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GUNS Magazine June 2010 - Page 36
This Plains Indian warrior has a Sharps Model 1874 military rifle. Note it is fitted with a tang-mounted peep sight. Photo: Herb Peck, Jr. collection. f you were to rely on old movies and TV programs for their I expertise on the guns used by both sides during the Indian Wars of the late 1800s, you would undoubtedly think everybody had Mike “Duke” Venturino Photos: Yvonne Venturino a good Winchester carbine. However, if you’re knowledgeable enough to discern the exact model of Winchester, you would quickly become confused. That’s because most shown in nearly a century of cinema presentations have been Model 1892 Winchesters. Since the Indian Wars had their last gasp in December of 1890, that presents a dilemma. The Winchester 1892 was still on the drawing boards at the time of the Wounded Knee fight in South Dakota—the last time the US Army and the Plains Indians had at one another. er action rifle The Henry .44 rimfire lev ians during the Ind h wit r ula pop y ver was Jr. collection. k, Pec b Her 1870s. Photo: Why the discrepancy? One reason is the movie studios of a bygone time figured the average movie watcher was ignorant and would accept any lever gun. A second reason was that Winchester Model 1892s were about a dime a dozen then, therefore easy to obtain. History Wrong, Too? So what firearms did figure prominently in the Plains Indian Wars of 1865 to 1890? The best way to determine exactly what was used isn’t in the oral history left by participants. Although some of the details given by veterans are accurate and interesting, much of it is nonsense. For example in one book written by a doctor who in the late 1800s lived with some of the Cheyenne Indian veterans of the Little Bighorn Fight of June 1876 is the statement the warriors liked the Winchester Model 1873s in .32 WCF caliber. However, since Winchester didn’t see fit to introduce that cartridge in their Model 1873 until the 1880s, his statements just don’t hold water. Instead, the best way to ascertain The Winchester Model 1866 also was very popular with Plains Indian warriors. Photo: Herb Peck, Jr. collection. what guns and calibers actually were used in the fighting that occurred from Texas to Montana in the late 1800s is from the result of archaeological digs done at various battle sites by qualified personnel. Perhaps the best known of these digs have been done at the Little Bighorn Battlefield in southern Montana. They have happened intermittently from about 1984 to the present time and literally thousands of artifacts have been recovered. Another well known archaeology dig was performed at the Adobe Walls battle site in the north Texas panhandle. That ruckus happened between white buffalo hunters and their companions and a host of Comanche, Kiowa and Cheyenne warriors in June of 1874. The only other such formal dig of which I am aware happened in August of 1991 at the Big Hole Battlefield in western Montana. That was where Nez Perce Indians fought the US 7th Infantry and accompanying civilians and whipped them in August of 1877. That dig was partially funded by Country/Western 36 WWW.GUNSMAGAZINE.COM • JUNE 2010