44 WCF at The Battle of the Little Bighorn


Here is the advertisement.


I wonder who furnished those “hand swages … to order.” The text here seems to sort of side step the entire matter of creating a decent bullet. Those Ideal tools beginning in the 1880s (I think) included a mold which cast a grooved bullet and resulted in a fairly satisfactory product, particularly if the user was 700 miles from anywhere. Jack


Here is a tool that looks much like the one in the 1875 catalog but obviously different which leads me to believe it could be dated around 1876-1877 rather than 1875. What is nice to see is this early bullet mold that has no grease grooves as indicated in the aforementioned advertisement I posted above. I can understand the tool having a “resizing” option but I was always under the impression “swaging” was a totally different process.



I hear ya. I guess Winchester wanted to sell everything so they had to be careful how bad they talked about one vs the other of their own products. That comment they made in that advertisement was interesting.

It looks like that Pat. date on that particular tool is Oct 20, 1874…the same Pat date as is on the ones I have seen like in the link above.

The reason why I ask is because I wonder if there is a difference in the long cartridge vs the short cartridge…WAIT a 44 Long WCF vs a 44 Short WCF


I also noticed that one of the three known boxes of 44/100 Winchester 73’ cartridges sold recently for $6,000. I wonder what the case lengths are on those cartridges.


I was the archaeologist in charge of the Little Bighorn investigations for 23 years. We recovered only .44-40 cartridge cases at a variety of locations around the battlefield (5000 acres of metal detecting work). No unfired rounds were recovered as I recall. We also recovered nearly 300 220 grain bullets with a 6 right land and groove configuration consistent with that used by Winchester in the Henry, Model 1866, and Model 1873 (not to mention many later models of their firearms).
The Millbank primer was identified by looking at the interior of the case with magnification and good lighting. I was surprised at the time to see so many Millbank primed cases, but the data are there.


That is great news!!

I have been trying to come up with a list for myself. My questions get answered but then those answers create additional questions. With the help you all of you guys and the Archaeologists, I am really gaining ground in my amateurish research for the correct information to add to the website. I have been a 44-40 enthusiast all of my life but only in the past 10 years have I tried to dig deep for the correct answers for my many questions.

The list goes on and on.

For new guys, this information, he will not find by skimming the surface of the internet. I have dug deep, knocked on doors inadvertently busted through doors I thought to vbe “open” and ventured into areas some would not care to venture to gain truths and to see if myths were such…and I have busted a few.

I thank all of you for your help!!


The original bullet for the Henry had a nominal weight of 219 grains, that being a half ounce of lead, and a weight used by Colt in his Walker revolver of 1847. At some point in later production (after 1876, apparently) most manufacturers went to a 200 grain bullet for the Henry and '66 Winchester. Jack


I’m wondering if the early ungrooved bullet was what was used for those paper patched 44 WCF cartridges you touched on above. Giles &Shuey mentioned the earliest version of the 44 WCF cartridges having a paper patched bullet with a Milbank primer.


Jack, thanks for that input, great food for thought!!! Too bad we can’t get some recovered bullets match to a 73’ somewhere. There must be one somewhere.

Guy. glad to see you join in…you too have been an wonderful source for photographic information on several of my inquiries. I was speaking of memory and that was dangerous… am glad you remember where I saw it…lol!!!

I try to put myself back in that time frame trying to think with the information at hand…like trying to figure out what improvements they had in mind between the Henry and 66" bullets…if any…to implement into the 73’. Their catalog already sad to increase the speed. Interestingly, greater speed doesn’t seem to be of great importance now days but certainly must have been a selling point back then.

I am mesmerized by that x-ray photo. I keep staring at it…my wife thinks I am nuts…she is always right!


SWIMBO, known as She who I must obey is always right. ow long does it take to learn that!!!


Why do you say this? Your apparently assuming the prototype case was the only case that used the Milbank primer?

See the 1st sentence in my above 1st reply to you.

Also see GuyHildebrand’s above mention.


This thread not being quite complicated enough I think it would be useful to point out UMC in this period (say 1872-1880) employed the Orcutt primer in many (or all?) of its centerfire handgun calibers, as well (probably) as the smaller rifle calibers. The Orcutt is broadly of the Boxer type but has a vertically arranged brass anvil which can sometimes be seen through the flash hole of the fired case.

Compared to the Winchester type Boxer it is much taller in height. Due to the marked chamfer at the mouth of the primer pocket a fired Orcutt primer looks to have a large diameter due to the expansion of the base of the primer into the pocket chamfer. Jack

p.s. whether or not UMC used the Orcutt in the .44-40 I don’t know, but they did employ it in the .45 Colt, a cartridge of similar size.


I learned that the Milbank primed cartridge case appears to be shorter (1.177") than than later production cases (1.300).

Why do you say this? Your apparently assuming the prototype case was the only case that used the Milbank primer?

Well, I think they are shorter than early “production” cases but I would certainly think they are shorter than later production cases. I was referring to cases produced before 1876ish relying solely on the featured cartridge on the pre 1877 top label cartridge boxes.
I am wrong about a lot of things and I expect you guys to set me straight :-)


This thread not being quite complicated enough I think it would be useful to point out UMC in this period (say 1872-1880)

I have plenty of webspace…bring it on!!!

The earliest UMC box I have seen is on Guy’s website. http://www.oldammo.com/december03.htm
That is the length of all I know! I would love to learn and see UMC’s early (1873-1882) history with the 44 WCF.


Jack, I hope you are not basing actual production on cartridge box labels. but it sounds as if you are.

I have around 15-16 unheadstamped singles in my drawers & these three seem to be the closest match to the box you show above. And my take it’s either one on the left that is a best match, (In the view of the heads) the shortest is in the right (in the OAL view)& it has a case length of 1.302".
44WCF%20plain 44%20WCF%20plain%20OL

Apparently somehow the dark case in the middle in the over all view got switch when I did the headstamp photo, SO the case on the right in the over all photo is the shortest & it’s head is in the middle in the view of the heads.

Apologize for such a screw up


Not really but its all I got to go on. I am always open to photos and information. What ya got?
Pete, that is what I have learned so far. I am eager to learn more ;-)



I purchased an unheadstamped cartridge a while back thinking it may have an exposed lube groove. There is a reason I do not gamble and this would have been a good example why. I dissected the cartridge to find that the base of the bullet corroded (white powder) and pushed the bullet up out of the case. At first I thought the white powder may have been an over powder card but I noticed the base of the bullet/length was shorter than normal.
That’s what got me started in trying to replicate the cartridge that lead to more research…cause things just didn’t adding up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JikC4jbT_u0
I even began to think that the early bullets may have been heeled. Although the bullet had a slight heel, I am not convinced they were.

RIGHT: Accurate Mold’s 43-215C…note damaged case mouth from using the Lee FCD

Notice the bullet base on the left is thicker than the corroded bullet base in the center.
I even went so far as to have a custom mold made. Even though the end result was not exactly what I was looking for, the flange helps keep the bullet from telescoping when using smokeless powders.

LEFT: Accurate Mold 43-208A
CNTR: Original Unheadstamped WRA…maybe slightly heeled for some reason. Note jagged base from oxidation/corrosion
Right: Modern Lyman 427098

Just me having fun

John’s bullets look much better
Just for kicks, the Henry/66’ bullets

Early case lengths and early case AOL could help pinpoint bullet designs. I am sure that information is out there somewhere, just trying to track it down.


Amen, Brother!


Savvy Jack - I probably cannot begin to answer all your questions on UMC production, but perhaps I can help a little by recounting UMC’s shop notes on the “.44 Winchester & C.L.M.R. (Colt’s Lightning Magazine Rifle).” Comments are all from UMC’s keeper of the notes, not from me. Uncharacteristically, the first entry is undated, a very unfortunate oversight at UMC at the time:

Undated - Commenced making Shell primed with Orcutt primer.

Mar. 1878 - Changed to #1 Wesson primer.

Oct. 1882 - Commenced using new anvils.

Jan. 1883 - Increased the diameter of min. .515 to .525 (Their is no explanation of what measurement they are talking about. JLM)

Dec. 1883 - Changed to solid head and changed the thickness min .050 to .060 and diameter changed to min. .515 to .527. There are a number of old in the works to come through before the solid head. (Assume the word “cases” is missing from the sentence JLM)

Sept. 1, 1884 - Changed the diameter of cavity to .174 and depth as near as possible to .130

Nov. 6 1885 - From a successful experiment the diameter and shape of the bullet will be changed and the mixture to be 1 to 75.

Jan. 2 1886 - From a further experiment we changed the weight of bullet to 217 grains, 1 to 73 and holding the same profile.

Jan. 5 1886 - From a further experiment we commenced to use a special grade of powder for these cartridges.

Jan. 1887 - Head to be made smooth so as to stamp with sunk letters.

June 1889 - Commenced to stamp heads both C.F.W. & C.L.M.

July 1889 - Stamped some of these “Magic.”

Oct. 1889 - Changed receiving gauge.

Feb. 1890 - Commenced to stamp 44/40 for Marlin Safety.

Apr. 1890 - Commenced using O.E. powder in place of C.L.M. in C.L.M.R. cartridges to reduce the pressure of these cartridges.

Dec. 1900 - Decided to stamp these shells 44/40 for all cartridges made from this shell, labeling as before.

Apr. 7, 1904 - Changed the weight of the bullet to 200 grains. Results are satisfactory. The reason for changing is that our cartridges cost more than Winchester when imported into foreign countries.

Oct. 1904 - Will furnish 44 Winchester with 28 grains of powder.

Nov. 1908 Changed to (somewhat illegible so am copying it as I see it, even if senseless to me - JLM) FF Dead Shot.

Nov. 1908 - Will furnish these with Hollow point bullet.

Sept 1910 - Commenced loading with “Lesmok powder.”

That was the last entry. What you see here is what you get. Some of the entries are quite clear to me, a specialist only in auto pistol ammunition but a big fan of .44-40 for shooting (I have 14 firearms chambered for that cartridge), but other entries I am not sure what they are talking about. I will leave interpretation up to some of the really expert guys we have on this Forum, if the want to do it.

Hope this is of some interest and help to you.

John Moss