Cartridge I.D.?

I need help identifying a cartridge I found while hiking in the southwest Texas desert.

It’s a rimmed cartridge, 2.010 in length, straight-wall. The diameter of the body is about .054, while the diameter of the rim is about .064. The headstamp is “CF” and “3-86”.

It appears to be straight-wall, but I can’t be sure if there is a slight taper, because the mouth is all dented up, and there’s no way to measure the mouth diameter reliably.

What is this rascal?

Do you really mean: Body dia. = .54 and Rim dia. = .64?

Desert? That hurts; mostly we like to think of it as “the hill country.” Sounds nicer anyway. Your case is a .45-55-405 Springfield, made in March, 1886. The C indicates Carbine, the F the place of manufacture, Frankford Arsenal in Philadelphia. The material of the case and primer is a copper alloy called Bloomfield gilding metal, and, if not tarnished by age, would be a nice coppery red. This was the standard government caliber from 1873 until 1892, loaded with 55 gr. of blackpowder and a 405 gr. bullet in the carbine loading, 70 gr. of powder and either a 405 or 500 gr. bullet for rifles. Before about 1882 government-made cartridge cases were inside primed, and looked rather like rimfires. Good find. JG

Nice find! Would this ammunition have ever been used by civilians, sold off as surplus maybe? Or, could it’s history and location where found be only military related? Any military history in the area this was found? Indian wars?

If you can give a more precise location regarding where the case was found, it might be possible to attach a little history to it. Texas appears to have been the only hotspot of military action in the country between December 1891 and Feb 1893, with at least 10 different battles or actions. Of course, the case could have been discarded by anyone any time after 1887.

Firing pin strike looks a little like the the slightly off center strike of the angled trap door firing pin. But could have been a surplus weapon of a hunter. Location of the find is the key to the real answer. Was this the only case found in the area?


It was near Big Bend National Park, near the Rio Grande River, on the border with Mexico. The military presence I know of in the area began around 1880 with U.S. Cavalry patrols to protect settlers from Indians. And then in the 1910’s there was a U.S. Army presence to protect against Mexican raids by Pancho Villa. It’s neat to think that this cartridge could have been fired in anger at Indians or Mexican raiders. Or maybe just to harvest some fresh venison for the trooper’s dinner.

Thanks for that fascinating info on this cartridge. It appears that it may be a genuine piece of American history!

Two more:

  1. I also found a Winchester 12 ga. shotshell:

This is an old Winchester 12-gauge shotgun shell, with just the metal head remaining. The paper casing has rotted away. The Nublack line of shotgun shells was produced by Winchester starting around 1903, using black powder. This one is pre-1921, because in 1920 they changed the labeling of the gauge from “No. 12” to “12 Ga”. So this cartridge head is from sometime between 1903 and 1920. It has been fired, as indicated by the dimpled primer. If you can find these intact today, they are valuable collector’s items, especially if in the original box.

  1. Oddly enough, a Peters 250-3000 cartridge:

This was a cartridge introduced in 1915 to replace the common 30-30 in lever action rifles. “Peters” refers to the company that made it. The “250” refers to the .250 diameter of the bullet, and “3000” refers to the velocity in feet-per-second. This was astounding at the time, as most rifle bullets were achieving only 2,000 fps. The cartridge is still produced and used today, although it is not widely popular. This one strikes me as really odd to be found out here. There is little weathering, and it appears to be of fairly recent vintage. But the Park was created in the 1940’s and firearms and hunting are banned. So it’s a bit curious how it ended up out there.

There were a thousand or so miners in the area from around 1920 to the 1940’s, working a mercury mine. And Mexican farmers moved into the area and set up small villages to ranch and farm, to supply the miners with meat and produce. Surely, many of those folks hunted, which could explain where these came from.

Photo: Old rock home ruins atop a mesa overlooking the Rio Grande and the desert. Mexico is on the left side of the river, and Texas on the right.

I used to be into Indian Wars history and martial weapons in a big way. I’ve metal-detected quite a few battle and fort sites.

In later years the Army sold off many of its old trapdoor rifles and carbines along with thousands (if not millions) of rounds of ammunition. Because of that it is not uncommon to find both fired cases and bullets in many locations that do not have any military connection. So, unless you can somehow establish such a connection its probably safe to say that the case you found was fired by a civilian, either at a target or game. Much of the surplus ammunition was still being used well into the 20th Century.

There are a couple of good books that might help you locate some of the lesser known military and battle sites. You might be able to find them in a big library or through inter-library loan.


The Old Army Press, Bellevue, NB 68005 - 1969

The Old Army Press, Fort Collins CO 80521 - 1972


Very interesting topic, the history brings the ammunition “alive” so to speak.

The .250-3000 casing is interesting. Now marketed as the .250 Savage, I’ve never seen a casing marked as .250-3000n (in my limited experiance.) Can anyone date it from that as to decade?


That headstamp is very common, in my experience. Also, many, if not all of the Savage manufactured cases were headstamped 250-3000.

I can’t help much in dating either Peters or Savage headstamps. But, I believe that Peters changed its headstamp to 250 Savage around 1930 - 35.

Not to disagree with John Rich but the 250-3000 was never meant as a replacement for the 30-30. The child of Charles Newton, it was designed specifically for, and introduced in, the M99 Savage rifle as a high speed, medium sized game, hunting cartridge to complement the other 4 cartridges then chambered in the M99. Newton did not like Savage’s switch to the 87 grain bullet in order to get the magical 3000 fps. He felt that 87 grains was too light and preferred his original 100 grain bullets at 2800 fps. After the cartridge was introduced he more or less distanced himself from it.


Following up on the 250-3000:

Of interest to me as a wildcatter (but probably of no interest to you) is that Newton’s first 25 caliber cartridge, that he tried to persuade Savage to adopt, was based on a shortened 30-40 Krag case. Savage declined because it would have required a re-design of the M99 to accomodate the large rim of the Krag case. Newton then turned to the new 30 Cal M1906 case, shortening it until he got it to work through the M99 action.

Many believe that the 300 Savage was simply the 250-3000 necked up to 30 caliber but that’s not really true. But the 250-3000 did spawn several wildcats, including the most famous, the 22 Varminter, which eventually became the 22-250. And that was only the beginning. There are many modern day Benchrest cartridges that use the 250-3000 case as the starting point.


I stand corrected. I should have used the word “alternative” or something like that.

Interesting info - thanks for sharing it.