50-70 Variations

In a previous thread, sksvlad asked about a “large primer” cartridge he had come across. It turned out to be one variation of the 50-70 GOVT cartridge. His question got me to thinking (dangerous, I know).

Is there a cartridge that had more physical variations of case, primer and bullet types in such a short time period than did the 50-70 Government??

Just off the top of my head, and without any pain whatsoever, I can think of at least 3 case materials sporting 9 uniquely different primers in 5 different sizes. This is not counting at least 6 different bullet/ball styles and blanks in at least 4 different lengths. Or headstamps.

Although the 50-70 continued to be used commercially throughout the late 1880s and early 1900s, its US GOVT service life was less than 10 years, from 1866 to 1873.

Is there another cartridge that can boast such a history?


Since my name is mentioned, I have to ask a question. This round (headstamp: U.M.C. SH 50-70) has a wooden shotshell extension to the regular looking cartridge filled up with BB’s. What was the purpose? Hunting? Is it a military round?

The 50-70 was far more successful as a commercial hunting rifle and the ammo is still being made!

Let me repeat it. 50-70 is a great shotshell hunting round even though a 12 G shotgun packs much more power and BB’s and is probably cheaper to make? Am I missing something? (I am not a hunter)

There are at least four case materials that I can think of; in addition to copper and brass, there are the iron head and the paper that were used on some of the Rodman-Crispin cases.


The wooden capsule shotshells were for “foraging” using a conventional rifle or revolver. They were made in several different cartridges. In actual practice they were probably about as useful as a rock or stick.


Regarding the 50-70 wood bullet shotshells, I believe these were intended for sporting use rather than military and allowed someone who could only afford a single rifle to use it for both ball and shot. The wood bullet came into use after the 50-70 was no longer the US military standard cartridge.

As an aside, I believe that any of the Frankford Arsenal 50-70 and 45-70 cartridges that are found today loaded with the shot filled wood bullets were originally ball loads that had their bullets replaced with the wood bullets after the cartridges were sold by the Government as surplus.