Townsend Whelen’s Wundhammer Rifle
(The article was originally publish in Precision Shooting July 2006.)

By Michael Petrov ©

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On a Sunday morning a few years back all my then current research projects, numbering about ten, were put on hold. For the next seven months I did no research outside of looking for information on this one rifle. This is the Twenty-First Century and while I sleep my computer searches the Internet looking for key words that will alert me to an older custom sporter entering the market place. Much of the new information I get comes from rifles when they are offered for sale for the first time.
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Firearms are sold on the net normally in three ways; one is the online auctions; another is sales at sites where both individuals and dealers list firearms for sale; the last is by dealers who have their own web sites. As new items are listed I am sent a notice of anything that falls into my key word search criteria. So on this particular Sunday morning with a cup of tea at hand I opened my email and saw an early Springfield sporter listed for sale by a dealer. When I went to the site and opened the picture I was taken by surprise at the sight of a well-worn Ludwig Wundhammer rifle. This rifle has a family crest on the barrel just in front of the receiver. The crest is a shield with two lions, a crown on top of the shield and swan on the top of the crown. It has the panels of wood on the sides which were dropped very early on Wundhammer rifles. Looking at the one picture supplied by the seller I first thought that it was Edward C. Crossman’s rifle, but a quick check of the Wundhammer file showed the Crossman rifle with an identical checkering pattern but a different grip cap. I asked no questions other than how much the shipping to Alaska would be and where should I send the check? Any Wundhammer worn or otherwise, is a prize and this was not the time to hesitate. I learned the rifle had come from northern Alberta, Canada. Because I get a lot of my exercise by jumping to conclusions I at once decided that this rifle was the Wundhammer rifle that Russell Mott had lost in Alberta in 1916 while on a sheep hunting trip. I then went about trying to find Mott’s family who, I believe at one time lived on the outskirts of Chicago. Trying to trace a family crest is futile these days because there so are many companies trying to sell a “Family Crest” to anyone no matter what their family history is. Even in the early years of custom rifle making in America it was rare to see a family crest on a rifle. Fred Adolph used his crest on several guns he made and I remember other crests in his catalogs. So I dug out my Adolph catalogs and the first crest I saw was Townsend Whelen’s. It was identical to the one on the rifle. I then grabbed my copy of “The American Rifle” by Whelen published in 1918 and there on page 115 were four pictures of this rifle. Now that I knew what to look for even the family crest could be seen in the photos. It also pictured an engraved floorplate with the insignia of the Campfire Club of America. This is now gone from the rifle.

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This rifle’s historical association to Whelen would have been all the information most folks would need. For me it was just the beginning of what would become a far reaching detective job that would stretch from Alberta to many places all across the map. The nature of the retail firearms business is that most information about how a gun came to the business’ inventory is not something you can ever learn. The most I was able to learn was that this rifle was sold by the son of a man whose father had been given the rifle years ago by a neighbor when he was farming in Alberta. That got a red pin on the map. So now I turned to the other end of this mystery and started trying to trace it from Whelen’s end. If Whelen had owned a rifle there was sure to be something written about it. Townsend Whelen has to be the most prolific firearms writer ever. In a perfect world I would turn to my thirty volume set of “The Collected Works of Townsend Whelen”. If I were a young man starting today with unlimited resources I’m not sure I could collect all that he has written. I read someplace that he wrote over two thousand articles. A quick check found no institutions of higher learning with a collection of Whelen’s writings or his papers.

I learned early in my research that indexes from the sporting presses were worth their weight in gold so over the years I have collected several. I then started putting together lists of articles that might help. In Anchorage we have a good library system and it’s online so all I have to do for an interlibrary loan of an article is to enter what I need through my computer and a few weeks later it’s delivered by mail to me, if it can be found. If not, I have to try to locate a copy of the magazine that originally published the article and buy that magazine. There is so much that Whelen wrote that I don’t even have a clue to what the articles’ titles are or in which magazine he published them. I believe that at one time or another he wrote something for every sporting magazine in America and Canada. I started with what I had at hand, a complete collection of American Rifleman from 1923 to date as well as most of Whelen’s books.

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With an eye out for references to this rifle or Alberta the hunt was on. I worked on learning about his early 1903 Springfield sporters. The first custom sporter Whelen had made was on a 1903 done by an unknown Eastern seaboard gunsmith. This rifle was chambered for the 30-03 using a round nose 220 grain bullet, introduced in 1903 and replaced in 1906 by the 30-06 cartridge. It had a wooden cover over the top of the barrel and used Winchester Model 95 musket sling swivels, much like the later Winchester Super-Grade swivels. In 1910 E.C. Crossman was writing articles about the first five custom 1903s being made by Wundhammer. Stewart Edward White was off to Africa with the first one and White’s partner had Crossman’s rifle. This is a very early rifle and I would not be surprised to learn that Whelen’s rifle was made about the same time as the original five. Whelen’s third custom rifle was made in 1912 by Fred Adolph and this became his favorite hunting rifle. Made with a Poldi barrel and using a Lyman 103 cocking piece sight this is the rifle seen in many of Whelen’s hunting pictures. This particular Adolph rifle is now in the NRA National Firearms Museum collection and was featured in an October, 1978 American Rifleman article about Whelen. Whelen’s Wundhammer was also in his American Rifle book and in a July 15, 1920, article in Arms & The Man titled “The American Rifle – A Type” showing this rifle and a drawing of the cheekpiece that would later be known as the “Whelen Cheekpiece”.

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After reading everything I could get my hands on I was down to two possible people who I felt could have been the recipients of Whelen’s Wundhammer rifle. Both were Alberta hunting guides & outfitters and friends of Townsend Whelen. Their names were Bert Riggall and Stanley Clark.

Bert Riggall was my first choice so I hit the local library which has several books with Riggall information written by Riggall’s son-in-law, the well known guide Andy Russell. I found nothing in them on any Whelen rifle, but I did run across an article that said Townsend Whelen had presented Bert Riggall with a Griffin & Howe rifle. I located Bert Riggall’s papers in the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies located in Banff, Alberta. I wrote the museum a letter asking for copies of any communications or files with Whelen information. Several weeks later I was informed that they had sixty pages of correspondence with Whelen information. I sent payment and received the file in a few weeks. For the most part their papers were letters Whelen had written to Riggall. I found them to be some of the most interesting writings I have ever read from Whelen’s hand. Riggall and Whelen’s friendship started with a letter to Whelen from Riggall that Whelen found so interesting he had it published in Arms and the Man. Riggall at the time was looking to have a Savage rifle rebarreled so Whelen took the $15 he had been paid for the article and bought a 1903 Springfield action. He then had A. O. Niedner barrel and chamber it to .25 Niedner (.25-06) and had James V. Howe stock the rifle and then sent it to Riggall gratis with the understanding that he, Riggall, would use the rifle on game and write an article about the cartridge’s performance on game. This article, written by Riggall, appeared in The American Rifleman July 15th, 1923 as “The Niedner and the Grizzly”.

At the time these first letters I received from Alberta were written (1921) Whelen had been planning his big trip to the North for over fourteen years. He questioned Riggall at length about conditions in different parts of Alberta and recommendations for where to go and who to go with. These Riggall letters show a personal side to Townsend Whelen that I had not seen before. I wish it was possible to publish the letters in their entirety but some are ten pages long, single-spaced typing.

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Written on Frankford Arsenal stationary dated February 6th, 1921.

“My Dear Mr. Riggall:
I have just received your very welcome letter of January 27th, and have read it several times with the greatest interest. The splendid photographs which you enclosed have given me a very bad case of homesickness for the wide spaces, timber line, snow capped peaks, and roaring rivers. I wish I could up and go right off. I wonder whether I will ever get my fill of the wild places? Whether I will ever make a trip to them from which I will want to come back to the cities. I have never wanted to yet; and the worst times of loathing that I have are the periods immediately after a hunt.”

Whelen goes on to explain that he wanted to hunt for two months in wild country where the game is unaccustomed to man. He had been saving money and leave time for this hunt. Every subject from baking bread in a skillet to the type of footwear for that area is covered in these letters. While on the hunting trip he plans for his wife and daughter to travel to Europe where they will stay with Army family friends living in occupied Germany. Army sea transport to Europe was only $20 per person while Townsend’s roundtrip train fare to Canada would be $250.

July 22nd, 1921

“Dear Mr. Riggall:
One thing more, please write me some more letters. They are like a breath of fine mountain air to me. Here the air is all poisoned, full of smoke and acid. Factories and walls of brick are all around us. There is no place where a man can camp out or even make a fire to cook lunch within 100 miles, nor is there any hill I can practice climbing within 20 miles. This is one Hell of a place for a man with the Call of the Wild in his soul, and your letters are certainly a solace.”

April 15th, 1922
“Dear Mr. Riggall:
I do not know just how I can express my thanks to you for all you have done lately to further the matter of my hunting trip. It has been awfully kind of you, and I certainly appreciate it. Yesterday I heard from Stanley Clark. He writes me that he will be glad to take me out at a rate that I can afford, and I have replied to him, taking him up provided that I am able to go. So I think that you have fixed things all right for me.”

Now that it was clear that the rifle Whelen had given to Riggall was a Howe-Niedner and not a Wundhammer it was time to move on to the next person, Stanley Clark.

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Stanley Harris Clark was born in Cainsville, Ontario, Canada, April 16th, 1890. He attended and graduated from Agricultural College at Guelph, Ontario. He then entered the Canadian Forestry Service and was soon Superintendent of the Rocky Mountain Forest Reserve and did much of the work to establish the Athabasca Forest Reserve. When the war broke out in 1914 he enlisted and was put in charge of the British forestry operations in France. After the war he homesteaded at Entrance, Alberta and purchased the same in 1919 setting up a large horse and cattle ranch. Clark had not guided hunters before but agreed to supply pack horses and go with Whelen on his 1922 adventure. And what an adventure it was: Two months living off the country and hunting in an area of the world where game had seen little if any of Man. On Whelen’s return he wrote a four part article titled “In Virgin Game Mountains of the North” published in Outdoor Life December 1923, January, February and March 1924. From the pictures and the description of the rifle Whelen used on this trip it was the Adolph Springfield. It was not until I read a later account of this trip published in Sports Afield, April, 1960, that any mention of another Springfield being on the trip appeared.

“Our arrangements were that he (Clark) would furnish the two saddle and four pack horses we figured we would need, with saddle equipment for them, and a canvas Indian tepee. I would furnish all the rest of the camp equipment (which I had) and the grub. I had my .30-06 sporting Springfield rifle with Lyman sights, and I took along a similar rifle for Stanley.”

Now we have a possibility that the rifle Whelen took for Stanley could have been the Wundhammer but without a written account or photograph this would be hard to confirm. From reading the articles about the 1922 trip it was evident that Whelen thought highly of Clark and after two months in the woods with him considered him a good friend as well.
“I don’t know what our packs weighed, probably 125 pounds apiece, but I do know that along towards afternoon I passed out completely, which decidedly took a lot of the conceit out of me, for I had an idea that I was a pretty good packer, but was no match for Stanley, who was literally a young Hercules. The truth is that I had been going too hard and too steadily, with never a day’s rest since we started, and I was about played out. I could not get myself and my pack up that hill to save my soul, and Stanley had to double trip it most of the way. I have never seen a man do such work as he did this day. He would take one pack, carry it up a quarter of a mile, put it down, and then run down the hillside, pick up the other and bring that up with a steady climb without stopping for breath. I shall always remember what Stanley did on this day as one of the most wonderful pieces of physical prowess I have ever seen.”

During my search for Whelen papers I located Townsend Whelen Bowling, Whelen’s grandson. Mr. Bowling was happy to talk with me and went to great lengths to help me with my research of the 1922 hunt with Stanley Clark. One photograph Mr. Bowling sent me was Stanley Clark with a pack on carrying a 1903 Springfield sporter. I was told the pictures were copied from “American Big Game Shooting” by Townsend Whelen published by the Western Cartridge Company in 1933. Looking at the original photograph it’s clear that the rifle Stanley Clark is holding is Whelen’s Wundhammer.
The floorplate now shows about the same wear as the rest of the rifle and because the Campfire Club of America was (and is) a very exclusive club Whelen may have removed it before the trip and replaced it with a standard one. I believe that Whelen took along the Wundhammer rifle for Clark on his 1922 trip and after they became friends Whelen gave the rifle to Clark. Stanley Clark died in 1957 and is buried at Jasper, Alberta. There is no telling how many people have been custodians of this rifle over the last forty-eight years. Judging by its condition it was relegated to the status of a tool many years ago and most likely was kept in the shed with other tools. The stock has a crack in the left side which I’ll leave as is until I do a bit more research. The checkering is about worn smooth and although the bore is a bit frosted and worn there is no pitting. The rifle has had a hard ninety-five years but will be left “as found” and retired from the hunting field.

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In a magazine advertisement Wundhammer wrote “Lieut. Townsend Whelen pronounced the restocking of a rifle done for him as without a flaw.” This sporter was built on a 1903 Springfield rifle made in 1909. Whelen was an Army officer so he could buy them directly from the Armory. There are several things about the rifle that show a Whelen influence. The trigger and sear have been honed by a professional and has a nice crisp trigger pull. The cheekpiece was made to his order and would later be used as the model for what we now call the “Whelen Cheekpiece”. The Schnable forend is very subdued compared to other Wundhammers I have seen. There is little to-no-castoff or toe out and the length of pull is about 14 ½”. The Lyman sight is one of the prototypes for the Lyman 48 and is marked “Patent Pending” with the number “4” stamped on the inside of the slide. It is believed that no more than six of these were made. One went to Crossman and one to Whelen. With their input the final sight as we know it today was built.

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I believe that Whelen may have written about giving this rifle to Clark but until I find it in writing much of what I believe is speculation. The circumstantial evidence I have so far is compelling and leads me to believe I am on the right track but I would feel better to seeing that in writing, by Townsend Whelen.

Given time I believe that I will learn more about Townsend Whelen, Stanley Clark and this rifle. My adventure to date would not have been possible without the generous help of Frank Magro, Earl (Slate) Boyd, Monte Mandarino and Townsend Whelen Bowling. I personally thank each of them. With special thanks to Townsend Whelen who I accompany on his 1922 adventure every time I pick up this rifle.