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MODEL 1876 PRAIRIE BELT SET – NARROW FIRST PATTERN BELT WITH MODIFIED HOLSTER, PISTOL CARTRIDGE POUCH & DYER CARBINE POUCH – AN EXCELLENT INDIAN WARS CAVALRY SET AS IT WOULD HAVE BEEN WORN ON CAMPAIGN:  This Model 1876 First Pattern Prairie Cartridge Belt, also known to collectors as the “Narrow” Prairie Belt, presents with a Holster for the Colt Model 1873 or Smith & Wesson Schofield Revolvers, one of the rare Pistol Cartridge Pouches made specifically for wearing on these Prairie Belts, and a “Cut Loop” Model 1874 Dyer Carbine Cartridge Pouch.  Equipped with the appropriate accoutrements, this belt is complete as the Indian Wars cavalry man would have worn it on campaign, and the four pieces combine to illustrate a very interesting period in the development of the frontier soldiers’ equipment. 

Like so many other pieces of equipment, the First Pattern Prairie Belt was developed and issued to answer one specific problem – that of efficiently carrying a sufficient number of cartridges into the field in such a manner that would protect the soft copper cartridges from being deformed or fouled with the green waxy verdigris which occurred when the cartridges came in prolonged direct contact with leather.  It was a cartridge belt – period.  No provision was made for this belt to carry any of the other belt mounted holsters, cartridge pouches, sabre, or for the infantry, the ubiquitous bayonet.  The Ordnance Department fully expected the soldiers to continue to wear their leather sabre and waist belts to support all of their other appendages and the Prairie Belt was to be worn in addition to the leather belts.  It was not only a short sighted plan, but it completely ignored the soldiers’ preferences and ingenuities they had demonstrated with the soldier-made “Fair Weather Christian” leather cartridge belts which dated from the 1860’s.   

Once they received the Prairie Belts, the soldiers set right to work to modify the accoutrements on hand in order that they could carry all of their necessary equipment on the one belt.  In the cavalry regiments, belt loops on holsters were enlarged, or cut and tied over the belt with leather thongs as were pistol and carbine cartridge pouches, and in some cases sabre straps were added to the belts.  Although far from common, enough of these modified accoutrements survive in collections today as evidence of the soldiers’ efforts.  Certainly this concept must have appealed to the infantryman as well, and in fact, there exists at least one known example of a cut-loop McKeever Cartridge Box mounted on a First Pattern Prairie Belt which was dyed dark blue – an obvious infantry belt.   

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 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 obsolete equipment.  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 or current material to suit the needs encountered on the Frontier.  In spite of the number of accoutrements that must have been modified during the period, surviving examples such as these are scarce and they are a fascinating field of collecting in their own right.   

This belt, equipped with the accoutrements which were specifically modified to fit the Narrow Prairie Belt, define it as a classic Indian War Era, unit issued, and field used, specimen.   

Each element of this set is described in detail below with accompanying photographs. 

This is an outstanding grouping of scarce and rare Indian War accoutrements, which displays extremely well, and in the proper context of the campaign belts worn by a cavalry trooper serving on the frontier, and it would be the perfect set to display alongside your Colt or Smith & Wesson revolver.  (0210)  $4550

MODEL 1876 FIRST PATTERN PRAIRIE BELT:  Particularly desirable, this scarce narrow First Pattern Model 1876 Prairie Belts, is in excellent condition, and while showing little, if any, evidence of use, this belt was apparently issued and worn by a soldier in the field.    

The combined length of the body and tongue is 40” and there are 54 cartridge loops.    The billet has been shortened to 7”, a common and typical modification the small waisted soldiers found necessary due to the original and overly generous length of 13”.  The canvas loops are in excellent condition showing no collapse of the varnished loops with none of the fraying commonly found on the upper and lower edges of the loops.  The body of the belt is very solid with no damage to exterior or interior surfaces of the canvas, and the seam along the bottom of the belt is fully intact.  The billet is overall very smooth with a shiny surface and only minor flexing with no crazing or loss of finish due to flaking.  The billet is legibly stamped “WATERVLIET ARSENAL” and with the inspector’s name “A.R. SMITH”.  The original buckle is present.  As scarce as these First Pattern Prairie Belts have become, upgrading this one would be very difficult. 

INDIAN WAR MODIFIED CIVIL WAR HOLSTER AS ISSUED FOR THE SINGLE ACTION CARTRIDGE REVOLVERS:  A rare survivor of the Indian Wars, this holster, originally produced during the Civil War, was altered with simple modifications at an Ordnance Department depot or by a company saddler for issue to the frontier troops to carry their single action metallic cartridge revolvers on a looped cartridge belt.   

Fairly simple and cost effective, these sorts of modifications were executed in the mid-to-late 1870’s by the US Army to conserve finances by utilizing the remaining stocks of Civil War revolver holsters that were still in inventory.  The long closing billet on this holster was punched with a second hole in order that the flap, when closed, would accommodate the larger Model 1873 Colt or the Schofield revolvers.  The original belt loop was completely removed and repositioned with two lines of stitching in order that it would pass over the cartridge loops on the 1ST Pattern Prairie Belt.  The belt loop on this holster was specifically sized to accommodate the 1ST Pattern Prairie Belt as it is not large enough, without stressing the lines of stitching, to pass over the loops on the wider 2ND or 3RD Pattern Prairie Belts, nor the later Mills looped cartridge belts.  

Modified holsters of this type are fairly rare as most of those that were so modified were indeed issued and used.  For the most part they did not survive the rigors of service in the field to be surplused out to Bannerman and the other dealers, and finding one of these true Indian War veterans to accompany one of the early Indian War pistols is a real challenge to complete a collection.  

This holster shows very little wear, with a bright shiny surface and only minor flexing on the flap and belt loop.  All of the components are present and intact to include the seam, closing tab and plug.  The flap, belt loop and holster body all hold their shape and still retain the characteristics of strong, live leather.   

There is no doubt that these modified holsters were “there” amid the smoke and dust, present on the belts of the soldiers at all of the historic engagements in the Frontier West. This is a truly scarce holster that nicely complements this set.     

INDIAN WARS MODIFIED PISTOL CARTRIDGE POUCH – VERY RARE ARSENAL MODIFICATION PRODUCED WITH A WIDER BELT LOOP FOR THE MODEL 1876 1ST PATTERN PRAIRIE BELT:  The modification of Civil War Cap Pouches to carry metallic pistol cartridges during the Indian War period is well documented, and while a number of the different methods and patterns of modifying the cap pouches are well known, this particular pouch which was modified specifically to be worn on the 1ST Pattern Model 1876 Prairie Belt is quite possibly the rarest of all the modified Indian War Pistol Cartridge Pouches.   

The belt loops on the accoutrements worn on the leather sabre belts were sized to fit the standard 2” wide leather belt.  With the introduction of the wider and thicker Prairie belts, if the soldier was to carry his holster and pistol cartridge pouch on the cartridge belt, the belt loops on the accoutrements had to be enlarged.   

As detailed on page 7 of Dorsey’s Indian War Cartridge Pouches, Boxes and Carbine Boots, in addition to the standard removal of the cap pouch’s interior flap to carry the metallic cartridges, both of the belt loops were removed from the back of this pouch and a single wide belt loop was neatly sewn on the center of the back panel of the pouch.  The replacement belt loop was not only wider, but also considerably longer to allow enough room for the pouch to pass over the wider cartridge belt and the cartridge loops.   

At the time this book was published, only one of these pouches was known and it was justifiably assumed to be a field modification.  Since that time, two others, including this pouch, have been found, both identical to the one shown in the book, down to the manner in which the original belt loops were removed, the size and quality of finish on the replacement belt loop, and the neat stitching used to attach the new loop.  The detailed similarity of the three pieces suggests this was an approved modification as opposed to those undertaken by individual soldiers, and the quality of the work argues for these pouches to have been made at one of the arsenals or ordnance depots.     

The pouch is in full form with the original integral tab intact, all of the seams are intact, and the replacement belt loop is very strong.  The leather is still very supple and pliable, and retains a smooth shiny surface overall.  The front of the pouch still retains a light, but legible stamp that was applied by the Civil War inspector who accepted this pouch during the war.  The inspector’s stamp is applied over a faint embossed stamp of the federal eagle which appeared on some of the early 19TH century pouches, and it may well be the flap of this pouch was made from leather salvaged from one of those early pouches – another indication of the fiscal limitations imposed on the army. 

That this particular pattern of Pistol Cartridge Pouch has been found in such a limited number is not surprising – like the 1ST Pattern Prairie Belts, these pouches were issued early in the Indian War period, they were likely produced in very limited numbers, and they were issued specifically for use in the field on campaigns where they would have been used to destruction with very few survivors.   That this pouch is offered on this belt certainly enhances the value of the set.

MODEL 1874 DYER CARBINE CARTRIDGE POUCH –  SCARCE CUT LOOP VARIATION – IDENTIFIED TO THE 5TH US CAVALRY:  As described in Dorsey’s Indian War Cartridge Pouches, Boxes and Carbine Boots, on page 36, this was an early modification limited to the period in which the First Pattern Model 1876 Prairie Belts were in use.  Based on the surviving examples, this modification in every case shows a high level of workmanship and is consistent in the manner in which it was executed, arguing for the premise that this work was done at the arsenals or Ordnance depots.   

The modification consisted of cutting the belt loops, punching holes in each of the four cut ends, and then inserting laces which allowed the belt loops to span the width of the cartridge belt.  Lacing the pouch on the belt provided the soldier with an additional quantity of ammunition ready at hand – a reasonable concern on the frontier.     

This pouch is in particularly nice condition, with bright clear leather overall, with only minimal crazing of the gusset leather.  The embossed “US” which was on the front cover has faded through use.  This pouch was manufactured at the Rock Island Arsenal, identifiable by the unique style of the escutcheon plate.  As is normal for these modified pouches, sheep’s wool lining is worn away due to their use in the field.  

Of special interest are the unit applied identification stamps applied to the face of the body, “CO. L 5 CAVY 22”, indicating this pouch was issued to soldier number 22 in Company L of the 5TH U.S. Cavalry Regiment, a unit with an active and colorful history in the West. 

Overall this is an excellent example of a “Cut Loop” Dyer Pouch, and it is a special added value to this belt set.    

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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