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MODEL 1866 SPRINGFIELD RIFLE – MODIFIED FOR USE ON THE EARLY WESTERN PLAINS – A CLASSIC EXAMPLE OF A FAVORED BUFFALO RIFLE – EXCELLENT HISTORICAL RIFLE:  One of the first, truly serviceable, cartridge conversions executed by the Springfield Armory and issued to the soldiers on the western frontier, the Model 1866 Springfield Rifle acquitted itself very well through a series of notable engagements, including the Hayfield and Wagon Box fights.  In addition to proving to be a valuable weapon in the hands of the army, it is no surprise that it became a popular rifle with the civilian hunters and frontiersmen as well.  Probably the most famous Model 1866 belonged to William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, which Cody described as “my celebrated buffalo-killer, ‘Lucretia Borgia’ - a newly-improved breech-loading needle gun, which I had obtained from the government”  

A real pleasure to offer, this Model 1866 Springfield Rifle recently emerged from a very old local collection where I suspect it had sat unappreciated for what it is.  This rifle shows all the indications of being one of those that passed from the army into the hands of a civilian frontiersman, and it is a truly unique, and historically important, survivor of the American West.   

Two features identify this rifle as one used by a frontiersman as opposed to a regulation issue to a soldier.  The barrel length has been shortened from the original 36.6” (in bore) to 29.5”, likely to make the rifle more manageable on horse back, and the forearm was reduced back a further 7” from the muzzle.  The muzzle cut is nicely done, and while left with a flat surface rather than being crowned, it was well executed. 

Even more interesting is the alteration of both the rear and front sights.  The original rear sight was removed and reversed, placing the leaf so it folds towards the muzzle, and a distinctive buckhorn sight was added to what is now the rear of the sight. The leaf can still be raised for longer range shooting.  The original front sight was completely removed and replaced with a dovetailed base mounting a large silver blade that appears to have been cut from a coin, as it still shows remnants of an unidentifiable stamping on both sides.    

The metal is overall smooth with a pleasant naturally aged patina.  The lock is dated 1863 and the lock stampings are present and legible, as is the “1866” and the eagle head on the breech block.  The bore is very good with strong rifling throughout and no pitting.  The lock action is crisp and the breechblock is tight.  

The stock has a beautiful, aged honey color and is generally smooth, but does have the marks and dings one expects to see on a rifle of this heritage.  The stock is solid with no cracks, breaks or other structural damage.  The ramrod channel immediately forward of the rear barrel band shows the characteristic wear of having been carried over the pommel of a saddle, again indicative of a frontier used rifle.   

Through the contemporary journals and the subsequent research that has been published, the firearms employed during the history of our country have been well documented, but seldom is found a first person account attributed to a well known Western personality  that directly addresses, and so closely describes, a unique firearm such as this modified Model 1866 Springfield Rifle.  As quoted on page 134 in Firearms of the American West, 1866-1894 by Garavaglia and Worman, William Breakenridge, describing his days in Colorado in his book Helldorado, recounts his good fortune in 1867 when he acquired a Model 1866 Springfield:

      “The Government had taken the old Springfield rifle and converted it into a breech-loading needle gun of very long range.  It would carry a mile or more.  I bought one from a soldier when they were first issued, and by cutting off about four inches of the barrel, I was able to retain it as a condemned piece.  I resighted it with peep sights and it would shoot right where I held it; and I was a good shot.”            

This is truly a special example of an early Indian Wars era rifle that certainly saw use on Western plains, and the features it exhibits cannot be disputed as typical of the earliest rifles used to harvest the buffalo herds and defend the frontier.  That this Springfield Rifle survived in the condition that it presents is a wonder in itself, and it deserves a place in a collection where its historical importance will be appreciated. SOLD


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