45 Colt Brass at Little Bighorn Battlefields

So was the 45 Colt cartridges used at The Battle of the Little Bighorn? Archeological surveys recovered both 45 Colt and 45 Schofield artifacts.

  • July 23rd, 1873 - Military 45 Colt SAA Order Contract Signed

  • Oct 1873 , by this date, the 45 Colt was loaded with only 30gr of BP with the 250gr bullet…before anyone (6th and 10th Cav Units) were issued their Colts (by Nov 28, 1873).

  • Nov 28, 1873 - Of the first 8,000 SAA’s ordered and shipped to Springfield, Mass, (shipped and received in Lots of 1,000)…

  • Dec 19th, 1873 - sn#'s 200 to 1,222 received , sn#s 1,224 to 2.336 received

  • Jan 31st, 1874 - The 7th Cav Units received sn#'s 4,516 to 5,521 , of which only 755 were issued at that time.

  • Thru August 1874 - the 45 Colt ammunition was loaded with the 250gr lead with 30gr of powder.

  • 1875 - Winchester’s 1875 catalog shows the 45 Colt with a centerfire case …not found at TLBH that I know of…this rules out civilian purchase or theft of civilian ammunition by the Warriors.

  • By 1875, Colt/Schofield 28gr of powder with a 230gr lead bullet.

  • June 26, 1876 - The BTLBH took place

  • Did Custer’s 7th have any Schofield revolvers? It would seem stupid to mix the two cartridges/firearms during battle mission.

So between August 1874 and July 1876 (nearly two years), it looks like the 45 Colt cartridge was still widely used and in great supply during TBTLBH.

Does it appear that the 45 Colt cartridge was not phased out, although unintentional, until after the beginning of the end of the Frontier?

Can anyone add the Schofield information that is missing?

It would appear that during the archeological surveys, 37 45 Colt cartridge cases recovered matched 31 revolvers used. 12 revolvers used at Custer Battlefield and 19 used at the Reno-Benteen defense line. Of those, 66 bullets were recovered as well.

Of the longer Colt cases and shorter Schofield cases recovered, there is no mention of the Schofield revolver being used and the cases listed on the chart are not differentiated.

All twelve Colt cartridges found at Custer’s battlefield were unfired. Eleven fired cases and twenty-nine hollow bases bullets were found there as well. Thirteen deformed by impact and four found with bone fragments imbedded in the lead.

The Reno-Benteen area yielded twenty eight unfired cartridges, twenty-five fired cartridge cases, thirty-one hollow base bullets, six solid based bullets.

A Schofield case was found and matched the “firing pin” markings of one of the Colt revolvers…which was the same marks as found on other Colt cartridge cases.

Might you please spell that out, for those of us who have trouble with acronyms and multiple letter abbreviations?
Thanks.

As for the Schofield and .45 COLT cartridges, I read once that inventory was often of both cartridges, since the Schofield was safe to shoot in the Colt chamber, and it was a simpler way to dispose of [surplus?] inventory because there were many fewer Schofield revolvers issued, and they were phased out earlier.

Initial production adopted was appx 7,000 COLT SAA, and 3,000 S&W Model 3 revolvers in 1873, with another 30,000 [appx] COLT SAA delivered through 1893.

Between 1895~1903 the Army Armourers refurbed about 17,000 COLT SAA, cutting the barrels down to 5.5".
These were issued during:
The Spanish-American War, (July~Dec 1898),
The Philippine-American War, (Feb 1899~ July 1902),
The Moro Rebellion, (1899~1913).
Some COLT SAA Revolvers were carried during WWI, but no solid numbers are at hand, (at least that I have seen), but some were carried by mounted Calvary Troopers. There is anecdotal evidence that a few of those same Troopers also carried the COLT SAA in WWII.

And, of course, we know that Gen. Patton wore his ivory gripped .45 Colt Peacemaker during World War II.

Gen. Stan Leon McClellan carried an 1884-manufactured .44-40 COLT SAA, while seeing in combat in Korea, (1952-1953), and Vietnam, (1968-1969, and 1973 to the pullout), he evidently carries his SAA from 1948 or so until retiring in 1979, and passed away in 1988.
[Interesting to note: “When Gen. McClellan was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, it was according to his last wish in his camouflaged fatigues with his medals of valor pinned on his chest, and his General Officer’s .45 ACP holstered, loaded, cocked and locked, so that he would be ready when his country calls.”

TBTLBH = The Battle of the Little Big Horn.

I agree with Badger - a lot of these are not recognized abbreviations, and not everyone will understand them, especially for those for other countries and whose first languages are not English.

John Moss

Thanks, John.

By the way, I speak two languages- English, and Bad English… :slight_smile:

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Me too…LOL

As for the Schofield and .45 COLT cartridges, I read once that inventory was often of both cartridges, since the Schofield was safe to shoot in the Colt chamber, and it was a simpler way to dispose of [surplus?] inventory because there were many fewer Schofield revolvers issued, and they were phased out earlier.

This is the information I am looking for in detail, maybe, and so far I have yet to get to it…I am working on it though.

I am stopping at July 1876 since that is the date of the battle being discussed, anything after is mute…maybe!!

It would appear, maybe, that by July 1876, there were more 45 Colts and 45 Colt ammo than there were Schofields…maybe! Even then, there is an almost two year period between the Schofield ammunition being manufactured and the July 1876 battle.

Sure, may artifacts were removed over the years, especially from the surrounding private properties but the majority still appears to be the longer 45 Colt rather than the Schofield.

Yes, we all know that the schofield and colts were used with the shorter schofield cartridges BUT…

With the already problems at hand during this particular battle, was/would it have been smart to have both the 45 Colt and 45 Schofield revolvers on the same battlefield with the 45 Colt ammunition still being used in great numbers? Once your initial ration of ammo was used in the heat of battle, I could see all kinds of chaos happening for those wanting the “shorter” cartridges for their Schofields.

Jack - you probably are aware of the book and have likely used it, But just in case, I would mention the fine analysis of the Custer Battlefield as covered in the book “Archaeological Insights into The Custer Battle, An Assessment of the 1984 Field Season,” by Douglas D. Scott and Richard A. Fox, Jr. I have had this book for many years, and as I recall, the general opinion was that it was a very scholarly work.

If perchance you have not seen this work, it is an in-depth coverage of the Custer Battlefield (as I recall, not covering the battlefield of Terry and Reno) done thru excavation of the battlefield in 1984, after a large fire had removed most of the over-100 year growth of grass, etc., from the battle ground. Between 1987 and 1989, five printings were done of this work.

Again, if you were unaware of it, it might answer some of your questions. It is over 100 pages and contains many photographs and drawings.

John Moss

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Yes sir, I will be posting a ton of stuff tonight :slight_smile: Here is some information I obtained for the 44-40 used at the Battle. Chasing the 44-40 - Little Bighorn

If perchance you have not seen this work, it is an in-depth coverage of the Custer Battlefield (as I recall, not covering the battlefield of Terry and Reno) done thru excavation of the battlefield in 1984, after a large fire had removed most of the over-100 year growth of grass, etc., from the battle ground. Between 1987 and 1989, five printings were done of this work.

Now I am home and on my computer so I can reply with some data.

Dr Scott has been a great help to me, offering to help me the best he could. He even sent me some photos to use. I posted that information on the 44-40 website.

I am now working my way along the 45 Colt lines as well as the 44 Henry just absorbing some more information. his information is where I get my questions about the 45 Schofields, if they were used or not, and if so…how many.

From Dr Scotts books we get the following;

Colt M1873 45 Colt

  • 31 revolvers represented by the recovery of 37 cases and 66 bullets
  • 12 revolvers represented at Custer’s defeat and 19 represented at Reno’s defense.

No Schofields are mentioned, and only 3 S&W 44’s represented.

What we have to realize here is that the empty cases would typically remain in the revolver until all six were empty or unless someone checked and replaced one or more fired cases before refilling to leave the area. So in my opinion, where one case was found, there could have been more that disappeared over the years. Another theory is that the soldier fired once killing himself, then the warrior that recovered the revolver, replaced the used cartridge.

I also put together some maps of the 44 artifact recovery locations that paint a pretty impressive picture. They are no longer on my computer but a few survived and are at the link I provided above somewhere.

This is good stuff!!!

Here are the two bullet photos Dr Scott sent to me to use with my 44-40 data. The bullets look to be the 225gr Henry Flat and the one that expanded, looks very close to the 220gr 44-40 soft lead bullets I tested in ballistics gel. John Kort “replicated” these henry loads and found the following:

  • 200 gr flat / 28 grs. powder / 1,133 f.p.s. That is remakably close to the published 1,125 f.p.s.
  • 200 gr ptd / 26 grs. powder / 1,042 f.p.s.
  • 216 gr ptd / 25 grs. powder / 1,010 f.p.s.
  • 225 gr flat / 25 grs. powder / 960 f.p.s.

44henrybullets
44henryctglineup
44Henryssectionedr2 (1)

Below are the photos Dr Scott sent to me.
download (4)


Colt M1873 45 Colt

  • 31 revolvers represented by the recovery of 37 cases and 66 bullets
  • 12 revolvers represented at Custer’s defeat and 19 represented at Reno’s defense.

No Schofields are mentioned, and only 3 S&W 44’s represented.

What I wanted to add here is that from the above recovered items, there were 45 Schofield cartridges and cases recovered. For some reason they are not differentiated from the 45 Colt items recovered on the charts.

Even the bullets are not separated but certainly the Schofield bullets are 230gr rather than 250gr.

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