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INDIAN USED .45/70 SPRINGFIELD TRAPDOOR WITH A MODEL 1877 CARBINE STOCK – VERY ATTRACTIVE  SPECIMEN SHOWING STRONG EVIDENCE OF NATIVE USE ON THE WESTERN FRONTIER:  There is no provenance that absolutely identifies this gun as Indian used, nor are there any tacks or other decorations that many modern collectors have been conditioned to look for in Indian used guns.  That being said, there is no doubt in my mind that this is indeed an Indian used and altered Trapdoor, and likely one from the pre-reservation days. 

The shortened barrel; the absence of the front sight; the removal of the rear sight – from all appearances intentional; the hand shaping of both the butt and fore stock; and the rawhide wrapped repair of the fractured wrist all indicate to me that this is not a gun that a European American would have kept and carried with so many other guns in far better condition available to him on the frontier.  Rather, this is a gun that shows characteristics consistent with guns known to have been used by Native Americans and with alterations that would fashion a firearm which was better suited to close combat or hunting buffalo from horseback.  Further enhancing the value of this particular gun is that all of the components are consistent with the serial number range, and not a gun that was obviously assembled from a collection of parts from different year models.  All of the parts exhibit consistent wear and aging, all of them belong on a gun with this serial number, and more importantly appear to have always been together on this particular gun.   

The barreled receiver was acquired from a Model 1877 Springfield Trapdoor Rifle, SN 99283, which indicates the rifle was produced during calendar year 1878.  With all of the characteristics consistent with rifles in this serial number range, the receiver features the deeper and longer gas ports incorporated in 1877; a low arch breech block with the proper inscription “U.S./MODEL/1873” instituted as early as mid-1877; and the correct barrel proof stamps for barrels on receivers over serial number 60.000: “V P Eagle Head (large) P”.  The firing pin is intact and fully functional.   

As noted above, the barrel has been reduced in length to 19 ½”.  There is no front sight and the rear sight was removed, leaving the shank of one of the screws – perhaps to serve as an aiming point.  The lack of formal sights indicates this gun was fired using an “instinct” or “point and shoot” aiming technique at close range – the type of shooting encountered in close combat or in running buffalo from horse back. 

The bore shows the use one expects to see on these Native used guns, with some darkening and patches of relatively light pitting, but no scaling, and the rifling is still quite distinct.  Again, the bore shows obvious use, and most likely it was not meticulously or regularly cleaned after every firing, but the bore was certainly not abused nor allowed to deteriorate beyond being functionally accurate.  The muzzle shows evidence of having been cut by hand with a saw – a tool certainly available to the hostiles who were raiding homesteads and wagon trains.  The cut is relatively square, showing that some care and skill was exercised, but there is enough of an angle off perpendicular remaining to confirm the barrel was not cut on a lathe or powered saw.  Rather it is work consistent with other examples of Native gunsmiths on the frontier.   

The barreled action was mated with a Model 1877 Trapdoor Carbine stock in its original form, not a cut down rifle stock.  It appears that all of the furniture is original to this stock – the lock, the trigger guard and trigger, and the butt plate.  The stock is the correct length for a carbine stock, not one that has been cut down from a rifle stock.  The butt stock is drilled to house the three-section cleaning rod, and fitted with the proper butt plate with the “keyhole” trap, both correct features of a Model 1877 Carbine stock.  The right side of the stock retains the “feet” of the carbine sling ring bar, and the inletting for the feet is original to the manufacture of the stock.  The sling ring bar was cut off by the native gunsmith during the period of use as an unnecessary appendage which was certain to become snagged at the most inconvenient time.  The barrel band bears the large “U” stamp, indicating it was the correct band for both carbines and rifles of this period.   

The lock plate marking does not include the earlier date stamp “1873” – a change that was instituted in calendar year 1877.  These lock plates without the date were in production in 1878 and have been found on Trapdoors as early as those in the low 80,000 serial number range.  The lock features the correct three click tumbler.  The lock and trigger action is still fully functional.   

The trigger guard assembly is the correct configuration for a carbine – that is, with the reversed trigger bow with the slender post to the rear – and the guard includes the proper smooth trigger.   

All of the metal surfaces have the same natural patina aged to an even rich brown color.  The surfaces are overall smooth with minor pitting as would be expected, and some heavier pitting on the heel and tang of the butt plate where it would have rested on the ground.   

The stock exhibits a number of characteristics which have been noted on other known Indian used guns.     

The wrist of any stock from this period was a weak point, prone to breaking due to the amount of wood which had been removed from the same area in order to inlet the barrel and tang, the lock, and the trigger assembly.  When the break occurred it often left elongated splinters running back into the butt stock and forward to the area around the lock mortise.   While such a break rendered the gun unserviceable, with the two pieces fit back together and the splayed splintering gathered tightly together under a wet rawhide wrap which was then allowed to cure in the heat of the sun or along side a fire, such a repair proved to be effective, and as seen on this Trapdoor, very durable.  Repairing a broken stock in this manner was expedient, requiring far less time and labor than other methods, and the material – rawhide – was always close at hand, and if not, could be obtained from any animal in the immediate area.    This method is consistent with similar wrapped repairs which present on several other known Indian used guns.  In my personal collection I have two Indian used guns with broken wrists which were repaired in just this manner.  

The wrist of this carbine is enclosed in a very old rawhide wrap consisting of a continuous strip of thick rawhide which was wound tightly around the stock.  The forward point of the comb of the stock was cut back to create a flat to accommodate the wrap.  The rawhide strip was wound around the stock and captured almost half of the rear trigger guard tang, drawing the tang tightly against the break to provide additional strength.  The wrap was molded tightly over the wood and metal which secured the broken pieces and solidly stabilized the damaged area, providing the necessary support for the stock’s wrist.  Even today, so long after the repair was executed, there is very minimal play in the broken wrist.  The terminal end of the rawhide strip was intentionally left long and at the end there is a wrapping of sinew thread around the strip – from all appearances, where a decoration or pendant was attached.   

The consistency, color, soiling, and wear of the rawhide confirms that it is old and it shows the appropriate hand wear and polish for the period of use of the carbine.  Further, the rawhide was applied where it was necessary to support the broken wrist and is definitely there to serve as a genuine repair - not, as is so often seen on spurious "Indian guns", a modern addition with no discernable purpose other than to enhance the appearance of the rifle.    

The stock has been reshaped to a significant degree, another characteristic commonly encountered on authentic Indian used guns.  The carving and cuts in the wood all appear to have been done by hand with a knife, certainly not the sort of work that would have been done in an established gunsmith shop.  The reason for this reshaping has been the subject of considerable discussion among students of these guns and one theory in particular seems to satisfy the consensus.   

The man who carried this carbine was accustomed to fashioning his own weapons – a skill he had been honing since childhood.  The handle of his knife, the haft of his war club, the grip of his bow, were all custom fit to his hand.  The weapons were unique pieces fashioned to fit his body as opposed to the mass produced weapons of the European-American world designed to fit the lowest common denominator customer.  By the time an Indian reached adolescence his muscle memory and ability to react were as finely developed as his weapons and he had become the very embodiment of the warrior.  His survival, and that of his family, depended entirely on his skill with his weapons.  Each one was more than a tool of war – they were extensions of the form and musculature of his body and employing them came as naturally as pointing his finger.  That he would modify this carbine, especially the stock, to suit his size, his grip and his aiming style is very understandable.  

The buttstock was reshaped by lowering the forward profile of the comb, apparently to lower the position of the shooter’s cheek to facilitate his particular aiming method.  The sides of the buttstock were reduced in width, more so on the left side of the stock where it would rest against the shooter’s cheek, again to adjust his aiming sight line.  There are also some cuts at the toe of the stock.  As noted above, the forward point of the comb was notched sharply to create a flat for the rawhide wrap.  There is a “V” shaped groove cut in the stock at the rounded end of the barrel tang.  This may have been purely for decoration, but it could have served as an additional rear aiming point.  The width and prominence of the shoulders of the stock on either side of the barrel tang were reduced with several slices of wood removed.  The removal of this wood would have allowed for a better grip in this area.   

There is a deep groove carved in the right side of the forestock beginning at the forward edge of the lock plate and running up to the rear edge of the barrel band.  Assuming the shooter was right handed, the only practical explanation for this groove was create a recess for the fingertips of the left hand and enhance the shooter’s grip on the forestock.  The carving of the groove was well executed and the edges are worn smooth indicating it has been there a very long time.     

The left side of the stock, beginning at the forward end of the receiver and running all the way up to the barrel band, is worn almost down to the barrel channel edge.  This wear is characteristic of what is commonly called by collectors “pommel wear”, that is the wear suffered by a long arm as it was carried across the pommel of a saddle or as in the case of this gun, rested across the neck and mane of an Indian’s horse.  The presence of this type of wear is very desirable evidence of frontier use and is actively sought by collectors who recognize what it represents.  Mile after mile of being rubbed back and forth across the coarse strands of the horse’s mane, further exaggerated by the dirt and grime in the horse’s hair, would buff away the wood.  The wear present on this gun is in the right area and is absolutely correct, showing less wear around the barrel band and the forward lock screw than in the area unsupported by the iron furniture.   

The wood surface of the stock is worn smooth through use and has an excellent patina which through the years has imparted a rich color to the grain.  Not surprising that none of the stock inspectors’ stamps have survived.   

The last feature of this stock is a bit of a puzzle, and it is worthy of comment.  There are two small holes, each a little less than 1/8” in diameter, drilled through the stock – one just shy of the tip of the forestock and one just forward of the edge of the butt plate.  Neither of the holes is perpendicular to the stock and they appear to have been hand drilled or burned through the stock.  The holes are too small to accept a thong that would have been large or strong enough to support a shoulder strap.  I’ve found this same configuration of small holes on an Indian used Spencer Carbine, almost identical in the size and placement of the holes.  The only explanation I’ve been able to arrive at is that these holes were used to attach some form of hanging decoration such as a feather.  In order to keep track of the holes, and to highlight them for photography, I have inserted buckskin thongs in the holes, but of course these thongs are not original to the carbine.   

I am sufficiently confident that this gun was indeed used by Indians, that I have held this gun in my collection of Indian used guns for several years and thoroughly enjoyed it for what it most certainly is.  I am only now offering it for sale as it is a duplicate to several others in my collection.  Guns with this type of honest wear and straightforward modifications which are consistent with those known to have been executed on Indian guns, and more importantly ones that have not been sullied or ruined by the addition of upholstery tacks, modern leather wrappings and other enhancements, have never been common and are now becoming increasingly difficult to find on the market as more collectors are recognizing their historic value.  This is a good opportunity to obtain an honest Indian gun that has not suffered any alterations since the day it passed from the Indians into that first collection.  (1101)  $3250 



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