A collector who would like to acquire a musket of the type used by Mexican troops to overwhelm the Texan defenders of the Alamo should look for the British-designed Brown Bess and study it to see if it has any Mexican markings (eagle and snake) on the weapon.
“The third variation of the Brown Bess was the one carried at the Alamo,” said Danny Clark, vice president of Collector’s Firearms, a retailer of antique weapons in Houston, Texas. “It had no rifling in the barrel and so it didn’t have an effectively long range, maybe 100 yards or so.”
The gun’s inaccuracy probably didn’t matter too much at the Alamo, which saw vicious up close and personal hand-to-hand fighting among an overwhelming Mexican force of perhaps 3,000 against approximately 180 Texas defenders.
A muzzle loading smoothbore, the Bess weighed just over 10 pounds, fired an 18 mm musket ball and was produced as a .72 caliber flintlock beginning in 1722. It saw service in the British military during a period of great expansion of the British Empire all across the globe. A successful design, the weapon changed little over a period of 100 years.
“The third variant of the gun (used at the Alamo) is the most common for a collector to acquire today and I just bought two of them at a gun show,” Clark said. “The major difference between the first, second and third variety of the Brown Bess is the barrel length. The first had a barrel of 46 inches, the second at 42 inches and the third at 39 inches.”
In 1838, the Bess was superseded by a percussion cap smoothbore and saw continued service up until the 1860’s.
Technically called a “British Land Pattern Musket,” the Brown Bess might have gotten its nickname from the brown protective varnish early gunsmiths used to coat the stock. Bess is a term of endearment. Also, the German words Braun Buss means “strong gun” or “brown gun.” British King George I was a German who commissioned the weapon’s use.
A cavalry carbine (horseback) and a model for use on shipboard at sea were also produced.
Perhaps the weapon’s most famous use came when British soldiers used it to defeat Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. It was also used during the American Revolution.
Clark said collectors can expect to pay about $3,000 for a third model Brown Bess.
“The lower end is $2,500 and possibly less than $2,000 if it’s a model converted to percussion cap,” he added.
If the weapon is in mint condition like it left the factory, unissued, an asking price of $7,000 would be appropriate.
“The first model (circa 1740) is really tough to find nowadays,” Clark noted.
If you can’t afford the price of an antique, you might consider a new reproduction model which costs much less and can be fired if you’re a sporting or hunting enthusiast into old model guns.
Asked if a collector should attempt to fire an antique Brown Bess, Clark responded, “I wouldn’t recommend it.”
Once again, to find a possible Alamo connection on a Brown Bess musket look for Mexican markings on the weapon.
“The Mexicans of the 1830’s made the guns, particularly the locks, according to British specs, but put their own marks on them,” Clark said.
Texan defenders of the Alamo used rifles with rifled barrels and greater accuracy instead of smoothbore muskets like the Brown Bess and this may account for the high number of Mexican casualties (approximately 600) suffered during the taking of the mission fortress.