Little Bighorn Battlefield relics


Are these the copper cased, inside primed .45/70 cartridges that was reported to stick in the chamber? (Curious if I am identifying them properly, as inside primed)

This is a copy of a National Park Service photograph described as relics from the Little Bighorn Battlefield recovered in 1984-85. The battle took place in June of 1876.


Could be. Obviously these are Benet-primed cases, in use during that time period. Knowing the headstamp would help, but that’s probably not available. There is controversy about the extent of cartridge case sticking. Reportedly, only a few of the fired cases which were later recovered from the LBH battlefield showed evidence of being pried out of a chamber, and there were no survivors to relate just what actually happened. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. There may be those much more conversant with that battle who could better address that question.

The theory has been expressed that Custer’s defeat was more the result of poor marksmanship training and even poorer fire discipline on the part of the cavalry troopers than anything to do with sticking cartridges. Custer’s troopers also had generally little experience in using trapdoor Springfields, as they had just been issued to them not long before the battle. There were also a considerable number of Spencers in the hands of the hostiles, which didn’t improve Custer’s odds. The side with more, and more effective, firepower usually wins.

There are lots of “what ifs” concerning the LBH debacle, but that’s an issue for another website.


The cartridge case on the right was fired in a chamber larger than that of the .45 Springfield, probably a .50-70. Such recoveries from western sites aren’t altogether uncommon. Jack


I have to agree with Jack’s assesment. I have a research book on the subject and in this book is about every artifact found on the battlefield. There are a number of 45-70 cases that had been fired in a gun chambered for 50-70. With modern forensics, it has been determined that 2 of the guns used at the Little Bighorn battle were also used in the Big Hole battlefield a year later.


stuck cases and/ or difficulty in chambering after a number of rounds have been fired was an almost universal problem with black powder rifles from this era. The chambers get fouled up with residue. I have seen it happen on a British Martini after as little as ten shots.

My take on it would be that it would have been more apparant to the soldiers as a difficulty in loading which would get progressively worse the more shots were fired. You can imagine the stress this would have caused.

It wasn’t just rifles this happened to either. Old shotgun shooting books always recommended that the reader carried a stuck case remover and they were plentiful in the old catalogues of the time. Nice trinkets in brass they are quite collectable today and turn up frequently which indicates a lot were sold.


Correct me if i’m wrong but, wern’t the origional springfield carbines in .50-70 cal. ? If so then was’nt it possible that the army supplied both .45-70 and .50-70 cartridges to a mix of units? Hence the loading of a .45-70 round in a .50-70 carbine? … or rifle?


There were only a few 1870 Springfield trap door carbines in .50-70 issued; according to Flayderman, only 341. They are among the 'Holy Grails" of early US cartridge gun collectors. The 1868 and 1870 rifles are more common. The story goes that Custer’s 7th Cavalrymen were issued the model 1873 carbines (in .45-70) shortly before the LBH. Whether any .50-70 rifles or carbines could have been present among Custer’s troopers would be a matter for some research. Prior to the trapdoor, many cavalry troops had Spencer carbines (.56-.50) or Sharps carbines (converted to .50-70), but those were probably withdrawn from service soon after the Springfield 1873 came out.

The hostiles may well have come into possession of some older .50-70 weapons, and being that their munitions supplies were whatever they could get, it is certainly possible that .45-70 cartridges could have been used by them in the .50-70 rifles.


Khege - I doubt that the Army, even the cash-strapped post-Civil War Army of the frontier west would mix two different caliber carbines as general issue, simultaneously, to the same units. Further, the Allin carbines in .50-70 were made in pretty small quantity. It is much more likely that the opposing force of a mixture of Indian tribes had some .50-70s, probably rifles of the Model 1868 genre, also an Allin conversion, or possible even the 1866 Allin rifles, and were using whatever would go in and fire. They know that is the case with one Indian, who by battlefield excavation they tracked by fired case found at the scene all the way thru the battle, and forensically linked to one specific weapon. The Indians at that battle also had a fair mixture of repeating rifles (Henrys, Winchesters, I think a Spencer or two, etc.) know from fired cases found at the scene. Not as many as some of the movies on the subject portrayed, but more than some experts had figured that they would have had in 1876. Aside from that, they were supurb soldiers, and capitalized on many of Custer’s tragic errors.


The 7th Cavalry received the first issue of the M1873 Carbines in the 3rd Quarter of 1874 and by mid 1875 the 45-55-405 Carbine was the standard issue. The Indians had access to quite a few 50-70 rifles and carbines but by mid 1876 their supply of 50-70 ammunition was nearly exhausted. I found quite a few of the split 45 caliber cases in the area of the battle, but primarily at Indian postions that were occupied on June 26th, after they had obtained ammunition from the bodies of the dead troopers.

By late 1876 and early 1877 the remaining hostile Indians were virtually without any kind of ammunition and unable to put up much resistance.



While I don’t know if the army issued .45 Springfield and .50 Sharps carbines to the same units simultaneously, they did have units on the same battlefield armed with these two arms at one time during the Red River Campaign in the Texas Panhandle during the summer of 1874. The Sharps carbines were found in very good numbers as issue arms to cavalrymen during that campaign. Recent excavations have even proven the presence of the .50 Ward Burton carbine in that series of fights. Jack


Different Units could well have had different arms, but to my knowledge, the unit at the Little Bighorn was all 7th Cavalry. The African-American units (10th and 14th Cavalry (? - I am not expert on the unit designations)) had 50/70s and at least some Colt Model 1860 Army .44 percussion revolvers well into the Colt SAA and Model 1873 Trapdoor period. I had at one time a Colt .1860 Army reworkd at Benecia Arsenal, in California, and with 10th Cavalry markings. Some of the militia units have 50-70s very late. When I was collecting U.S. Infantry Arms, I had a cartridge box with a military emblem affixed to the lid that was for .45-70, and it was dated in the early 1880s. However, there is zero evidence, to my knowledge, that the Army at the LBH had any .50-70 weapons, unless it would be an officer with a personal rifle. It is well known fact that the Indians had some, so there is no argument that 50-70s saw use at that battle. Your quoted date of 1874 was a period of transition in small arms, but that transition, for major fighting units , was probably about over by 1876 and the LBH. Of course not at all over for Eastern troops, militias, etc. And, unfortunately, not for units like the 10th Cavalry, even though deployed in combat areas and with a pretty good record of engagement against opposing forces. Of course, there were other considerations, shamefully, at work there.


The transition from the .50 to the .45 rifles and carbines took some time, so most all Infantry and Cavalry regiments were armed with both at one time. The same for the Cavalry transition from the .44 to .45 revolvers.

7th Cavalry records showed as many as 29 Ward Burton’s still on hand as late as June 1874.

And, it’s seldom that an entire regiment will be located at one post or place at the same time. In fact, just the opposite was true. Therefore, what Co. C was armed with in Kentucky may have no relationship whatsoever with Co. D in Minnesota.



Don’t hold me to this, but I’m sure that I read something that indicated a few .50-70 trapdoors made their way to Cuba in the Spanish-American War, obviously in the hands of some state troops. I had also read that after the .45-70 weapons had been issued, the Army was actually giving the old .50-70 rifles (plus ammo) to anyone who wished to use them to hunt (actually, exterminate) buffalo, as another way to defeat (actually, exterminate) the Indians.


The problem which the troop had at Little Big Horn had nothing to do with the guns unless you believe that those Japanese cars swamped by the recent Sunami would have made out better if they had better engines.

My Cousin, Lt. John J Crittenden, was the only officer buried there with the men.

If they all had Vulcan miniguns they may have had a chance and although the electric powered Gatling gun had been proposed for naval use Custer didn’t even bring his regular crank model. It would not have made any difference if he had.

The RED TIDE was just too deep.

Louis Pasteur said " chance favors the prepared mind " . They were not prepared and had no chance.

There is a difference between a battle and a massacre.

This was a massacre.


I’m resurrecting this thread from the past because this morning on the Military Channel, there was an excellent documentary (from 2004) about Custer’s Last Stand, which was an account of the forensic analysis of the battlefield done after a wildfire swept the area in 1984. This allowed a very complete sweep of the area for artifacts, skeletal remains, etc.

I can’t go into all of the information presented, but much of the discussion involved forensic analysis of bullets and cartridge cases, and in some instances, they were even able to track individual troopers and Indians by trails of spent cartridge cases identifiable as being fired from a specific rifle. They also identified 47 different types of firearms as being present at the battle from bullets and casings found (I suspect many of the 47 were as a result of different calibers of round balls being found). There were pictures of a lot of fired cases. There was no mention made of any evidence of .45-70 cartridge cases sticking in the chambers of the Springfield carbines carried by Custer’s men, although there was some discussion of the carbine itself.

A few interesting discoveries stated were (1) about 200 Indians (of 7000) had repeating weapons; (2) many of Custer’s troopers, by skeletal analysis, were just teenaged kids, and; (3) evidence indicates the vaunted “Custer’s Last Stand” on Custer Hill was over within a couple of minutes, and was just a disorganized rout.

As most programs are shown repetitively on the Military Channel, you might want to look for a future replay. I checked, and there is no replay shown for at least the next couple of weeks. It is something worth watching.


The documentary of the 1984 archaeological dig is old news. Like any made-for-TV program it is biased in many ways and contains some incorrect information. It should be viewed in conjunction with other material. The dig was documented in book form by Doug Scott and Richard Fox which is a must-read. There is also the Donnie Weibert book, Custer, Cases, and Cartridges which documents the plethora of artifacts found outside the NPS boundaries. Don’t forget, only a small part of the battle took place inside what is now Federal property.



Is it inappropriate on this forum to discuss the suicide evidence that exists? Much or the indian evidence suggests that the remaining few took the, totally understandable, option of not being taken alive and tortured?


Vince- I think that is a bit too far off topic to be allowed here. Nor so we want to get into debates on Custer’s tactics or the Army’s choice of weapons. All interesting stuff, but not suitable for the IAA Forum.


John, yet again I find myself frustrated by the forum’s inflexiblity to discuss history where it is in my opionion both erudite and relevent to the bigger picture. I had however anticipated this response and I am not suprised by it.


Some time ago I suggested that folks read the threads which interest them and leave the other threads to folks for whom the discussion is to their taste. There are those who can’t seen to do that but prefer to tell other what they can and can’t mention. I do not understand if this is just power play or some concept of virtue or the result of a lack of capacity of the servers which support this effort. JohnS is the angel who makes this possible and deserves the last word. It is a mystery to me.