By Mark Gallear

Official 7th Cavalry Weapons 

Model 1873 Single-Action Colt .45

The Model 1873 Single-Action Colt .45 (see Figure 1) replaced Civil War revolvers converted to fire rim-fire cartridges.  The Army issue had a 7.5-inch barrel but it was also sold for civilian use with different lengths of gun barrel and trade names including “Peacemaker”.  The .45 calibre was an effective man stopper and would have been the Cavalry’s shock weapon when mounted. The Colt was sighted to 25 yards at the time of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, but would be later sighted to 50 yards. 

The 1873 Colt, like the majority of its American contemporaries, was a single-action revolver.  The chamber had to be revolved by hand after each shot, which was done by pulling back the hammer and earned it the nickname the “thumb-buster” from U.S. Cavalry troopers.  Modern double-action revolvers can have the chamber rotated by trigger pressure, which makes them faster to shoot. 

At the U.S. Army's insistence, the gun was made into a solid frame design and proved to be both rugged and reliable.  It is loaded from a gate rather than broken open.  This Western icon was made until 1940.  The government was none too pleased when it discovered that it had bought all of the guns produced by Colt in the first year for $13 each yet dealers could buy them for as little as $10.50.   

Barrel Length 7.5” (190mm)

Length 13” (330mm)

Weight 380z (1.08kg)

Calibre .45” 250-255 gram lead ball backed by 38-40 grains powder.

Rifling 6 groove r/hand

Capacity six

Muzzle Vel 860 Muzzle Eng 420 compared to c650f/s for a typical metal cartridge revolver of the period.

Sights Fixed – 25 yards.

Figure 1 - Model 1873 Single-Action Colt .45

Model 1873 Springfield “Trapdoor” Carbine

The 7th Cavalry had used the Spencer carbine in its early Indian battles, which had an effective range of only 300 yards but by the time of the Little Bighorn the U.S. Army was standardising on the Springfield rifle and carbine with the Erskine S. Allin breechblock.  

The established wisdom is that the U.S. Army did not adopt lever-action multiple shot weapons during the Civil War because of the problems they would create regarding the supply of ammunition.  However, I believe that by the time of the Indian Wars the Army viewed the lever-actions weapons as under-powered novelty weapons and that they were equipping their men to fight wars against European equipped enemies or to re-fight the Civil War.  The Indian Wars were seen as a minor sideshow in which troops armed to fight on European battlefields would be more than a match for fighting any number of Indians.  

The Army saw breech-loading rifles and carbines as the way forward.  They could fire a much more powerful round at longer ranges than lever-actions.  Although lever-actions could give an initially high rate of fire, unless they were equipped with some kind of loading gate, breechloaders in the long run had a higher rate of fire, which was sustainable throughout a battle. 

Initially the Spencer carbine was converted to an alternative breech-loading system with the stabler cut-off for Cavalry use.  The Ordnance Department initially decided to transform existing muzzle-loading Civil War rifles to a breech-loading system using Allin’s "Trapdoor" system to convert them first to .58 rim-fire with the M1865, followed by the M1866 .50-70 CF round.  These had reliability problems but were responsible for the victory at the Wagon Box Fight of 1867. 

In 1872 the Army tested a number of foreign and domestic single-shot breechloaders but stuck with the Springfield Allin system, to avoid paying royalties.  The Allin System had been developed at the Government Armouries to reduce the cost, but the U.S. Treasury had already been forced to pay $124,000 to inventors whose patents it infringed.  The adoption of the Allin breech gave the advantages of being already familiar throughout the Army, involved no more royalties, and existing machinery at the Springfield Armoury could easily be adapted to its manufacture.  The 1873 rifles and carbines were now purpose-made weapons and no longer Civil War conversions.

The rifle was to fire the new .45-70-405 centre fire round, but the charge was reduced to .45-55 for the carbine as the rifle charge was considered too heavy for prolonged use in this weapon.  These M1873 Springfield carbines (see Figure 2) were used for the rest of the Indian wars, with a number of updated marks, until replaced by the Krag Jorgensen bolt-action rifle in the 1890s.  One trooper is known to have carried the full-length rifle version at the battle.

Figure 2 - Model 1873 Springfield “Trapdoor” Carbine

Although some authorities have blamed the gun's reliability and tendency for rounds to jam in the breech for the defeat at the Little Bighorn,  the carbine was in fact more reliable than anything that had preceded it in U.S. Army service.  These weapons were vastly more reliable than the muzzle-loading weapons of the Civil War, which would frequently misfire and cause the soldier to uselessly load multiple rounds on top of each other in the heat of battle. A study of .45-55 cases found at the battle concludes that extractor failure amounted to less than 0.35% of some 1,751 cases tested.  Paul L. Hedren, “Carbine Extraction Failure at the Little Big Horn: A New Examination,” Military Collector and Historian (Summer, 1973): pp 66-68; Douglas D. Scott and Richard A. Fox, Jr., Archaeological Insights into the Custer Battle (Norman, 1987). 

Custer’s men only received their new 1873 Springfield carbines in 1876 and were among the last to do so.  Rumours circulated after the battle that the copper cases had fused to chamber walls, allowing the extractor to tear through the case rim.  These can be attributed to Reno’s testimony to the Chief of Ordnance that six of the carbines had jammed due to the breech not locking properly during the fight for the bluffs above the Little Bighorn.  A trooper under Reno’s command claimed that an officer spent time extracting jammed cases, reloading and passing carbines back to the men.  Colonel Ranald Mackenzie after the Little Bighorn battle requested Winchester repeaters for his 4th Cavalry, citing the poor rate of fire of the Springfield breechloader. 

One potential reason for these failings in the Springfields at the Little Bighorn, could be that the 7th Cavalry had been issued a number of faulty weapons that had been returned by other units. Varnum (in Graham p347) claims that his and probably Custer’s men took the Rifle 70 grain ammunition and not the carbine 55 grain.  Could this more powerful rifle round have been a contributing factor in the number of jams that occurred?  The oral evidence of gun failures markedly conflicts with the archaeological analysis, which also shows that the .45-55 round was issued.  Whatever the case, the complaints about the weapons after the battle show a distinct lack of confidence by the troopers in their main weapon, the Springfield carbine, during the battle. 

The carbine barrel length was 22 inches long.  The rear sight graduated to 500 yards, and a sight lead to 1,290 yards.  The carbine would have been rarely used mounted but was used dismounted in a skirmish line, usually in a kneeling position.  

Most authorities set the effective range for the 1873 carbine at 500-600 yards. However the cavalry usually fought in skirmish order and would not have normally used controlled volleys, but individual aimed fire.  Modern infantrymen start to engage individual targets at around 300 yards and are well trained and practiced with their weapons.  Custer’s cavalry were largely not, although some of the scouts and officers would have been skilled shots out to extreme ranges.  There are Indian accounts of single braves testing the cavalrymen’s fire and their bullet-proof magic by riding round them with no ill effects.  The use of skirmish order should have increased the rate of fire achieved by well-motivated and trained men against that of controlled volley firing.  However, there is reason to believe from modern studies of Japanese Banzai attacks in WW2, by S.L.A. Marshal, that many men do not fire at all in such circumstances. 

Other Army Weapons

No bayonet or hand to hand weapon was issued apart from the sabre, which under Custer’s orders was left behind.  Although one officer carried his sabre as a mark of his rank.  Troopers privately purchased a knife for utility purposes including prising out jammed rounds.  Reno’s men dug themselves in with such tools.  Some, such as Bowie Knives, would have been effective hand-to-hand weapons, but most would have had minimal value. 

Officers purchased their own carbines or rifles for hunting purposes and an accuratised Springfield Carbine Model 1875 Officer’s rifle was made for this purpose.  However any hunting weapon could have been carried including shotguns, Remington Rolling blocks or even Winchester 73 Rifles.  These guns may have been left with the baggage and is unclear how many officers actually used these weapons in the battle.  However, there is evidence that Reno’s men did make use of long-range hunting rifles. 

The narrative of John M. Ryan 1st Sgt “M” Company (in Graham 2000 p239) shows the use of non-issue long-range weapons during the battle.  Ryan relates that during the fighting with Reno’s command on the bluffs,  Captain French was armed with a Springfield breech-loading rifle of .50 calibre, but after firing at an Indian three times, he become so discouraged that he abandoned his rifle.  Ryan further relates that he wrapped the rifle in a bedroll but later at Fort Rice, French reclaimed the rifle after finding out that Ryan had his weapon.  

The next day, June 26, they came under fire from a high bluff that caused the men to take cover, and one Indian was using a rifle that made a tremendous noise.  The distance was too great for return fire with the Springfield carbine.   Captain French asked Ryan if he could do anything, as he was the owner of “a 15-pound Sharp’s telescope rifle, calibre .45, which I had made in Bismarck before the expedition started out, and which cost me $100.”  Ryan, after he got the range, fired half a dozen shots in quick succession at the bluff and caused the Indians to ceasefire and make a retreat. 

The story is largely corroborated by Trooper John Burkman in an account related to I.D. O’Donnell.  (Glendolin D. Wagner, 1973, Old Neutriment, pp.169-70) 

All durin’ the twenty-fifth and sixth whilst the Indians down below was firin’up at us they was a fellow on a hill overlookin’ ours that kept poppin’ down at us with a long range buffalo gun.  He was a good shot.  We couldn’t see him every time his gun popped, down dropped one o’ our men or a horse or a mule.  That Indian did more to pester us than all the bunch down below.  Toward the last Ryan got him with a long-range gun.  After the fight I went over the hill and seen him layin’ thar, the buffalo gun still in his hand, back o’ some boulder he’d piled up for breastworks.  

Burkman’s story seems to exaggerate the deaths on each side to make his story more interesting, but there are elements in Ryan’s story that are hard to believe.  The 1874 Sharps was made in a number of different models with varying quality and accuracy.  I have only once seen a period Sharps with a telescopic sight, they normally had a rear pop-up sight with a vernier scale set up to a maximum of a very optimistic 1000-1300 yards.  So I suspect the telescopic sight was a later elaboration, made at a time when they were much more common.  The rifles normally weighed around 9 or 10 pounds, not 15.   The price of $100 is quite possible but how would a 1st Sgt have such a sum?  It is more likely that Ryan salvaged the gun from a dead officer, with the intention of selling it at a later date.    

Custer used a .50 calibre sporting version of the Spencer Rifle in the 1867 Kansas Campaign.  In about 1872 Custer had a 1866 .50-70 Trapdoor Springfield modified to a sporting appearance by reducing the fore-end to half length, and fitting a double set trigger mechanism within a special trigger guard with a long rearward scroll.  He is known to have written to Remington congratulating them on their new Rolling Block Rifle after successfully using a .50 deluxe model on a hunt.  He owned at least two Remington Rolling Block Sporters, one with a straight-wrist butt and the other a Remington Creedmoor in .44 with a pistol-grip, and a folding tang sight.  Wilson believes that as the Remington Rolling Block .50 is missing from the surviving collection of Custer guns it was captured by Indians at the Little Bighorn.  Both Godfrey’s and Ryan’s descriptions of Custer (in Graham 2000) before the battle agree that he possessed a Remington Sporting rifle. 

Many officers probably bought their own revolvers even though the Colt .45 was a new design.  A 1875 Smith & Wesson Schofield .45 revolver was found at the Little Bighorn by a party of surveyors in 1883.  This could be an Indian gun but is much more likely to have belonged to an officer or scout.  It was a break-open design meant to be easier to load on horseback.  Cases from a .32 calibre Forehand and Wadsworth could possibly have been a backup up weapon used by an officer or trooper than an Indian gun.  However, army regulations forbade the use of such weapons, but whether these were enforced on campaign during the Indian Wars is unclear.  

A Colt 1871 .44 rim-fire revolver could be an Indian weapon captured at an earlier fight or again could be a scout or officer’s gun carried over later design due to familiarity with its use.  Not even obsolete percussion weapons can be ruled solely as Indian weapons as a Colt Percussion Cap revolver was supposedly captured during the battle from a white-man wearing a buckskin jacket.

Scouts' Weapons 

Indian Scouts were apparently issued the same Springfield carbine as was issued to the troopers at the Little Bighorn.  However, tintypes of Indian Scouts show lever-action weapons as well as longer range rifles and carbines.  Although most sources agree that Indian scouts were not required to participate, only to guide the cavalry to the hostile Indians, a number of Indian Scouts did take part in the Battle of the Little Bighorn in the hope of capturing horses. 

White Scouts would have been better armed and seemed to favour long-range buffalo hunting type rifles over fast-shooting lever actions. Such long-range weapons would have been used to hold off a war party at a distance by using their deadly accuracy.  Henrys, Spencers and Winchester 66s would also have been popular choices as the expense of the Winchester 73 or an Evans would have slowed down the purchase even of a well paid white scout, whose life depended on the gun he carried.  Lever-action weapons would have given a scout a fighting chance against a small war-party.  Some Scouts would have been armed with both types of weapons plus a variety of side arms. 

Custer’s Personal Weapons 

As a national hero, Custer, was presented with a number of guns as a means of marketing their products.  Remington & Sons presented him with a New Model Army Remington .44 revolver.  He also was given guns as a thank you hunting expeditions that he arranged for various V.I.Ps.  J.B.Sutherland gave him a pair of silver-plated and engraved .32 No. 2 Smith & Wesson Revolvers.  Lord Berkeley Paget presented both Custer and his brother Tom with English Galand & Sommerville .44 Revolvers as a thank you for organising a hunt (see Figure 3).  These had an early double-action mechanism, which would have made firing on horseback easier but did not allow for aimed single-action fire by pulling the hammer back first.  The Galand and Sommerville was a “self-extracting” revolver that was broken up with the empty cases lifted up from the chamber at the sametime.  This made loading the revolver much faster than it took to load an American gate-loaded pistol such as the Peacemaker. 

 Figure 3 - Tom Custer’s Galand & Sommerville 

Most sources claim that General Custer used a pair of Webley “British Bulldog” Revolvers at the Little Bighorn (see for instance John Walter “The Guns That Won The West.”  1999).   This idea is probably based on a report given by Brigadier-General (then Major) E.S. Godfrey on January 16, 1896 (in Graham p345) that Custer carried “two Bulldog self-cocking, English, white-handled pistols, with a ring in the butt for a lanyard.   The problem with this is that the Webley “British Bulldog” was not made until 1878.  This was a short-barrelled and double-action revolver that was made in pocket and small belt-sized.  The misidentification of guns is common in western history but there is usually some germ of truth in them.  It may be that the gun was the earlier 1867 Webley R.I.C. Revolver  No 1 (see Figure 4) that the later civilian “British Bulldog” was based upon.  (It was called the R.I.C. because the Royal Irish Constabulary adopted it.)  These guns typically had short barrels 3.5-4” were loaded via a loading gate and were double-action.  It is unlikely that Custer had the latter No 2. Version, as this only came out in 1876.   The Webley British Bulldog proved to be a popular gun and the name was later used to promote a number of cheap copies including some made in the US. 

R.L. Wilson (The Peacemakers Arms And Adventure In the American West  1992) gives another possibility, he calls the Galand & Sommerville, a Webley-Galand & Sommerville and implies that two of these guns were carried by Custer at the Little Bighorn.  These guns had nothing to do with P.Webley and Son and were produced by Braendlin & Sommerville of Birmingham.  Galand was a Belgian gun-designer and Sommerville was his co-patentee for the case extracting system.  As an English gun it would be quite possible for the gun to acquire the more famous Webley name on the Western frontier. As we know that Custer had been given one of these guns, he may have used it, liked the gun and so acquired another for service use.  

Ryan’s (Graham 2000 p 346) description of Custer’s arms is that carried two pistols, “one a .45-caliber Colt, and the other a French Navy”.  The Webley Bulldog was the subject of a cheap Belgian copy, so could be described as French.  The Galand could also be described as French.  Interestingly, the Webley and all its copies were made with a lanyard ring but the Galand & Sommerville never was.  As the Webley was small, sized and gate loaded, there would be reason to carry two guns to offset its small size, but why bother to carry two large belt sized revolvers, when the Galand & Sommerville was sold on being quick to load?  

Figure 4 - A Webley R.I.C. No 1 

Custer is also known on one occasion to have been given a derringer pistol in case of capture before going into an Indian encampment under a truce.  The fear of Indian mutilation whilst an officer was still a live may have made the ‘secret’ carrying of such weapons a common practice.  One eyewitness claim about the body of Custer is that he shot himself in the head with a derringer type pistol. 

Indian Weapons

Indian Guns

The Indians were clearly armed with a number of sophisticated firearms in addition to the Indian trade muskets that they could legitimately obtain from traders at Indian agencies.  The Sioux, who had lost their original homeland to enemies with better weapons, were keen to obtain metal cartridge weapons from half-breed Indian traders out of Canada or unsupervised traders at Missouri River posts in Montana.  

There is also evidence that some Indians were short of ammunition and it is unclear how good a shot they were.  They certainly did not have the ammunition to practice, except whilst hunting buffalo, and this would suggest that the Indians generally followed the same technique of holding their fire until they were at very close range   

Indian Trade Musket

Probably the most common Indian weapon at the Little Bighorn was a cap-lock trading smoothbore musket or sometimes rifled muzzle-loaders of around .52 calibre.  These guns were crudely made for Indian trade and were given out as a sweetener for treaties.   Trade guns were made up until the 1880s by such gunsmiths as Henry Leman, J.P. Lower and J. Henry & Son. Many trade guns would have been cut down to carbine length and would have had decorative tacks driven into their woodwork (see Figure 5). It is common to find repairs made by wrapping rawhide repairs to the butt wrists, which represent long use.  These guns unlike the cavalry carbines would have been used mounted and were the Indians main means of hunting buffalo.  The muskets maximum effective range would have been about 100 yards.  Civil War type muzzleloader rifles would have had an effective range of about 500 yards, but with volley fire were effective to 1000 yards. 

Figure 5 Indian Trade Guns

Henry Rifle/Winchester 66

Fox, Archaeology, History and Custer’s Last Battle finds that the .44 rim-fire round fired from the Henry rifle is the most numerous Indian gun fired with almost as many individual guns identified as the Cavalry Springfield Model 1873 carbine. 

1860 Henry Rifle

The 1860 Henry Rifle (see Figure 6) fired 15 shots and had 24” barrel, (The manufacturers claim 16 shots, but you have to load a round under the hammer, before filling the loading tube, which is of course potentially dangerous to the loader.) it was commonly used by scouts and some cavalry units after the Civil War.  By 1876 almost all in civilian use would have disappeared so Indian use must come from ex-Civil War stocks sold off cheaply and bought by Indian traders, such as the Métis. 

The copper case of the round had to be thin to allow the striker to indent it enough to fire, the fulminate therefore limited the charge that the cartridge could take.  The Henry’s .44 ball weighed 216 grains and was fired by a 25-grain charge.   Because of the low charge it probably reduced the effective range to about 250 yards, but some studies suggest the round could still kill at a 1000 yards. 

Figure 6 - Henry Rifle

Winchester Model 1866 Rifle

This was an improved Henry with a loading gate that meant the gun could be fired as a breechloader after the magazine had been emptied.  Another improvement was a wooden grip on the barrel, which allowed the gun to be held once the barrel had heated up after been fired a number of times.  The rifle had a 24” barrel and the carbine a 20” - both fired 13 shots. The Winchester 66 would have been in wide commercial use by 1876. Its name “Yellow Boy” is supposed to be from the Indian name for the gun, but this could have been a marketing ploy.

Sharps .50   

Fox lists the Sharps .50 calibre as the 3rd most common shoulder arm at the battle (see Figure 7).  Presumably these are metallic cartridge conversions of the 1859, 1862 and 1865 Sharps, which were common, or the more expensive and rarer Sharps Model 1874 Rifle made in both sporting and military versions.  Some of these weapons may have belonged to white scouts or officers but the sheer number of rounds found means that it must have been an Indian weapon.  Fox, however, suggests that split .45-55 Springfield rounds were fired by Indians through such weapons, this evidence of low ammunition levels amongst the Indians. It would have been a good choice for buffalo hunters and army scouts with long range and considerable stopping power.  The theoretical range was over 1000 yards, but only the most skilled users could achieve this.  However, Indian use would not have been able to achieve anywhere near such ranges or accuracy.  These were very expensive weapons and it is unclear how so many such weapons fell into Indian hands. 

Figure 7 - Sharps .50

Winchester Model 1873 Rifle

This fired a .44 calibre round backed by a much more powerful 40 grains of black powder, giving a muzzle velocity of 1,310 f/s.  This would have improved the effective range considerably compared to the earlier Winchester 66.  However the round was later chambered for revolvers including the Colt 1873. 

Rifles had a 24” barrel and were 15 shot, whilst the carbine had a 20” barrel and were 12 shot.  They were expensive guns with the cheapest rifle being sold for $35 and the carbine for $28 at the time of the Little Bighorn.   Effective range would have been about 450 yards. 

Spencer Carbine .56/50 “Indian Model”

The Civil War Rifle altered during the period 1867-1874 to take a .50 rim-fire round with 7 shots plus 1 in the breech. The stabler cut-off feature allowed the gun to be fired as a one shot breechloader.  The 7th Cavalry would have been armed with this carbine prior to getting the new Springfield Breechloader.  The effective range would have been about 300 yards. 

Spencer Rifle and Carbine .56/56

The Spencer rifle and carbine is the original Civil War model firing a .52 calibre round with 48 grains of black-powder behind it. The Spencer was reloaded through a 7 shot loading tube (see Figure 8)

Figure 8 - Spencer Carbine

Springfield .50

Presumably this is the Model 1868 & 70 U.S. Springfield Rifle .50 CF breechloader.  It was a favourite with buffalo hunters who called them “Needleguns” from the long firing pins.  Buffalo Bill owned one he called Lucretia Borgia. Effective range for a skilled user would have been about 1000 yards.  However, the round alternatively could be from the 1870 “Trapdoor” Springfield Carbine, which was a transitional weapon, in limited use, before the 1873 was introduced.  

Other Indian Guns

Fox lists cases or rounds found from the following weapons.  There is little evidence from them that the defeat of Crook’s force was a major source of weapons: 

Colt .36  Presumably Model 1862 Pocket Navy Revolver, percussion pistol. 

Sharps .40  Presumably a sporting version ‘mid range’ rifle of the Sharps Model 1874.

Evans .44  This is a lever action rifle made from 1873 in .44 Evans centre-fire with 34 and 29 shots in rifle and carbine.  This is most likely to be a private purchase scout weapon or at least captured from such a user. 

Colt Model 1860 .44  This is the Civil War Army Revolver, a percussion pistol.

Remington Model 1858 .44  This one has me confused, as there is no such weapon.  The Remington–Beal revolvers were in .31 and were some of the earliest revolvers made.  Hard to believe there were any even in Indian use by 1876. 

Remington Conversion .44  Is the Civil War Army Revolver converted to .44 Centre-Fire in 5 or 6 shot. 

Ballard .44   A Civil War single shot rifle in .44 rim-fire. 

Sharps .45  Presumably another sporting version of the Sharps Model 1874. 

Maynard .50  A Civil War Rifle and Carbine in .50 percussion. Uses Maynard tape-primer and preloaded metallic cartridges or powder & ball loaded down the muzzle.  Indians could have reloaded the primitive metallic cartridges. 

Starr .54  Another Civil War cavalry carbine used by the Union dating from 1861. Used a .54 linen cartridge.

Enfield .577  The Civil War Percussion Cap Rifle that equipped most Confederate infantrymen. 

Shotgun  Almost all homesteaders would have had a shotgun, but the limited use by Indians could mean they rarely attacked homesteaders for arms or because they were a poor choice for buffalo hunting, were not rated as a desirable weapon. 

Compare the above with the 1879 ordnance report of arms surrendered by Indians. 

160 Miscellaneous muzzle-loaders.  (Indian trade muskets).  

49   Springfield Breechloaders

23   Spencer repeaters

13   Sharps breechloaders

12   Winchester lever actions .44

4     Henry Rifles

Many were listed as being in poor condition but “could be used by so enterprising an enemy as the American Indian”.

125 Revolvers and single-shot pistols were also listed.  All but a converted Colt and a single-shot Remington rolling-block were percussion, 72 Colts, 37 Remingtons, 5 Whitneys, 4 Starrs, a Manhattan, a Pettengill, and a Savage. This is a surprising number of pistols, as they are not normally thought of as Indian weapons. 

Hardorff believes that the pictographs made by Red Horse, five years after the battle can be used to accurately identify the dead and wounded from the different warrior societies by their dress.  I have used the five pictographs showing the dead at the battle to give some idea of the Indian perception of what the main Indian combatants were armed with.  Difference between the metal cartridge and muzzle-loaders is based on my perception of whether a Henry style central plate and lever is present.   All the rifles are shown as carbine size in the drawings. 

31 with metal cartridge rifle or carbine

3 with metal cartridge rifle and coup stick

2 with metal cartridge rifle and war shield

2 with metal cartridge rifle and lance

1 with both a metal cartridge and muzzle-loading carbine

6 with muzzle-loading carbines

3 with muzzle-loading carbine and lance

1 with muzzle-loading carbine and war shield

1 with muzzle-loading carbine and knife

1 with muzzle-loading carbine and war club

1 with muzzle-loading carbine and coup stick

1 with revolver

2 with bow

1 with bow and a lance that is so decorated it is almost a standard.

1 with bow, lance and war shield

1 with lance and war shield

1 with war club and coup stick

1 unarmed 

Other Indian Weapons


The metal detector study discovered only 10 arrowheads, however eyewitness accounts suggest that the bow was a major weapon during the battle.  It maybe that the metal detectors did not find them or the Indians collected many arrowheads for reuse. The bows effective range was about 30 yards and was unlikely to kill a man instantly or even knock him off his horse. However, it would incapacitate and few troopers would fight on after an arrow hit them.  Such bows could theoretically be fired indirectly at much greater ranges but there is no evidence to suggest that the Indians followed this practice. 

The Indians had already discovered that the bow was no match for breech-loading rifles and would have relegated them to use as a backup weapon or to the youngest and worst equipped braves.  Bodies were frequently mutilated after the battle by being shot full of arrows to ensure the slain opponent would not be waiting for the brave, when he went to the happy hunting grounds at some future date! 

Hand-to-Hand Weapons

The Indians were well equipped with hand-to-hand weapons and these included lances, tomahawks, war clubs, knives and war shields were carried for defence.  Such weapons were little different from the shock and hand-to-hand weapons, used by the cavalry of the European armies, such as the sabre and lance.


R.G. Hardorff (1991) Lakota Recollections of the Custer Fight. Bison books

A.E. “Gene” Hirst (2000) Rosebud Battleground (Self-published)

Ian Hogg and John Weeks (1992) Pistols of the World-The Definitive Illustrated Guide To The World’s Pistols And Revolvers. Arms and Armour Press. 

Norm Flayderman (1994) Flayderman’s Guide To Antique American Firearms.  Arms and Armour Press.

R. A. Fox, Jr (1988) Archaeology, History, and Custer’s Last Battle.  University of Oklahoma Press.

George Markham (1993) Guns of the Wild West. Firearms of the American Frontier 1849-1917.  Arms and Armour Press.

Frederick Myatt  (1980) The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Pistols & Revolvers.  Salamander Books.

Martin Pegler (1993) US Cavalryman 1865-1890.  Osprey.

John Walter (1999) The Guns That Won The West-Firearms on the American Frontier, 1848-1898.  Greenhill Books. 

R.L. Wilson  (1992) The Peacemakers-Arms And Adventure in the American West.  Random House.

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