Early WRACo .44-40 box

Here’s a great box I wanted to share. It is what I believe has been referred to by Shuey and Giles in their wonderful book on Winchester boxes as the third style box, that being those with the green top label with the cartridge depicted, and with the Model 1873 carbine depicted on the side label. This style box was produced in a number of variations beginning in the late 1870s and up to about 1900. I was trying to track down an early box, and got an opportunity to look at this one. It is about as early as this style gets; not only does the cartridge on the label have no headstamp, but the cartridges in the box are also unheadstamped.


Kinda related - I have personally seen about 15 fired cases from the Battle of the Little Big Horn, one metal detected by moi. None were headstamped. They came from various Indian firing positions so either there was more than one Winchester there, or one very mobile warrior.


For information about the guns used by the Sioux and other Native-American participants in the Battle of the Little Big Horn, I heartily recomment the book “Archaeological Insights into The Custer Battle, An Assessment of the 1984 Field Searson,” by Douglas D. Scott and Richard A. Fox Jr. In 1983, after a grassfire raged across the battlefield of the Little Big Horn fight, permission was given to do an archaeological study of the battlefield.

At least seven Winchester Model 73s were used in that battle. They found 14 .44-40 cases, which were probably only a fraction of the amount fired. You can imagine how many were picked up by souvenir seekers before the battlefield became a national shrine of sorts, closed to such activities. I am sure that plenty were probably picked up by soldiers when they went to clear the human remains from the field. As to those who doubt the use of many repeating rifles by the Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Big Horn, the largest single group of rifles forensically tied to the battle were 55 Henry and/or Winchster Model 1866 .44RF rifles. For comparison, only 30 Sharps and Springfield .50-70s were identified, the second largest category, and third largest single category were the seven 1873 Winchesters in .44-40 caliber.Those three categories accounted for 99.3 percent of the 119 identifiable personal firearms used at the battle. The study made a scientifically-based projection of the number of firearms used by the Indians at the fight as being between 345 to 395.

They also identified .45-55 Springfield Carbine cases fired from 69 different guns, out of the 210 carbines in Custer’s command.

This book has 126 pages not counting the index, so you can see, I am just giving the tiniest sample here of information contained in it. It is, perhaps, the most interesting forensic study I have ever read. They basically treated the battlefield as a modern crime scene, and firearms and other evidence was studied just as any evidence would be studied today.

This book certainly belongs in the library of anyone interest in U.S. Military History, Indian war firearms, or cartridges of that era. Personally, I think it belongs in the library of most anyone interested in ammunition, period!

There is a later book on this subject titled"Archaeological Perspectives on The Battle of The Little Big Horn" by Scott,Fox,Conner & Harmon,published 1989.It has 297 pages.The figures are slightly different from those John quoted.They forensically identified .44 Henry bullets from at least 108 different rifles,Mod 66 & Henry. If each magazine was full,then just these 108 weapons had 6 cartridges for every man Custer had with him.


You are correct - that is a great reference. But it has to be used in the context of the entire battle, not just the events that took place in that small area inside the national park boundary. I was at the site during the first part of the archaeological digs immediaely after the fire. I volunteered my help in identifying the different artifacts found since most of the federal employees involved were completely ignorant when it came to the different cartridges and equipments and accoutrements that were uncovered. There were several of us volunteers. Most of us left after after a few days because we were treated as interlopers and busybodys - and what did we know - we were civilians.

I recall one little incident that turned my way of thinking against the professionals. I was with one guy when he detected and flagged a find. When he dug it up it was a 45-55 case. He noted in his book that this is where a trooper had fired his rifle. I said, “No, it is where he unloaded his carbine. Only more analysis will tell us where he MAY have fired it.” You can imagine how the pro took my comments.

What is missing in the Scott and Fox report, and most all other federal studies, is the wealth of information from outside the park boundaries. You have to understand that the battle covered a very large area, the vast majority of which is outside the fences. For years, amateur historians (me included) compiled a lot of carefully documented data. We tried many times to get Park Service personnel to look at what we had or to at least acknowledge that amateurs can be just as knowledgable as federal employees, and maybe even more so. To put it politely, we were rebuffed and often insulted by being called relic hunters, scavengers, thieves, and worse. All that it did was turn us away from trying to help. Hank Weibert went on to publish his own books, as did several others, including me. None of us were into “Custer” for fame or money. Not a single artifact was ever sold by any one of us. We did it for the sheer exhilleration of finding the truth.

Taking just one small aspect - the 44 Henry rifles and cartridges. Thousands of fired cases have been found outside the Park boundaries in many Indian firing positions. There were hundreds of those '66 Henrys there. In the 1950s and 1960s a couple of the more dedicated park Superintendants took WW II metal detectors outside the boundaries to search for artifacts. They found very few Henry cartridges and declared that the Indians were armed primarily with bows. When us amateurs started going over the same areas with modern detectors we found cases everywhere. We tried to convince Govt personnel to re-visit their findings but to no avail.

I dropped out of the “Custer” thing in the late 1980s and have lost contact with most of those ameteur historians that I worked with. Many, such as Hank Weibert, are now dead. As far as I know, the Govt has still not acknowledged the existance of the other archaeological works on the battle or made any attempt to incorporate the findings into any of their reports.

I guess you can tell that I am still a little pissed about this whole thing. I have learned to let it go but I know that others still hold deep grudges. Hank went to his grave hating the Park Service for what they did to him personally, and to his reputation in particular.

I just had to set a little part of the record straight.


Ray - where do I get your book on the subject? I would like to read it.

I was not aware of a second rendering by Fox et al., basically, from what it sounds, an update of the book I quoted. Obviously, the analysis of artifacts found continued on after the first book was published. I will try to find a copy for my library. Regardless of personal feelings, and the shortcomings of the “professionals,” the methodology described in the book was sound forensic analysis. However, it is always a shame when the advice and consul of knowledgeable people is ignored, much more so when it is scorned. Of course, this is an ongoing problem, I suppose in every field, but dramatically in the field of arms and ammunition.

I am a guy of average intelligence and limited business experience, yet I predicted almost every commercial failure of various guns put out on the market that didn’t make it. The same with some calibers (I missed it on .357 SIG, which has done better than I expected). Yet on many visits of various gun company executives to our store, it was obvious they only wanted to talk marketing, and were not interested in listening to anything, even the suggestions of those that were ultimately selling their product. The attitude was always “I am the boss (never mind that is usually some professional CEO who doesn’t know squat about the product his company is making) and your opinion is irrelevant.” Lest one think that I am touting my own horn, I mention that virtually all of my colleagues in the retail gun industry - they guys selling the product to the consumer - made the same predictions. The gun writers thought most of these products were the cat’s meow, of course. Gave them something to fill up the pages with.

I know for a fact that a segment of the popular gun press looks down on cartridge collectors, saying we don’t know anything about ammunition. I suppose they are primarily thinking of its actual use and performance, forgetting that most of us spent our lives not only sutudying the subject, but shooting as well. Of course, I find the popular gun press in America, especially, to be a bit of a joke. One can only read so many “what I did on my summer shooting adventure” articles. The ammunition industry has a big distaste for collectors, but that is, I think, fueled by the fact that we dig too deep and find and give information that they don’t want published, for reasons I usually find childish (unless we are speaking of military items that are classified by the military), but sometimes ARE valid. Of course, that is the mission of the historian, to dig out the facts and make them available to those who want to know. The name of ICCA was changed to IAA partially in recognition of the image problem connected with collectors, an image that is, for the most part, unjust.

Regardless of the pros and cons of the Custer battlefield book cited, I find it is a valuable reference for those of us that can’t find other published articles and books on the same subject - this is the only one I have ever seen in either a book store or an ad. Can’t buy what you don’t know exists. Another marketing problem.

Did anyone happen to take notice of that splendid box at the start of this thread?

I did Guy…that is a GREAT box!

Box?!? What box? Ohhhh, THAT box. Was it Custer’s?

Sorry Old Ammo Guy. I certainly didn’t mean to hijack your post.

That is a great box. I noticed it - and even read your blurb. In fact, I read all of your posts. Your name is one of the few that I always take notice of when deciding what threads to read. I mean it. Really.


Rick - add my apologies to the pile. I, too, enjoyed the box. I don’t collect .44-40 or their boxes, but I do (don’t tell my wife) kind of accumulate them. I only have a few boxes. I really like them, though, as when it comes to shooting, I’m a .44-40 fan in a big way. I have four Colt SAA’s in that caliber, all pretty current ones, but I have nine rifles, only three of which are replicas. I have one lst Model 73 Winchester probably somewhat contemporary with your box. It is in the 16,000 serial number range, made in 1876. I have a red Winchester box (code 11-9, which I guess means it is a 1909 designed label) and an UMC box with yellowish-green label, perhaps older than my red Winchester box, but late enough that it mentions “adapted to Winchester, Colt’s, Marlin and other rifles and Frontier Revolvers.” If anyone cares, I can have a scan posted of them, but I think they are probably common.

Well…, ok. I feel better now; I’ll stop pouting.

Guy - my apologies to you, too. Got Rick’s name in my head because he responded about the box too. Some of the material in the collections represented on this Forum is nothing short of fabulous! It is great stuff like this has survived so that through the generosity of other collectors who share photos of what they have, we all can still enjoy these wonderful artifacts.

Guy’s site is one of the best. Next to the IAAs Cartridge of the Month, my next look each first day of the month is Guy’s multiple listing. Maybe IAA can go to a Cartridge -S- of the Month. I’m all about pictures. Some of these posts tend to drone on WITHOUT supporting pics, so I start to lose interest. I read them all, regardless. You folks have an unbelievable wealth of knowledge and material. Thanks.

My big beef with the LBH field reports is that the authors appeared to know no more about old ammo than my cat. I went around for a good while trying really hard to believe that the .44-40 cases found on the field were really Milbank primed. Which brings up my question for Guy–it is then true that all of the early WRA boxes for the .44-40 identify the cases as solid head? I did like the box, and the UMC one too! JG

I just noticed your question regarding the early WRACo boxes when I stumbled back on this discussion by accident. A quick perusal through Giles and Shuey’s book on WRA Co boxes reveals that only the box that they consider to be the first WRA Co 44-40 box does not specify solid head. Coincidently to your discussion above, this label shows a Milbank primed cartridge. This box should have been made in 1873 or early 1874, as the Gardner primer which became the standard primer for WRA Co was patented in July of 1874.

Guy: The WRA box illustrating the Milbank primed cartridge and lacking the notation of solid-head construction is mighty interesting. Do Giles and Schuey indicate that Oliver H. actually sold the Milbank version in significant quantity or was it semi-experimental in status? JG

I don’t think it was semi-experimenal at all, the Milbank primer and the Berdan primer were all they had to use until they could develop something better, which occured shortly after the .44-40 was introduced. Giles and Shuey point out that of three of these early boxes known to them, none contained Milbank primed cartridges. It is likely that very few of Milbank primed .44-40 cartridges were produced. Certainly not many have survived; I don’t recall ever seeing one.

Guy: Thanks for the additional information. As often is the case with new products, the '73 Winchester was slow in getting into production, only eighteen units being shipped by the end of 1873, and not a bunch in the first part of 1874. My strictly unguaranteed guess is that by the time the guns were ready for the market the Boxer-primed cartridge was too. Which is not to say I can readily account for the boxes depicting the Milbank-primed rounds. It looks like our mysterious ancestors have struck once again. JG

I’d be interested in knowing what WRA Co cartridges exist with Milbank primers. WRA Co didn’t get into serious center fire production until 1876 or 1877, at which point they were using the Gardner primer. The .44-40 was the only center fire cartridge they were producing from 1873 thru 1875, based on Williamson and Giles & Shuey.