Heritage, 2011, Volume 2 Page: 37
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Although difficult to read because of the worm holes, the buttstock of The butt of this 1873 Springfield carbine # 41254 is stamped with a star.
this carbine is stamped IB for Indian Bureau and 1808 for the year of This mark has been found on a small number of U.S. 1873 carbines with
manufacture. direct association to the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
In the early 19th century, after the Louisiana Purchase
and Lewis & Clark's exploration, the American West
opened up to trade and settlement. There was an initial
period of peaceful bartering with native tribes, but later as
pioneers headed west, they were met with a native popula-
tion that was pushed to the brink of war after 300 years of
westward expansion. The peace was soon broken by both
sides, ushering in a 50-year period in American history
known as the "Indian Wars" that ended at Wounded Knee
in 1890. Hostilities existed between the U.S. and any num-
ber of native tribes, including the Comanche in Texas, the
Cheyenne in Colorado, the Lakota on the Northern Plains,
and the Nez Perce in the Northwest. During this time of
conflict, the source of firearms for the Indians was limited
to illegal black market trade with Comancheros or by cap-
ture during a fight with settlers or the United States military.
The types of guns used by America's indigenous people
vary greatly, but most that still exist today show many
years of hard use. Everything from old muskets and trade
guns to Winchester repeaters and U.S. military firearms
have been documented or forensically linked to Indian
ownership. A small quantity of guns has been scientifi-
cally matched to brass cartridges found during archeologi-
cal surveys of battlefields, especially at the Little Bighorn
site. Oftentimes guns were decorated with carvings or
stamps that were of significance only to the tribe mem-
ber or warrior who possessed the firearm. Many of these
weapons were decorated using brass upholstery tacks that
were readily available through trade. Rawhide and copper
wire wrappings were commonly used for repair. Rifle bar-
rels were cut short in order to make them easier to han-
dle on horseback or to conceal the guns under a blanket
and, as such, became known as "blanket guns." Tribal
groups often painted firearms as a means of decoration.
This 1st Model 1873 Springfield carbine #41254 is of the type issued to
the 7th U.S. Cavalry in 1876.
Many famous battles were fought during the Indian
Wars, but the most remembered is the Battle of the Little
Bighorn. Occurring on June 25-26, 1876, the confronta-
tion was between elements of the 7th U.S. Cavalry, under
the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Custer, and
warriors of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, and Lakota nations,
led by Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Gall. In the after-
math of this battle, the victorious Indian tribes took pos-
session of as many as 200 U.S. Model 1873 Springfield car-
bines from the slain troopers of Custer's command. These
highly prized weapons represented the largest number of
U.S. arms ever captured at one time by native warriors dur-
ing the Indian Wars.
This Sharps New Model 1863 carbine has had the barrel cut to the very
short length of a typical blanket gun.
Although a gun may look worn and be decorated with tacks
and paint, these features alone do not guarantee authen-
ticity as an Indian artifact. Unfortunately, many firearms
have been dressed up this way for the tourist trade. An
experienced collector will look at a combination of identi-
fying characteristics to determine whether a gun was actually
carried by a Native American. That said, as with any historical
artifact, provenance is one of the most critical factors.
Tom Powers, of Utopia, researches, collects, and sells antique
and historical firearms. All photos are courtesy of the author.
Volume 2 2011 I TEXASHERITAGE 37
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, 2011, Volume 2, periodical, 2011; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth254221/m1/39/: accessed May 30, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.