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Re: Custer rifle

Posted by Larry Gibson on Thursday, 13 July 2017, at 12:15 p.m., in response to Re: Custer rifle, posted by mike on Tuesday, 11 July 2017, at 9:37 p.m.


Let me just say I have studied the Little Bighorn Battle and others of the Northern Plains Indian Wars extensively. My interest was to/is to determine as best as possible, without pre-conceived ideas, what actually happened. It is noted that there were several M1973 rifles taken by officers of the 7th Cavalry and civilians to the LBH battle. It is also noteworthy that the infantry at the battle on the Rosebud shortly before the LBH battle had M1873 rifles.

Additionally several infantry were killed earlier in the Terry/Gibbons column. We can assume some of those infantry soldiers rifles were captured. Additional battles during the remainder of '76 through '77 involved the use of infantry who were armed with M1873 rifles. We can assume some of those were captured. It is hard to say as accountability of weapons was not given the same importance then as it was later thus records of such are very sketchy. Such losses were mentioned, if at all, in the usually self aggrandizing after action reports. That is if such losses were mentioned at all.

Also we must note, as previously mentioned, that Indians, post LBH battle, were very prone to tell the white man what they thought he wanted to hear. Also the Indians spoke metaphorically so a rifle picked up at the Bear Paw Mountain battle might be considered the same as one picked up at LBH simply because it was the same Indians, the same US Army and the same "war". There are many individuals, scholars and historians who are mislead by the metaphorical talk of the Indians. Not understanding has lead many to come up with erroneous accounts and assumptions of what "happened".

Indians were not very well versed in maintenance of weapons either. This is probably why many captured weapons did not survive. If they became inoperable they were simply discarded. Parts of the weapons were also used for other things and interchanged. The Indian woman were very fond of the steel butt plates to use as buffalo hide scrapers for example. The Indian who sold the M1873 to your grandfather could have replaced the breach block and other parts or had someone else do it.

As to the question of it actually being from the LBH battle? It would be almost impossible to prove. The only possible way as I see is to have it test fired and using forensics have the test bullets compared to those recovered from the archeological surveys conducted on the LBH battlefield. That may not be possible or if so it may be expensive.

Another question is your grandfather bought the rifle from an Indian about 20 miles from the LBH site? Consider the Sioux, Cheyenne and others were trespassing into Crow territory in 1876. That is why the LBH site is within the Crow reservation. Was the Indian who sold the rifle Crow or Sioux? If Crow the story is bogus.

None the less, even if you can't prove the rifle was at the LBH battle it may very well have served during the Northern Plains Indian Wars. The infantry was involved in many battles/skirmishes during those wars using the M1873 rifle. The fact that your grandfather owned it and believed it to be what it represented would make it a valuable family heirloom to me were I you. That value in dollars, to me, would be immaterial as it would remain in the family.

Best to you

Larry Gibson


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