• John G. Tower Musket
    John G. Tower Musket

Today I want to talk about an object that crosses two of our major collecting areas – the musket you see above. Firearms, and realia in general, are not really actively collected by Special Collections, as we lack the facilities to care for more than just a few pieces. The significance of this musket requires an exception to this rule, as it combines two of our collecting areas – Texana/Texas history and the life of Senator Tower.

The musket – a model 1816 Tryon musket – comes to us from the family of Senator Tower. Therefore, it is part of the Tower collection, and also is a part of the Edward A. Clark Collection of Texana. Allow me to elucidate its collocation in those two collections.

According to published accounts about this particular musket in the Jacksonville Daily Progressnewspaper, the musket came to the Tower family at an unknown date as a gift, but we do know it was in the Tower family by 1929, when it was in their possession. Senator Tower’s father, Joe Z Tower (his middle name is the letter Z, as Jeanne Tower Cox told me), was the minister of First Methodist Church in Jacksonville, Texas.

That same article states that the musket was in East Texas since it was shipped from Philadelphia in 1841 – which is remarkable, as the majority of these muskets were used in the ill-fated Texan Santa Fe Expedition of 1841. We look forward to investigating the provenance of the musket further.

The musket is remarkable for two reasons – it was among a group ordered by the Republic of Texas to equip its army, and that these muskets in their original condition are, in the words of Johan Kugelberg, “proper rare,” with only 5 known to exist. Indeed, the musket in Special Collections was on display at the Bullock State History museum for a decade.

The Republic placed an order with the Tryon & Son Company in Philadelphia for 1,500 of these muskets in 1839. The musket is designated as a model 1816 as that was the date of its design and initial manufacture. In an article in the American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin, Robert A. Sadler further identifies the muskets ordered by the Republic as type III flintlock muskets. These muskets are .69 caliber with a 42 inch long round barrel, with the proofs “P/GF.” A former inspector for rifles and muskets provided to the US Army certified that the muskets “are equal in quality to those made for the U.S.” According to the same Sadler article, the lockplate has the five point star of the Republic of Texas (as you can see in the following photo):

Sadler also states that the contract between Tryon and the Republic was signed by Texas ordinance officer Col. George W. Hockey. The spelling of the Colonel’s last name is an error in the article – his name was George W. Hockley.  Interestingly, Special Collections holds a payment voucher to Col. Hockley signed by President Sam Houston for his services in “frontier defense.” Hockley was a long time friend of Sam Houston’s, was chief of staff of the Army of the Republic of Texas, and served as Secretary of War and Colonel of Ordinance during both of Houston’s terms as President of the Republic of Texas. The voucher is signed over to Gail Borden, Jr., tax collector of the port of Galveston, a representative from Lavaca. Borden was also an early Texas printer, inventor, and dairyman. Payment of the order was finally made to John P. Borden, Austin colonist, soldier of the Army of the Republic of Texas, surveyor of the city of Houston, and first commissioner of the General Land Office. (Look for a post soon about the voucher!)

We are pleased to honor the memory and wishes of the Tower family by making this remarkable artifact from Texas history available to the public. I also suspect that Ambassador Clark would be very pleased to know that it joins his important collection of Texana materials, and that the musket is from the collection of his lifelong friend, John G. Tower.