War Department’s Sale of Arms at Cost

“Considering the heavy armament favored by overlanders—fostered in part by the War Department’s enticing 1849 offer to sell pistols, rifles, and ammunition at cost to California and Oregon emigrants—it was not surprising that a great many gunshot victims made their way to the fort hospitals. . . .

According to Texas senator Thomas S. Rusk, the rationale for the 1849 congressional authorization of $50,000 for the sale of weapons at cost was that westbound emigrants should not go forth without adequate ‘means of defence.’ . . . The cut-rate prices for rifles, muskets, carbines, pistols, and ammunition remained in effect during 1850.”