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MODEL 1881 COLT/S&W HOLSTER WITH THE FORSYTH MODIFICATION WITH AN ATTACHED MODEL 1875 PISTOL CARTRIDGE POUCH – INTERESTING AND WELL DOCUMENTED SOLDIER ADAPTATION – VERY GOOD SPECIMEN OF A SCARCE INDIAN WAR HOLSTER:  As described in US Military Holsters and Pistol Cartridge Boxes, by Scott Meadows on pages 128-132, the Forsyth Modification of the standard Model 1881 Holster originated with soldiers serving in Texas along the Mexican Border.  By the mid-1880’s the frontier troops were being issued a combination of Model 1881 Holsters, designed and intended to be worn on the leather sabre belts, and the various patterns of the Mills Woven Cartridge Belts which were far too wide to accept the narrow belt loop of the holster.  In order to overcome this problem, the Texas based soldiers drew on the design of the holsters in use by civilians of the period, and fitted the Model 1881 Holsters with what would become known as the Forsyth Modification.   

The Rock Island Arsenal made an original trial production of 500 Forsyth Holsters.  While the modification was never formally adopted and it does not appear that any additional Forsyth Holsters were produced by the arsenal system, the modification was very well received by the troops in the field.  Based on surviving specimens, additional Forsyth holsters were created by modifying existing stocks of the standard Model 1881 Holster – and such was the case with this example.   

The condition of this specimen is very good, with solid stitching throughout and with all of the components, including the plug, intact.  The body is solid, holding its shape and form.  The surface is crazed commensurate with its use, but the leather surface still retains a bright shiny surface, and a very legible “US” embossed in the oval.   The seams along the body and the bottom plug are complete and intact and the plug is present.  The flap is overall smooth, with only minor crazing, and the “ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL” stamp and the inspector and piece worker initial stamps are all very legible.  At the top fold of the flap, there is a narrow weakened strip that has been repaired.  It is not particularly noticeable from the front of the holster as it lies behind the crest of the fold, and is more visible on the interior of the flap.  The flap is still strong and not oil soaked, and that one worn strip will survive just fine if the holster is not roughly handled.  The belt loop, one of the two primary components of the Forsyth Modification is full form, with the characteristic small wear points at the forward and trailing corners of the top fold where the loop passed over the belt and likely received the most wear against the top edge of the cartridge belt.  The belt loop is otherwise very solid and the surface is very smooth.  The belt loop flap is held to the body of the holster by the second component of the modification, the retaining strap.  The strap is full length and intact with the proper brass buckle seen on many of these modifications, and the surface of the strap is commensurate with the balance of the holster.   

Setting this already scarce Forsyth Holster apart is the very desirable soldier executed adaptation by suspending his Model 1875 Pistol Cartridge Pouch from the holster’s belt loop retention strap.   

While the effects of aging and wear to the leather may make this arrangement appear to be quite tenuous, when the leather was new and at full strength and form, this was a very functional solution to a problem that had continued to plague the late Indian Wars soldier – that of carrying his pistol cartridges when wearing the canvas and woven cartridge belts.  The army made no provision for carrying the pistol cartridges on the looped cartridge belts, and every solution for this omission, such as this arrangement, was initiated by soldiers serving in the field.    

This concept may have originated as early as the Civil War as at least one known example exists that incorporated a mid-war holster with an unmodified cap pouch, where the cap pouch was attached to the lower end of the holster body with an added buckled strap, very similar in form and concept to the arrangement on this Forsyth Holster.     

The pistol cartridge pouch exhibits use and wear commensurate with that of the holster and is indicative that the pair has been together since their active service life.  The surface of the flap is crazed with some flaking, but the leather is strong and solid with no weak points, and the integral closing tab is still present and fully intact. In keeping with the modification of the surplus Civil War cap pouches into the Model 1875 Pistol Cartridge Pouches, the interior flap was removed, leaving two “ears” which were sewn to the top edges of the sides of mouth of the pouch in order to retain the metallic cartridges.  The face and rear of the pouch are smooth with no serious surface loss.  Both belt loops are intact, and while showing the wear to be expected as they are the suspension points for the heavy cartridge filled pouch, they are intact and full form.   

The survival rate of any field modified accoutrements is very low, and so many factors argued against their survival.  First, they are the pieces which “were there”, exposed to the heavy use and hostile environment of soldiers serving on the frontier, subject to daily wear and tear, repeated wetting and drying, and eventually worn to the point that they were consigned to the burn pit.  For those few examples of field modified equipment which did survive the field and were returned to the ordnance depots, the army regarded them as outside the confines of the regulation patterns and either disassembled them or disposed of them entirely as condemned material, and those pieces did not survive to enter the surplus pipeline which would eventually feed the collector market.   

In short, these holster and pistol cartridge pouch combinations are quite rare, so finding a complete pairing in any condition is very notable.  In spite of the obvious use which this set endured, it is quite nice and it would be a great addition to an Indian War collection.   

These Forsyth Holsters are anything but common, and a complete example such as this specimen will be a special addition to your collection to display with a Colt Single Action or Smith and Wesson Schofield, and any of the Indian War Era Mills Woven Cartridge Belts.  Further, the added value of having the Model 1875 Pistol Cartridge Pouch suspended from the holster belt loop retaining strap makes this specimen a very notable example, illustrating how these Indian War holsters were adapted to the soldiers’ needs.  (0123) $2250



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