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MODEL 1876 PRAIRIE BELT – .50 CALIBER - A VERY RARE INDIAN WARS CARTRIDGE BELT - EXCELLENT CONDITION:  One of only 200 produced at the Watervliet Arsenal, this very rare variant of the Model 1876 Prairie Belt was produced to carry the .50 caliber cartridges. 

In 1878 Captain O. E. Michaelis, commander of the Ordnance Depot at Fort Abraham Lincoln, requested Watervliet manufacture 300 of the current pattern of Prairie Belt in .50 caliber, and it is generally believed that only 200 were eventually produced.  Remarkable in that these belts were specifically requested in a caliber other than the standard .45 caliber then in use by the army, it is accepted that these belts were intended for issue to scouts, teamsters, packers and other civilian employees and auxiliaries attached to the regular army columns, who were armed with any of the .50 caliber Sharps and Springfield carbines and rifles which are known to have been retained in the inventories of the units serving on the frontier.  This rare .50 caliber Prairie Belt is well documented in several reference works, with a very detailed treatment provided on pages 254-55 of American Military and Naval Belts, 1812-1902 by R. Stephen Dorsey.    

This Model 1876 (Second Pattern) Prairie Belt has survived in excellent condition, with a full length leather billet that has not been cut or shortened.  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.  All 46 of the cartridge loops are present and show no fraying or loss of shape.  The third loop in from the billet – shown below in the photographs – has a small split on the lower end that has been reinforced in such a way that it is not readily noticeable nor is it weakened.  The billet retains legible stamps for both the arsenal and the Ordnance Department inspector - “WATERVLIET ARSENAL”, and “A. R. SMITH”.  The outer leather surface of the billet shows some flexing, but is overall bright with a shiny surface.  The reverse surface of the billet shows some effects of aging and storage, but overall the leather is strong, supple and shows no loss of integrity. 

These .50 caliber Prairie Belts are an important example of the efforts of the officers on the frontier to properly equip not only the soldiers, but the civilians who supported the army and to meet the needs of the columns on campaign.  The very limited original production, and the hard use to which those .50 caliber belts that were issued were subjected – likely used to destruction – has resulted in very few of these special belts surviving today and they almost never appear on the open market.  This particularly nice  specimen would be a significant addition to a collection of early Indian War accoutrements and arms.  (0313)  $3500

NOTE:  Included with this belt is the .50-70 Winchester Repeating Arms Co. Cartridge shown in the photographs, a nice example of the early externally primed cartridges provided by Winchester under contract to the Indian Wars army. 



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