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MODEL 1885 CARBINE BOOT – MODIFIED TO A CARBINE POMMEL LOOP – RARE INDIAN WARS FIELD MODIFICATION:  A very rare example of a modified Model 1885 Carbine Boot with the straps rearranged to use the boot as a Carbine Loop mounted across the pommel of the saddle.   

The army convened an Equipment Board in July of 1879 to consider improvements to various pieces of equipment, accoutrements, clothing, and arms which had been the subject of criticisms from the field.  While the Ordnance and Quartermaster Departments were never able to satisfy the myriad of preferences and opinions, they made a concerted effort to consider recommendations from the serving officers in the field, and entertained samples of innovations submitted by officers and enlisted men alike.  The scope of this Board’s considerations is well worth the time of any serious student of the Indian Wars army and much of it can be found in Randy Stephen’s The Horse Soldier, 1776-1943, Vol. 2.  

Many pieces of new equipment were examined and eventually recommended for adoption, the Board’s recommendations received the all important endorsement from the Chief of Staff of the Army, William T. Sherman, and the General’s endorsement was approved by the Secretary of War G. W. McCrary.  All of the participants in this process must have adjourned satisfied they had accomplished a great deal.  Only later did the finality of the last sentence of Secretary McCrary’s response to the General’s endorsements register with the board members and the army at large, “No changes will be made at any time which involve an expenditure not clearly within existing appropriations, and great care will be taken to avoid a deficiency.”   There would be no funding for most of the changes recommended, and what little of the new equipment that was produced, was made only in very limited numbers.  In spite of the lack of funding for new equipment, the ideas approved by the Board did not necessarily disappear. 

One recommendation approved by the Board was the adoption of a “Carbine Loop” which would provide a secure method for the soldier to carry his carbine across the pommel of his saddle.  For as long as memory served, men mounted on horseback had carried their weapons balanced across their lap, the pommel of the saddle, or the horse’s neck, and this practice was particularly common in the American West.  It was a natural posture as the weapon was kept in hand, ready to be employed, while the rider did not have to bear the weight in his hand or suspended from his body via a sling arrangement. 

While urging the adoption of the Carbine Loop, the Board retained the carbine sling and the carbine socket or thimble then in service.  The Carbine Loop was included in the description of the Whitman Saddle, “The carbine loop, of the pattern submitted, to be attached by buckle and stud to pommel.”  When Sherman penned his endorsements regarding the Board’s recommendations, he wrote, “That the carbine socket be retained but changed to the form prepared by Sgt. Hartman, First Cavalry, with a carbine loop attached to the pommel of the saddle.”  Unfortunately, the “pattern submitted” is not known to exist, however Randy Stephen provided several interpretive depictions in his Volume 2, sited above, and shown here. 

While the appropriations would not be forthcoming to produce the Carbine Loop, five years later another equipment board would approve and adopt the Model 1885 Carbine Boot, and it was manufactured at the Rock Island Arsenal and issued in significant numbers.  That the new boot was intended to be attached to the troopers’ saddles so that the carbine was carried muzzle down along the troopers’ right leg is well documented, and no doubt that is how it was employed by the majority of soldiers.  However the discovery of this modified Model 1885 Carbine Boot reveals that the concept of the Carbine Loop was not forgotten and at least some unit saddlers and soldiers pressed forward with the concept. 

This rare surviving example of the soldiers’ handiwork was a fairly simple modification which consisted of removing the long suspension strap and the upper body strap from the boot, reattaching the upper body strap to the top edge of the boot, and adding additional leather to both the upper and lower straps.  This repositioning of the upper strap and lengthening of the straps allowed the boot to be laid across the saddle pommel roll in  front of the mounted soldier and the straps were of sufficient length to buckle around the pommel roll and, if necessary, engage the saddle equipment rings or foot loops.  The carbine would seat deep enough in the boot to secure it in place, as well as being close at hand for the soldier to steady the load when necessary or draw the carbine when needed. 

This is the only known example of this particular modification which has come to light.  Based on the evidence of wear to the straps on this boot, it was used in the field, but it was not abused and it has survived in better condition than some of the Model 1885 Boots which were used in the standard configuration.  No doubt this is not the only boot which was so modified and used as a Carbine Loop, but it is an equal certainty that the majority of those which were configured this way were used to destruction on the trail of Apaches through the Arizona mountains, and on similar rough campaigns throughout the West. 

That so few modified accoutrements survive today can be easily explained when viewed through the Ordnance Department’s process of issue and return.  When the units received new issues of current equipment and returned the obsolete or worn out accoutrements and equipment to the Ordnance Depots, those pieces that had been modified were looked upon by the Ordnance Department personnel as damaged beyond repair, or the necessary repairs to return the item to its original configuration were not cost effective – especially if it was an obsolete pattern.  It is very likely the modified pieces were condemned and destroyed with the other unserviceable equipment, and they simply did not survive to be funneled into the surplus sales that would eventually lead to the collectors’ market. 

The small number of surviving modified accoutrements serves as quiet testimony of the efforts of the soldiers and the Ordnance Department to adapt stocks of surplus material to suit the needs encountered on the Frontier.  Surviving examples such as this boot are rare and they are a fascinating field of collecting in their own right.   

In spite of obvious issue and use, this boot is in full form and it is in very good condition with a bright, smooth shiny leather surface and very little crazing.  The straps are supple with no weak spots and both of the buckles are present.  The “ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL” stamp is fully legible on the face of the boot.  The legible inspector’s stamp, “D.C.L.” on the end of the lower suspension strap, confirms that straps were salvaged from this boot, or others, in order to extend the straps on this boot so they were long enough to circle the pommel roll. 

As stated above, this is a unique specimen, a rare one of kind, and a historically important example of how the frontier soldier adapted his equipment to the environment with skill and common sense.  For those who appreciate these soldier modified pieces, this will be a key piece for your collection.  (0409)  $675



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