By Larry B. Schuknecht
New York State was the home of many remarkable gun makers during the 19th Century. Some such as William Billinghurst of Rochester were well known for the quality of work they did. Others such as William Henry Baker were noted for their ability to create new gun designs and form companies to manufacture those guns. Many gun makers had shops with several employees or apprentices while others toiled in small shops by themselves. One gun maker whose story till now has been relatively unknown is Elliott W. Cook.
Elliott Wilkinson Cook was born on June 13, 1818 in Cumberland, Providence Co., Rhode Island to Amasa Cook (Jan. 9, 1772- ) and Mary Wilkinson (Jan. 12, 1776- Nov. 7, 1861). In 1835 Elliott's brother- Rensselear S. Wilkinson ( the last name Wilkinson poses a problem which can not be explained except that his mother gave him her Maiden name as his last name) moved to Lockport, N.Y. and immediately entered into a mercantile business with Stephen B. Ballou known as Ballou & Wilkinson. In 1837 Elliott moved to Lockport also. It is not known where or from whom he learned gun making, but he may have learned from William Humphrey who was working in Lockport about this time. On June 29, 1839 George Mann Jr. of Lockport was issued U. S. Patent no. 1,211 for a Smut Machine and Elliott W. Cook was a witness to this Patent. In the early 1840's he married Malvina Louisa Littlefield (1824-May 12, 1894) and the two settled in Lockport, Niagara Co., N.Y. where he worked as a Gunsmith and they raised a family. their first son Charles Elliott Cook was born in Lockport on June 18, 1843, George Hamilton Cook was born on Oct. 10, 1846 and Frederick William Cook was born on Feb. 15, 1856.
New York State Militia law required that every able-bodied male citizen be prepared to serve in the local Militia, or pay a yearly 75 cent fee for deferment. The Oct. 1840 Niagara County Supervisors Journal shows that Elliott was paid $1.00 for "Services in the Militia called out by the Sheriff".
On Aug. 31, 1840 the Niagara Democrat & Balance carried the following announcement- "180th Regiment, 5th Brigade, 24th Division N. Y. State Militia commanded to parade at the American (American Hotel), in the village of Lockport, Friday Sept. 11, 1840 at 9 A.M., uniformed, armed & equipped, as the law directs, for Regimental Drill & Inspection. By order of Col. J. D. Cooper, Elliott W. Cook, Adj. "
On may 12, 1841 the same paper carried another announcement- "180th Reg't., Col. Isaac Mapes appoints Reg't. Court-Martial, Maj. Elliott W. Cook presiding, Captain Nehemiah Gates & Lieut. Hinks Gross, as members to convene Oct. 11, 1841 at the American".
The May 25, 1842 edition of the Lockport Democrat & Balance included the following- "Regimental Orders, No. 12, Lockport, May 23, 1842. In pursuant of the power vested in me by Chapter X of the revised Statutes of this State, I Isaac Mapes, Col. and commanding officer of the 180th Regiment of Infantry of the Militia of the State of New York - do hereby appoint a regimental Court -Martial for the trial of all dealings and deficiencies in the said Regiment,- to consist of three members viz: Major E. W. Cook as President thereof, Capt. Enos Steel and Lieutenant Charls J. Fox as members thereof. The said court to convene on Monday the 17th day of oct. next, at the American in the village and town of Lockport, and adjourn from time, as shall become necessary for the transaction of business. Isaac Mapes, Col."
By the mid 1840's Elliott had become a prominent citizen of Lockport and on June 10, 1846 the Niagara Courier reported that "Major E. W. Cook of this village is engaged in raising a Company of volunteers under the call of the Governor". On June 17, 1846 the Niagara Courier reported that "it has been about 10 days since Major Cook commenced raising a Volunteer Company for the Mexican Service but we understand that only a small part of the whole number required has been obtained". By this time in 1846 his Gun Shop was well established and on April 29, 1846 the Niagara Courier reported that "The Lockport Rifle Manufactory (Cook's shop) is now manufacturing rifles of a quality superior to any heretofore made in Western New York which he is selling at extremely low prices, and warranted in all cases, fowling pieces kept constantly on hand or made to order, a brass foundry is connected with the establishment where brass and composition Box's for mill gearing and other machinery will be cast to order".
The Niagara Courier ran additional notices and testimonials on Elliott and his product's on Jan. 6, 1847 and May 18, 1848. On Dec. 27, 1847 he advertised that his shop address was on Main St. a few doors east of the Canal Bank.
In Jan. of 1849 Elliott became swept up in the California Gold Fever and on Jan. 28, 1849 he and a party of men who numbered 20 in all, left Lockport for the California gold fields. In the book "California as I saw it" by William McCollum, M.D. he is mentioned as being in the party of men who had only a small amount of success. On June 14, 1849 someone who was running the shop for Elliott (possibly his apprentice- John Repass Jr.) advertised "Rifle Manufactory and dealer in all kinds of sporting articles and fishing tackle, Main St. a few doors East of the Commercial Bank". With very little to show for it, Elliott returned to Lockport late in 1849 and his gun making.
On June 26, 1850 Elliott ran the following advertisement in the Niagara Courier- "Wanted- an apprentice to the gunsmithing business. A young man desiring to learn the trade, by furnishing good references can have a good opportunity to learn the trade in all it's branches, one from the country preferred. Apply to the subscriber- E. W. Cook"
The 1850 U. S. Census shows that his household consisted of-
Elliott W. Cook, 32, Gunsmith, Born in R.I.
Malvina, 26, wife, born in N.Y.
Charles, 7, child, N.Y.
Ann Moore. 22, 22, servant, N.Y.
John Repass Jr., 19, Gun Maker, N.Y.
Anson Culver, 18, Gun Maker, Pa.
John Repass Sr., who's son John Jr. was an apprentice of Elliott was listed as a Watch Maker in Lockport with a shop next door to Cook's establishment.
The 1855 N. Y. State Census shows that the Cook household included-
E. W. Cook, 35, born in R. I.
Malvina, 31, born in Monroe Co.
Charles, 12, Niagara Co.
George, 9, Niagara Co.
George Holmes, 21, Servant, (employee in Gun Shop), Niagara Co.
Warren Buck, 20, Servant, (employee in Gun Shop), Niagara Co.
Catherine Clancy, 21, Servant, Niagara Co.
The Industrial Schedule for that Census had the following entry-
E. W. Cook-Guns & Pistols / Real Estate value-$3,000.00 / Tools & Machinery-$2,000.00 / Gun Barrels & Black Walnut- $1,000.00 / Income- 100 Guns a year @ $2,000.00 / Repairing- $1,000.00 / 5 Hands (employee's) @ $25. per month.
Following are two images of Cook's Advertisements in the Lockport Democrat & Courier from 1855.
On my lap as I type this is the barrel of his gun no. 108 which is also stamped 1851. Taking into consideration the above report of 1855 which states that Elliott produced approximately 100 guns a year, it can be assumed that he began numbering his guns after his return from California in late 1849, and a gun that is numbered but with no date, can be roughly dated by the 100 a year figure starting in 1850. Gun no. 108 was probably made in early 1851.
During the 1850's Elliott advertised extensively, and one of the papers he advertised in was the Lockport Democrat & Courier. His ad's mention that he carried both English & German fowling pieces, made fowling pieces to special order, and that double barrel rifles were a specialty of his (I will show a fine example later). One ad from March 15, 1855 included the following- "Also 14 inch rifle-pistols. They are a very fine article and are finished with a Mahogany case and a full set of apparatus including a telescope, and a rifle breech which can be attached at pleasure. For beauty of finish and convenience in use as a rifle or pistol they are unsurpassed" (Also one of these will be illustrated later).
At the outbreak of the Civil War Elliott helped raise a Company of men and on May 6, 1861 was commissioned as it's Captain. On May 6, 1861 he was promoted to Major and on Oct. 25, 1862 he was promoted to Lieutenant Col., the rank he held at the time of his discharge. It is reported that he was slightly wounded in early August 1862 and was recorded as a prisoner on Aug. 15, 1862. Records show that he served as Lieut. Col. of the 28th New York as a part of the Twelfth Army Corps under Maj. Gen. Henry W. Slocum.
During the Civil war the Niagara Falls Gazette contained the following mentions of Elliott.
May 22, 1861- The 28th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment was formed yesterday at Albany. The election of officers was on saturday at 1 p.m., col. Dudley of lockport, and Major James R. Mitchell of Batavia were elected the commanding officers. The following officers made up this regiment- Capt. Elliott W. Cook, Lockport- co. A.
July 17, 1861- Meets the Enemy- A telegraphic dispatch yesterday afternoon states that two companies of the 28th Regiment had a skirmish with a body of Rebel Cavalry on Thursday. Macon Skikel was killed. We can not find that he belonged to any of the Niagara Co. Companies. Three Rebels were killed and one taken prisoner. We shall probably have particulars within a day or so by mail. P.S. Later- We learn that the soldier shot belonged to Captain Cook's Company of Lockport. The soldier's name was Isaac Sly. In an action at Martinsburg, Va. Companies A and C of the 28th Regiment and four Companies of the 19th New York Infantry advanced five or six miles from the city on a foraging expedition. While Co. A was in Picket they were engaged with about 50 Confederate Cavalry. Capt. Cook carried a Maynard breech loading rifle. He is said to have accounted for at least three of the Confederate casualties before they broke off the engagement and retreated.
Oct. 9, 1861- Major Cook and Lt. Judd and Farley of the 28th Regiment arrived in town on a short furlough. They are in good health and spirits and report the men of the 28th generally in the same condition.
May 28, 1862- 28th Infantry It is supposed that the 28th Infantry was in battle at Winchester last Saturday, hence there is great anxiety among friends of our soldiers to hear definite news. Later and Better- A dispatch from Maj. e. W. Cook of the 28th to his wife in Lockport says the 28th only lost one man in battle. The entire loss of the Army was 100 men.
Aug. 20, 1862- Cedar Mountain- We are yet without full particulars of the part taken by the 28th Regiment in the battle at Cedar Mountain. We learn from the Richmond papers and private letters that the following are prisoners: Maj. E. W. Cook.
Oct. 1, 1862- Major Cook has been released.
Nov. 5, 1862- 28th Infantry- Major E. W. Cook has been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
Feb. 4, 1863- The Regiment has lately been on arduous service and Col. Cook says that he does not wish to see any more such roads and storms as they have had to march in lately.
Feb. 18, 1863- Lt. Col. Cook of the 28th Infantry is sick in hospital at Washington City.
May 13, 1863- Richmond papers mention the arrival there as prisoner Lt. Col. Cook of the 28th Regiment. The 28th Infantry along with their division had gone out early the day before on a reconnaissance. Upon their return to their own lines Gen. Alpheus "Pap" Williams had detached the 28th infantry and placed them in trenches in hopes they would be spared from further action. their term of service was up in two weeks and it was his opinion that they had seen enough hard service and deserved a rest.
Soon after the men from Niagara County entered these trenches, the balance of their division had advanced to the front and had left this little contingent of 100 men to protect the trench in their rear.
When the great onrush of troops caused by the hasty retreat of the 11th Corps came upon this section of the lines they just passed over the heads of the Niagara men.
As soon as the victorious Confederates came within range these few men opened fire from behind their breastworks. It was 100 men against the onrush of a charging army of over 20,000 men.
The Confederates slowed for only a moment and then seemed to gain momentum as the first wave broke over the little band of Niagara boys.
In less time than it takes to tell the little group from Niagara County was overpowered and Col. Cook ordered a cease fire in order to prevent needless bloodshed. Some men on the left managed to escape into the nearby woods but Col. Cook and 67 of his men were captured and sent to Richmond.
July 15, 1863- Col. John Fisk of Niagara City has received authority from the Governor to raise a Regiment for three years service in the United States Army. The Regiment is to be known as the Governor's Guard.
We learn that Lt. Col. Cook of Lockport of the old 28th Infantry goes in as Lieutenant Colonel. (This unit became the Second regiment, new York State Mounted rifles. Cook did not serve in this unit, and I believe it was because of his age, but he did serve as a recruiter.)
Sept. 16, 1863- The state is in the recruiting field and recruiting stations are being multiplied. Several officers of the old 28th Regiment are engaged with Col. Fisk in recruiting this new organization, among them are Lt. Col. Cook.
In May of 1862 George Holmes who was Elliott's former apprentice, and the son of a prominent County Judge, advertised that he was the successor to E. W. Cook, and opened a "New Gun Shop at 139 Main St." After the War was over Elliott returned to Lockport but never returned to Gun Making.
On Aug. 27, 1867 John D. Numan, James T. Wilkinson and Elliott w. Cook were issued U. S. Patent no. 68,106 for an "Improved Cement for Roofing".
Elliott and William Tucker were listed in the 1868 and 1869 Lockport City Directories as Cabinet Manufacturers at 90 & 92 Main St. The Cook's lived at 53 Washburn St. and Tucker lived at 59 Pine St.
A notice in one of the Lockport papers of Jan. 17th or 18th, 1877 stated the following- "Col. Cook who had been an invalid for several years and had gone to the Pacific Coast to obtain the benefits of the milder climate of that region, failing to obtain the relief expected, in a state of depression, he resorted to the rifle to end his suffering. "
His remains were interred in the Cold Springs Cemetery in Lockport, along with Malvina's and his brother. The Evergreen Cemetery in Riverside, Ca. contains a stone in the GAR section of K block bearing the inscription "E. W. Cook, Lt. Col., 28th NY Inf." As it gives no birth or Death dates it is believed that this is a "memorial" stone and it may signify that Elliott had been active in War veterans affairs while in California.
In 1935 his grand daughter Jane James Cook published his journal of his 1849 trip to California as a book titled Land Ho.
Now- A look at some samples of his guns-
First we have the 1851 rifle no. 108 which is .38 caliber with a 32 inch barrel that is turned at the muzzle for a bullet starter.
Next we have a Swivel Barrel Double Rifle no. 494 which is .40 caliber with 30 inch barrels.
Following are five images of a Cook swivel four barrel rifle, a Cook over-under mule ear rifle and a 14 inch rifle-Pistol all of which are from the set of books by Jerry Swinney and Tom Rowe and are courtesy of Tom Rowe.
The following images of Cook single barrel target rifle no. 298 appeared on Gun Broker many years ago.
The Following images show another Cook half stock rifle no. 265 which also appeared years ago on an Online Auction site.
I would like to thank the following for their help with my research:
The Niagara County Historical Society- 215 Niagara St., Lockport
The Niagara County Historian- Civil Defense Building, 139 Niagara St. Lockport
The personal notes of Mr. Holman J. Swinney, courtesy of Mr. Tom Rowe
The Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints
Rootsweb World Connect project
Memoirs of the Wilkinson family in America-1869