not materially affect the appearance or display of the musket. The stock is solid and full-length and free of any breaks or repairs. It does, however, show a number of cracks. One runs for about 8”, starting about 5” from the front of the triggerguard, running through part of the ramrod channel and then angling upwards in obverse the forend towards the barrel, terminating about halfway between the stock’s ramrod entry and the rear pipe. Two additional cracks run diagonally on the reverse of the forend for 2”-3” near the rear most barrel pin. These cracks remain tight and secure and do not appear to be of immediate structural importance, although they should probably be permanently stabilized at some point in time by a professional with quality glue. The stock shows some areas of minor wood loss as well, with the expected chipped loss around the stock pins as well as an old thumbnail-sized chip of wood missing from the forward edge of the lock mortise. Otherwise, the stock shows only the expected bumps, dings, mars and bruises expected for a military musket that saw use in a major conflict some 175 years ago.


Overall, this is a really attractive and essentially untouched example of a rare 1842 contract Mexican Military Brown Bess that was one of 20,000 muskets delivered prior to the Mexican War. Other than the missing the original ramrod, the gun is 100% complete and correct in every way with matching assembly marks throughout. These Mexican “Eagle & Snake” marked muskets are extremely rare and are seldom offered for sale. All mid-19th century Mexican military arms are scarce, but these important muskets from the Mexican-American War are not only rare but quite sought after. For any collector who has an interest in the Mexican-American War, Texas history or Mexican military history, this is one of those “must have” centerpiece of a collection items you will be extremely proud to own and display. I don’t say this very often, but this is one of those rare pieces of history that I will not mind keeping for a while, as it is such a unique an interesting piece of the history of mid-19th century American expansion and the war that trained most of the major players in the American Civil War that would break out a dozen years later.


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Tags: Extremely, Rare, Mexican, Military, Brown, Bess, from, the, Mexican, American, War