Cartridge Case ID needed

My friend in Texas just sent me a photo of a case he found in his yard. He lives near the area where Indians killed a Scout named “negro” Britt Johnson. Johnson’s grave can be seen from his house. Here is the story of the first attack just NW of Ft Belknap in 1864. Johnson eventually got his family back, all but the one that was killed in the 1860 attack. Johnson was then attacked and killed by them in 1871 at a camp near the grave site.
Indian Raid on Elm Creek 1860

I know a 44 WCF cartridge would not have been used during that time but he did find a center fire case what looks to be a 44 WCF, in his yard. Maybe you guys can tell what it is. It is damaged but he said it was 1.275" long and the rim was right at or a tad larger than .500?

That is awfully close to the 44 WCF’s measurements.48360996_337502393762945_7895199644479651840_n 48365407_363773291094572_2530667994355335168_n 48376831_509914952831045_415009658881703936_n 48380473_1961310480841048_3342065098427465728_n

Hi SavvyJack,
Judging by the pictures and the measurements, it is a .45 Colt. 1860-1871 would be slightly too early for the .45 Colt. Since it does not have a headstamp, I would estimate it was manufactured some time around the late 1870s into the 1880s. This casing was not manufactured by any U.S. military arsenals, but by a civilian manufacturer.

You know, I would more impressed if it were a civilian produced unheadstamped 45 Colt case. One thing I know little to nothing about is the early civilian 45 Colt cartridge market.
Frankford arsenal is all I know on the early 1873-1892 era military market.

What is the earliest civilian 45 Colt cartridge manufacture and dates?

I may have found one on Pete’s auction site item #614

From what I understand, all non-experimental .45 Colt production in the military utilized a Benet primer until 1882. From then on, military-produced Colt cartridges used boxer primers, like this casing. That being said, I believe the Frankford arsenal began using headstamps in 1877, meaning all boxer-primed .45 Colts will have headstamps if produced by the Frankford arsenal. The 1880 UMC catalog has a .45 Colt listed (the 1877 catalog does not) and they began using headstamps around 1886 I believe. Centerfire cartridges by USCCo and Winchester also lacked headstamps in the very early years. All that being said, there are known military sites in Arizona in which both unheadstamped Benet-primed and unheadstamped boxer-primed Colt cartridges are found together, meaning that soldiers in some circumstances used both military and civilian cartridges.

Interesting that the 1877 UMC catalog lacks the .45 Colt as I have an unheadstamped Orcutt primed .45 Colt fired case that was recovered not far from Fort Griffin, Tex. At this point it seems to me that UMC-made Orcutt-primed cases in this caliber would have been produced between about 1874 and 1878. Jack

Jack, were those 1874 to 1878 cases have headstamps?
I am still working on a time-line to try and let this overload of information sink in.

Is this correct?

  • (1874 - 1878)? - Some UMC Unheadstamped Orcutt Primed cases recovered near Ft Griffin at some point
  • 1877 - Military used both Benet and Boxer primed 45 cases. Who made the boxer primed cases? They also started using headstamps.
  • 1880 - UMC 45 Colt listed in catalog
  • 1882 - Frankford started using boxer primed cases
  • 1886 - UMC started headstamping

What did I miss?

It should be noted that the 1877 catalog I cited was an E. Remington and Sons gun catalog with cartridge prices listed at the end (it can be found under the References tab on this website). I don’t believe E. Remington ever produced rimfire or pistol cartridges, but instead contracted with UMC to produce these. It is possible that Remington just omitted the UMC-produced .45 Colt from their catalog. For example, the .44 Colt is not listed in the 1877 catalog either, even though UMC was evidently producing .44 Colt before 1877 (.44 Colt is listed in the 1875 and 1873 UMC catalogs).

The military did not “officially” use externally-primed .45 Colt cartridges until 1882. The military officially only produced/used Benet-primed .45 Colt cartridges, even though individual soldiers would sometimes purchase their own externally-primed ammunition from civilian manufacturers like UMC, Winchester, USCCo, and others.

Savvy: I based the production period (presumed, not proven) for the Orcutt-primed .45 Colt as 1874 to 1878 because that cartridge was introduced in 1873 and it might have taken UMC a bit to get tooled up for it, along with the fact that the bulk of early production in this caliber was for the government, who were making their own ammunition. Assuming an end date of 1878 is based on the fact (cited by John Moss from a UMC document in another thread) that the .44-40 cartridge was not made with the Orcutt primer after 1878, so it’s likely the .45 changed at about the same time. UMC seems to have used the Orcutt primer for handgun calibers for only about 4 or 5 years, not so unusual as this was a period in which small arms ammunition design and manufacture was developing at a rapid pace. Jack

Hi Jack,
Did the government purchase .45 Colt ammunition directly from civilian manufacturers? I did not know this and I am very interested to hear more about it. If the government did buy .45 Colt ammunition directly from UMC and others, it would shed some more light on the externally-primed, unheadstamped .45 Colt casings found at military sites.

Great info once again guys, thanks. Here is a wonderful photo of the inside look at the primer49031516_1241208766031062_3268516712651161600_n

Unlike the .45-70 cartridge, for which contracts were entered into by the US Army with Winchester, UMC, and the US Cartridge Company, I don’t believe the .45 Colt cartridges used by the US Army were ever produced by any commercial ammunition maker. The Army encountered extreme shortages of the cartridge after the Colt Single Action Army Revolver initially went into production and thru April 1874, but this shortage was due to a lack of funds available for ammunition production at that time and not a lack of production capacity at the Frankford Arsenal.

but this shortage was due to a lack of funds available for ammunition production at that time and not a lack of production capacity at the Frankford Arsenal.

I wonder if this could be related as to why the Army “Brass” didn’t want the repeating rifles. Could have increases cartridge uses 7 to 1. But maybe rather than blame the funds problem, they pushed the blame on scapegoats…

Even during the Civil War, the Military refused to order the Henry so entire regiments bought and paid for their own guns rather than carry what the government furnished. The writing continues and describes at what could only cause the military to be disinterested.

"There is however a cause why they are not adopted[the Henry Rifles]…It is the same cause that has always prevented all governments availing themselves promptly of any improvements…vis. The immobility of prejudice.

“It will never do to put such rapid firing guns into the hands of soldiers, because they will waste their ammunition.”

"Another sage remark is that “repeating arms are too delicate and complicated to put into the hands of common soldiers.”

Even a high ranking ordnance officer said, “repeating arms could never be used in the army”
~Winchester catalog 1875

The reluctance of the Army to adopt repeating firearms wasn’t an issue in this case. The Colt SAA revolver had already been adopted and was in production.

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Remember, many civilians purchased Colt SAAs and their own ammo as well, and often ended up associated with military troops in towns, forts or in the field. Thus presence of non-military ammo in a mostly military area doe not mean that it was used by military units.


Which primer is this?

It needs to be mentioned that the government dropped production of the .45 Colt cartridge about 1875 or so, replacing it with the .45 Smith and Wesson which could be used in both Colt and S & W revolvers. The Colt was too long for the Smith cylinder. Government production of the .45 S & W continued until about 1901 or so. The .45 Colt was resurrected in 1909 for the Colt double action revolver. Jack

p.s. the cartridge case show appears to me to be a conventional Boxer primed one.

Guy covered that on his website and I completely forgot about it that. I knew better too! I was under the impression the Gov dropped it less than a year after its inception.

So much information, so little brain to absorb!

wrong one