44 WCF at The Battle of the Little Bighorn

I have been trying to read as much as I can before I post and it is not easy. Sometimes I learn more by being wrong because when I am wrong, I get corrected fast rather asking a question and no one answering.

Anyhow, I have and have read the following books and articles;

Archaeological Insights into The Custer Battle, An Assessment…1984…with foldout map
Archaeological Perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn…1989
Uncovering History, Archaeological Investigations…Bighorn…2013
Analysis of Ammunition Components from…Rosebud…2013
Systematic Metal Detector Survey and Ass…fire…Rosebud…2016
Archaeological Mitigation of the Federal Lands…Bighorn…2006
One Hundred Years of Winchester…1856-1956…Ray
Emails with Dr Scott
Museums are no help

Ray sent me a signed copy of his book back in April…THANKS RAY!!

My OCD is killing me and I am wanting to learn all I can about the first years of the Winchester 73’ 44/100 and up to about 1875.

Like has been said in various topics and replies…I am getting conflicting reports and information on this cartridge. It has been said that the very first short lived Milbank primed cases may have been a mix of copper and brass cases. None of the three Milbank Primed cartridge boxes contain Milbank primed cartridges.

From what I could find, all of the reports from Bighorn claim 25 cases found linking to 11 rifles. If anyone ever sees any in-corrections please tell me so I can correct them with your corrections.

At some point, at least one case was found at Rosebud linking to a separate 12th rifle. Totaling at least 26 cases and 12 Winchester 1873 rifles documented.At least one Archaeologist claims that the 220gr bullets were also used in the 73’s but since it could not be confirmed, and no other bullets were found…they set claim to them being fired from the 60’s or 66’s. Conflicting answers claim all of the cases were Milbank primed while other information says at least a few were Milbank primed cases.

There is also some vague information out there that the earliest cartridges were paper patched.

This information is just not out there on the net and those that do know, are gradually going to that great shooting range in the sky.

Does anyone know if there are actually Milbank primed cases in existence?
What was the first bullets used?
The Winchester 44/100 box does not show and exposed lube groove as does the second style box. I see there are some second style boxes out there as well as the three first style boxes. What bullets were used in those cartridges?

I almost purchased an 1875 box of Winchester Swaged bullets but just couldn’t justify the cost. I am not a collector of artifacts, just a collector of accurate and correct information. It’s my hobby that started with antique airplanes (Fairchild 24’s, WACO’s) when I was a kid that has moved to the 44-40. I do have some replica boxes I made so I can enjoy them and not have to worry about messing up a $400…$6,000 box of irreplaceable history!

Transferring information from my notes to the computer, website…and forums…can result in typos and accidental inaccurate information.


I can’t speak about primed Milbank cases being available but loaded .44 W.C.F. Milbank primed rounds exist.

And if you look at lot 203 in my last sale (pdbullets.com) we offered a prototype.

203 RARE and early, this Winchester prototype .44 W.C.F. has a copper Milbank primer, {Pat. #103,641 May, 31, 1870,} a 1.177” / 29.91mm long brass case and a flat nose lead bullet. If side-by-side, a M-66 .44 Henry long case mouth would end at the shoulder of this. So this case was most likely too short to support the bullet and would have then been lengthened into the production .44 W.C.F. Weighing 319.4 gr., with uneven toning and oxidization, it is in good condition.

Nice round Pete. I would like to know how the dug up casings were id as Milbank primed. I would think you are correct that this is a prototype just by how rare it is. I have a problem identifying a Milbank round that hasn’t been fired and buried for a hundred years.

Wow, thanks pete. I clicked the link but no place to join, link shows a catalog order form. That appears to be a short skirt, maybe heelled bullet??? Looks like it could be a Henry 220gr bullet? I really appreciate you sharing that awesome piece of history.

I contacted Winchester a while back and they told me to contact Cody. Maybe they can shed some light too.

44 Milbank Bighorn

This is supposed to be the MIlbank from the Bighorn but they don’t look center even thought they are spent cases!?

No idea of where to point to, to ID a dug-up fired Milbank, Over the years a lot of rounds thought to be duds were Milbanks & were sold as duds.

Nothing to join If you want to receive notices of up-coming sales, send me a note / e-mail with your postal address & I’ll send you a yellow post card.

I see you’ve replied before I could send this, so to answer your posting photos, 1 st make sure it’s a “.jpg” format & then just click & drag it onto the post.

Looks like you have that sussed, as to the rounds you show neither look like a Milbank to me, One on the right appears to be somewhat rounded as to the edge of the primer where it meets the case. Then there is the pocket bevel.

Here is a bigger photo of the prototype. Below it another Milbank, this time in a .577/.450 Martini Henry.


1 Like

I found the pdf!!!

Pete, that photo really answers some questions I had…but it create other questions. Here is what I just made using the 1.177" case length and the typical length bullet. Looks much like the bullet photo on the 44 Winchester 73’ Second Style ammunition box with exposed lube groove.

The books published after the investigations of 30-odd years ago are not to be relied upon as major sources of ammunition information. Few 73s were at LBH and likely none of those used Milbank-primed ammunition. As far as I know the matching of fired cases and rifles involved only Henrys and '66s, not '73s. Jack

Jack, that sounds about right. I don’t think any 44WCFs were matched to any rifles but I think they only matched cases to each other. With that they came up with 25 cases found. Of those, they determined 11 rifles used.I thought I read somewhere that when certain Indians surrendered later, their rifles were turned in and I think one of those 73’ is on display. I wonder if they have been or will ever be checked. I do believe one Sharps was determined to be used at the LBH by both sides. I assume first by the Cavalry then when captured, by the Indians. I think it was one that was surrendered later by the Indians.
44WCF cases at LBH

A single case was found at the Rosebud Battle of the Rosebud and did not match any cases found at LBH making a posible 26 cases and 12 rifles used. This certainly doesn’t mean they were used during the battles and could have been from an earlier or later hunting party etc. However, they were all unheadstamped and puts them in that time frame. Either way…for me…it’s still good information. However, the locations of the finds were in line with Indian fighting positions during the battles.
I too have my doubts about them being MIlbank primed and like I have seen mentioned on this forum…I do wish they would x-ray them to find out. The ones I have seen, photos, do not look Milbank primed!

In similarities with some of the cartridge collectors being somewhat shunned from the battlefield excavations, as I have read…I can relate because there have been a few forums that have shunned me. Not that I am in any way considered a collector by any means…you guys have helped me considerably and I am really grateful!!

Since is so little information out there on the early history of the “44-40”, I wanted to gather all I could and pit in one location…the “44 Winchester Centerfire” web site. If at any time anyone sees anything wrong, or needs to be worded a different way, please don’t hesitate to let me know so I can correct it or add additional information.
Thanks again for your information and suggestions.

Now if I can just get some information on those early Milbank primed cartridge case bullets!!! In the x-ray cartridge Pete provided, the bullet does not appear to have an exposed lube groove. This could mean it was different than the boxer primed cartridge that used the two lube groove bullet. There is that one early cartridge box with a Milbank primed cartridge photo on it that sold recently for $6,000. Believed to be one of only three boxes known to exist. Of those three boxes two are full of boxer primed cartridges and the third is a partial box of boxer primed cartridges. I would love to see a photo of one of those cartridges to see if the bullet is the same as the prototype Pete showed or if it is of the two lube groove design shown on the second box label as well as on the 1875 era Winchester Swaged bullet box…and in the 1875 Winchester catalog.

Pete, I added the x-ray photo and your information here: https://www.44winchestercenterfirecartridges.com/44wcf-cartridge-collections

Let me know if there are any incorrections.

I believe this should read “pre-1900”, or perhaps “pre-1880”, as it was introduced in 1873?
You have:
“Bryan Austin Collection
Early, maybe pre-1800
Unheadstamped with a 200gr nearly Heeled Bullet
Measurements are approximate.”

Yeap, that’s exactly what I am talking about. So obvious too… Fixed it…I think!

The nomenclature .44-40 was a Marlin term. the Winchester is correctly known as the .44 W.C.F.

No problem with the post Bryan.

Another point of identification on those “thought to be Milbank” fired cases you posted above. is all one needs to do to identify a fired Milbank is to look into it. If you look at the X-ray of the prototype you will see a post protruding into the powder area (also some round-nosed unknown to us material covering part of it). The Milbank primer was somewhat “T” shaped & so not looking at all like a Boxer or Berdan primer. A quick snap through cellophane of an unfired Milbank primer from a .31 front loader below.

Below is a blow-up of the original 72 dpi X-ray,

Re, your comment of the bullet not showing a grease groove above the case mouth in the X-ray, If it was inside lubed that seen in the X-ray, if it was outside lubed that would be apparent in the conventional B&W photo. Sorry to be picking nits, but others reading this may be confused.

No problem, pick away…it’s all about the “language” that can mislead or get folks confused!!!

Absolutely, the mascot of my website is " Winchester’s .44 W.C.F. & Marlin / U.M.C.‘s .44- 40"…“Two Peas In A Pod”. I got that from John Kort and the website is somewhat dedicated to him and his work.

Correct again on the bullet. I was certainly referring to what looked to be a lack of an external grease groove. Upon further looking…I would think that maybe an internal groove might be visible on the “top and bottom” where the lack of lead might give a slight lighter shade of grey hinting to a void in the lead where the lube groove should be.

I would also have to agree looking down into the empty case should revile the tip of the Milbank primer, which should in no way look like a boxer primer inside. I am by all means still observing, absorbing and learning!!!

The website consists of the History of, collections, boxes, factory loads, bullet molds, handloading, high velocity loads, Colt’s frontier six shooter, some blogs, youtube videos followed up by contributor Ed Harris and the late John Kort. Plenty of room for others who would like to contribute their expertise !!!


John passed! I had no idea, if some thing was in the trader I missed that. What a shame, he was a really good guy, he used to come visit when I lived in PA & was a very interesting & very nice person.
Rest in peace John, I hope you’ve solved all the .30 & .44 W.C.F mysteries.

Pete, this shorter case brings up another question…early handloading tools. I have never seen one like is in the 1875 catalog. I wonder if it crimps for the shorter cases. Also it mentions a tool for swaging bullets. Factory swaged bullets had the grooves but the article leads me to believe that the hand swaged bullets as well as the hand cast bullets did not have lube grooves and instructs the user to dip the bullet in beeswax/tallow AFTER loaded.

I think the questions will never end

Many early hand loading tools combined the mold to cast grooved bullets with the depriming, and neck crimping dies. These same tools also frequently had a hole bored through one handle and a fat pin in the opposite handle to permit the cast, grooved, bullet to be resized (i.e. swaged after a fashion) by pushing it through the hole in the opposite handle before it was seated into the case. Jack

I certainly understand Jack. Here is one of my blogs https://www.44winchestercenterfirecartridges.com/single-post/2017/12/25/Lymans-310-Hand-Tool-Kit I could always learn new stuff.

It is just the way the advertisement is worded in the 1875 catalog that leads me to believe there may be a totally separate tool for swaging lead into 44 cal bullets rather than the typical handloading combo tools offered in the later 1880’s