Chinese Restaurant, San Francisco 1878. Click to enlarge
The Springfield Trapdoor,
After the Civil War the muzzleloading percussion musket was becoming quite a dated design. By then, rifles had been developed that used a metallic self contained cartridge loaded from the breech, or better yet were lever action repeaters. However, not wanting anything to go to waste, the US Army wanted to take their old stocks of Springfield muskets and convert them into breechloading rifles, much as countries such as Switzerland and Germany had done.
The conversion was invented by a designer working for Springfield Army named Erskine S. Allin. Allin took older Model 1863 Springfield muskets and machined away the chamber to expose the breech. Then he added a hinged breechblock nicknamed a “trapdoor”. The user only had to lift up the breechblock, insert a cartridge into the chamber, shut the block and lock it into place. Because these rifles were converted from percussion muskets, a firing pin mechanism also had to be included in the trapdoor breechblock. The rifles were also chambered for a powerful cartridge called the .58-70.
Over the next 6 years Allin would experiment with different models, using different calibers and making various improvements. Around 25,000 Springfield muskets were converted into trapdoor rifles of different models. Then in 1873 the US Army created a commission to test various designs for a standard model rifle to be adopted by the Army. Designers submitted various breechloading and repeating designs. Allin created a new trapdoor rifle, manufactured on its own rather than converted from older muskets. Called the M1873 Trapdoor, the rifle utilized the same breechloading design, but fired the .45-70 cartridge, which would become the standard military caliber from the 1870’s to 1890’s. Because of their familiarity with the Trapdoor design, Army Ordnance chose to adopt the 1873 Trapdoor as its standard military rifle.
The 1873 trapdoor would especially become famous with its use by cavalry on the western frontiers. While a solid and functional rifle, it was probably a shame that they chose the Trapdoor. While a sturdy and rugged, the trapdoor was a single shot rifle, and the Army had rejected several good lever action and bolt action repeating rifle designs. One of the reasons why Custer lost at the Little Big Horn was because the Sioux were armed with plenty of lever action Winchesters, while Custer’s outnumbered men had to make do with single shot breechloading rifles.
Regardless of its downsides the Trapdoor would serve the US Army until in 1892 it was replaced with the Krag bolt action rifle. It did however see action with some units during the Spanish American War, as there were not enough Krag Rifles for everyone. It would have sucked big time to be issued an old Trapdoor when the Spanish were armed with bolt action Mauser Rifles and Maxim machine guns.
Approximately 700,000 Trapdoor Springfield’s were produced.
The Colt Sheriff’s Model,
The Colt 1873 Single Action “Peacemaker”, aka Colt Single Action Army, was the most popular revolvers in the US in the late 1800’s. It especially became popular among settlers, cowboys, and lawman of the old west. However not everyone could carry a full sized pistol and pocket guns were becoming more and more popular.
The Colt Sheriff’s Model was Colt answer to the pocket pistol market. In most respects the Colt Sheriff was identical to the Colt SAA. However it was shrunken in size to make it more of a pocket revolver. The barrel was shortened and varied in length from five inches to even two inches. Most importantly the ejector rod was completely removed, making the revolver even smaller and saving more weight.
The Colt Sheriffs model was named as such because it was popular as a backup pistol for those in the law enforcement profession. However, it was much more popular with regular civilians such as bankers, store keepers, gamblers, security guards, and tellers.
Diamond from the Old West —- Jack Sinclairs Colt
Jack Sinclair was a famous musician, bandleader, and entertainer during the late 1800’s. He was famous for leading the Dodge City Cowboy Band, a band that performed across the country, even performing for President Benjamin Harrison. Sinclair and his band would perform dressed in full cowboy costume while playing classic American marches and folk music. Sinclair would direct the band with his highly ornate Colt Single Action, often firing blanks during music numbers to add dramatic effect.
While Jack Sinclair is long gone his Cowboy Band still works and performs in Dodge City today. http://www.facebook.com/dodgecitycowboyband
The Bridgeport Rig,
The Bridgeport Rig was a special holster developed in the late 1800’s for the Colt Single Action Army. A special screw was added to the pistols and the pistol was then inserted in a special clip. The purpose of this rig was to allow the users to point and fire the pistol without having to remove it from the holster. Instead the user just simply tilted the pistol forward and fire, making it the perfect accessory for any quick draw gunfighter. Made by Bridgeport Co. or Pittsburg, Texas, only 500 rigs were produced.
The Springfield Model 1881 Trapdoor Forager,
Produced between 1881 and 1885, the Trapdoor Forager was a 20 gauge shotgun issued to American soldiers on the western frontier. It was meant to be used as a hunting gun rather than a combat arm, however, so that soldiers who were far from friendly supply bases could forage for wild game. They would have been easy to use considering they were made with the same mechanism as a regular .45-70 Trapdoor rifle. The differences were that the used a shortened smoothbore barrel and stock from the Army’s storage of old, outdated smoothbore muskets. The lock and breechdoor, however, where the same as that from a Trapdoor Rifle. About 1,400 would be made.
The firearm above sold at auction for $6,350.
From left to right; Elisha Green, Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody, Texas Jack Omohundro, and Eugene Overton.
Buffalo Bill and The Pope,
Amoung one of Buffalo Bills many Wild West Show tours was a visit to the Papacy in 1890 to celebrate the aniversary of Pope Leo XIII’s election as il papa. Amoung the various spectacles was a mock cowboy and indian shootout in St. Peters Square, as well as the fancy shooting skills of Annie Oakly, and a re-enactment of the Battle of Little Bighorn. After the show the Pope personally met with Buffalo Bill and Sitting Bull, blessing them both and later offering a blessing for the entire troup. Pope Leo XIII personally gave Buffalo Bill a tour of Rome, with the Wild West troup, the Swiss Guard, and various bishops and cardinals following behind as a parade. It must have been one of the weirdest events in history to see icons of the west marching with the Papal entourage, to the songs of an old west brass band. A keynote speech was made a the ruins of the Colosseum and in one the of the most bizarre events in history captured in photograph, many of the Native American members of the show set up an Indian Village within the lower decks of the Coloseum itself.
A very unique Wichester 1873
Made in 1885, this rifle was the posession of Phantly Roy Bean Jr, who was a saloon owner in a Texas tent city called Vinegaroon. He was appointed a Justice of the Peace serving as both lawman and judge.
His rifle is a very unique Winchester 1873. On the receiver are floral engravings with “Judge Roy Bean” insribed. A tooled and riveted leaver cover encases the buttstock. In the auction this rifle was sold on, the rifle also came with a walrus tusk magnifying glass with the inscription “To Judge Roy Bean, Law, West of the Peco’s, 1899.
Sold At Auction: $11,000
The fictional gun that became reality —- The Colt Buntline Special
The Colt Buntline Special was a revolver that was the brainchild of author biographer Stuart M. Lake, who wrote the biography of Wyatt Earp in 1931. According to Lake, dime novelist Ned Buntline had five special revolvers fashioned from the Colt company. They were 1873 Colt Single Action Army revolvers that had barrels that were elongated up to 18 inches. They also came with a removable buttstock, turning the pistol into a handy carbine. According to Lake, Buntline gifted the five pistols to five western lawmen; Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Bill Tilghman, Charlie Basset, and Neal Brown.
The problem was that there was no record of these pistols ever being created. None of the lawmen mentioned ever noted or claimed to have owned a Buntline and in fact Tilghman and Brown were not lawmen when Lake claimed they were gifted their Buntline Specials. Colt also has no records of Colt Buntlines ever being created. In fact there is not one single shred of evidence validating Lakes claim. Most likely the Buntline Special was a figment Lake’s imagination, being a biographer notorious for weaving fact, semi-true stories, exaggerations, and fiction together in his writings.
Despite evidence suggesting the Buntline was fiction, the idea of the Buntline sprang forward. After Stuart Lakes book hit the market, Colt began manufacturing different models of Buntline Specials. Soon film westerns were depicting Buntline Specials as a common weapon during the old west. A second generation of revolvers were reintroduced in 1956.