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MODEL 1876 PRAIRIE BELT – THIRD PATTERN - CAVALRY MODIFICATION w/ EXTERIOR CAVALRY STRAP AND SABRE SLING HANGER LOOPS – VERY RARE AND EXCEPTIONAL INDIAN WARS CARTRIDGE BELT:  One of the extremely few of these modified Model 1876 Prairie Belts that survived use in the field during the Indian Wars to appear today in modern collections, this belt is a exceptional example of the frontier soldiers’ efforts to adapt the standard issue equipment to meet their needs on campaign.  This belt of the same style as  pictured and discussed on pages 243-46 of American Military and Naval Belts, 1812-1902 by R. Stephen Dorsey.  

This Model 1876, Third Pattern Prairie Belt was modified by the cavalry trooper with the addition of a 1 ½” wide strap, secured between the 23RD and 24TH cartridge loops with a single line of stitching.  The strap is supported and held against the prairie belt body by two ¾” wide leather straps folded over the belt and attached by a rivet on the lower edge of the belt.  The applied strap and the belt tongue both engage the brass buckle to hold both leather billets in place when the belt is worn.  This additional strap allowed the soldier to carry his revolver holster, pistol cartridge pouch and possibly a sheath knife.   

Two brass box rings of two different sizes, and likely salvaged from some other piece of equipment or accoutrement, are attached to the belt by opening the bottom seam, inserting the ring, and securing it in place with a single rivet, much the same way that the arsenal applied modification was executed to the Infantry Prairie Belts in 1879.  These brass box rings are of a size that they would have accommodated the regulation sabre straps which were issued with the Model 1874 Cavalry Sabre Belt, but it is just as likely that the soldier fashioned a pair of sabre straps from whatever leather was available at his  frontier post.  

That so few of these 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 accoutrements and equipment to the Ordnance Depots, those pieces that had been modified such as this belt 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 since it was obsolete equipment.  It is very likely the modified pieces were condemned and destroyed with the other unserviceable equipment.  These belts simply did not survive to be funneled into the surplus sales that would eventually lead to the collectors’ market, hence their rarity today. 

The belt has an overall length of 42 ¼”.  As all of these belts as issued were simply too long for the small waisted cavalrymen of the period, the leather billets were shortened to fit the solder – in this case, the billet has been shorted to 7 ¼” long.  When the billet was shortened, the soldier also shortened the length of the belt body, reducing the number of cartridge loops from the standard 54 to 53.   

All of the loops are intact and show the expected wear for such a field used belt along the top and bottom edges of the loops, but not so worn as to collapse or lose their integrity or shape.  The belt body is very strong with no tears in the canvas on the outside or inside surfaces, and the seam along the bottom is fully intact.   

The tongue is surprisingly smooth with a shiny leather surface, no crazing, and only minimal flexing.  The “WATERVLIET ARSENAL” stamp is still legible on the tip of the tongue, and some of the inspector, A. Smith, stamp at the very tip is still legible.  The added strap on the exterior of the belt is likewise in very nice condition with signs of use and flexing, but no crazing and an overall smooth surface.  The two leather straps that retain the added strap are likewise smooth, have no crazing, and are firmly attached. 

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.  In spite of the number of these belts that must have been modified during the period, surviving examples such as this one are rare and they are a fascinating field of collecting in their own right.  This extraordinary belt is of the scope and quality to serve as the center piece in a collection of early Indian War accoutrements and arms.  (0117)  $2200

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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