Green River Forge was started by Frank Straight in 1971 in Bellevue, WA. The earliest ad I could find for them was a classified ad in the January 1972 issue of Muzzle Blasts.
The company started out selling patterns for 18th and 19th century clothing. They eventually expanded their line of patterns until it was a major part of their business.
Other apparel was added such as hats, clay pipes, and possible bags.
In the April-May 1974 issue of Muzzle Blasts they advertised their first gun, a copy of a Northwest trade gun. This was about the same time that GRRW offered their version of a Northwest trade gun.
By October 1975, they had expanded their line of guns to include a Hudson’s Bay Factor’s Pistol and a half stock flintlock rifle they called the “Astorian”. The Factor’s Pistol was in direct competition with GRRW’s Trappers Pistol. The Astorian rifle was also competing with GRRW’s line of rifles.
The Astorian is an interesting rifle. It apparently isn’t an exact copy of any original rifle, but has some characteristics of a Harper’s Ferry 1803, being a half stock flintlock with a single key and a brass band instead of nose cap. The furniture is all brass. The lock and barrel are the main deviations from the 1803, being a civilian lock and a straight octagon barrel.
This is from the Green River Forge catalog they were using in 1976.
The only sample Green River Forge gun I have in my collection is one of their Factor’s Pistols in 20 gauge smoothbore.
The lock plate is engraved with “GRF” over “WATTS”. The builder of this pistol was the Nicholas Watts mentioned in the advertisement above. The lock on the GRF Factor’s Pistol starts out as CVA flintlock that is heavily modified by reshaping the tail of lock plate, removing most of the cast-in engraving, adding a sliding hammer safety, adding a rainproof pan, adding a roller bearing on the frizzen, and polishing the internals. It’s hardly recognizable as a CVA lock.
Sample CVA flintlock showing appearance before alterations by Nicholas Watts.
Mike Nesbitt published a product review of the Factor’s Pistol in the August 1976 issue of The Buckskin Report. He described his sample as:
A unique belt hook is mounted on the left side of the stock…the Green River Forge pistol is equipped with a sliding hammer safety on the side of the lock…The sliding safety engages only when the hammer is in the half cock position, locking it in that position…the Factor’s Belt Pistol is a copy of a pistol made by Barnett for the Hudson’s Bay Company…The stocks are now made of English walnut, finished with hand rubbed oil. Silver is used for the barrel key escutcheons and a thumb piece which is left plain for personal engraving. The breech is decorated with two silver wire bands, while all other furniture is browned steel. Green River Forge has made a good copy of the original Barnett which is in the personal collection of Frank Straight.
My sample fits this description to a tee.
Both Nesbitt and the advertisement states this pistol is a copy of an original made by Barnett. Like a lot of the claims of builders at the time, they never showed any pictures of the original for comparison, so we must take them at their word.
I have seen a number of English made pistols that are very similar to the Green River Forge Factor’s Pistol. Below is a picture of one that was shown in the December 1966 issue of Muzzle Blasts that was made by a Holmes, but not the Andy Holmes in the caption.
Below is another English pistol of the style. It lacks the sliding hammer safety and has brass mountings, but shows that the Factor’s Pistol fits a pattern that was common in England and probably was imported into North America during the Fur Trade era.
Frank Straight sold the business in early 1977, and it was moved to Springfield, OR. On the left is one of the first ads under the new ownership from the June 1977 issue of The Buckskin Report.
By the October 1977 issue of The Buckskin Report (ad above right), the new Green River Forge, Ltd. was advertising a new rifle they called the Oregon Territory Rifle as a second cousin to the Hawken. Where the old Green River Forge used Sharon barrels, the new company says it’s using GRRW barrels. The ad below is from the December 1979 issue of Muzzle Blasts.
This is from a catalog received in 1979 showing the owners at the time.
I received the following in personal correspondence with Gary Ruxton describing his time with Green River Forge and listing some of the other gunsmiths that worked there.
I [Gary Ruxton] started working for GRF just when Nicholas Watts left. He did the additional work on the CVA lock for the Factor’s Pistol of the sliding safety, roller frizzen and the added engraving after modifying the back half of the lock. I didn’t do that work. I did waterproof the pan, as we also did on the Astorian lock that was made by Hadaway. I worked with Frank Straight’s son Mathew. We also modified the lock for the Trade Gun. The locks were “Lott”. Ground off the Lott name, etched in the sitting fox, (Because it had represented to the Indians at that time, a symbol of good luck). Also changed the angle of the hammer, case hardened the frizzen and bent the frizzen spring for faster lock time. The barrels we used were all Sharon barrels. When the company moved to Springfield, OR, Asher Hamilton started working with us. Later, he moved to the coast and Stephen Hughes came on board. End of 1977, I left and went on my own about a year later.
From another source, I found this about Stephen Hughes’ early career.
Stephen D. Hughes began his professional custom gun making career in 1975, when he attended Trinidad State Junior College in Trinidad, CO. He completed his A.A.S degree in gunsmithing in 1977 and a certificate of gun repair in 1978. He worked for Green River Forge in Springfield Oregon form 1978 until 1980.
As if it wasn’t bad enough that Green River Rifle Works and Green River Forge were often confused with each other based on the similarity in names, then Green River Forge began using GRRW barrels which caused another overlap. The ultimate confusion factor occurred when Green River Forge was sold again at the end of 1979 and moved to Roosevelt, Utah, the home of GRRW. The new owner was Bill Brandenburg, the business manager of Green River Rifle Works.
The ad to the left appeared in the January 1980 issue of Muzzle Blasts.
Even though the Roosevelt, Utah based Green River Forge, Ltd. continued to advertise trade guns, it is unclear if Brandenburg actually built and sold very many, if any at all. His primary focus appears to have been on the line of patterns for period clothing, other apparel, and books.
Brandenburg remained in the Roosevelt area for a few years after GRRW closed in 1980. By the beginning of 1985, he had moved to California and continued the Green River Forge, Ltd. business there until his death.
Below is the front and back of the Green River Forge catalog that Brandenburg was using from 1981-85.
The photos were taken by Bill’s brother, Paul Brandenburg, and the buckskinner on the horse is Lance Grabowski.
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