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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Did Native Americans inspire the invention of the removable, center-fire primer that makes reloading possible?
Major Jerome Clark has an amazing tale in the May, 1931 issue of the American Rifleman that suggests it. Here's what he wrote:

"Probably few of our readers now about one of the most important inventions of the period of the early (18)70s --- the invention of the central-fire primer.
"Most of us know that during the Civil War and for some years after, all our cartridges were rimfire, with few exceptions. The Government .50-caliber Springfield, and also the .45, were central-fire, but they had no primer, as we know primers today.
"The firing pin simply made an indentation in the back of the cartridge case, over a little spot of fulminate enclosed in a pocket on the inside of the shell.
"From 1865 to 1876 the Indians were giving the Army a great deal of trouble, making constant forays on the Union Pacific Railway, then in the course of construction. Most of the Indians were armed with short, heavy muzzle-loading rifles of about .40-caliber, with half stock and patch box, which they obtained from the post traders in exchange for furs.
"In several engagements with troops and settlers about 1871 the Sioux captured a number of breech-loading rifles, mostly Springfields of the .50-caliber type. A strict order was issued not to sell any ammunition to them for breech-loading guns, and as far as is known the order was obeyed implicitly.
"However, whenever an Indian got a chance to pick up a fired cartridge case, he saved it, usually to cut up and hammer out into little ornaments to embellish his leggings or tobacco pouch.
"Along about the latter part of (18)71 the troops had a brush with several parties of Sioux, and were surprised to find quite a number of them using Springfield rifles. The mystery was where did they get their ammunition?
"I don't think the question was settled for quite a while, but after a future brush with them some of their empty cases were gathered up and examined, and it was found that the Sioux had been reloading the empty cases that the soldiers had discarded.
"Here is how they solved the problem of the central fire primer: Taking one of their ordinary percussion caps for their muzzle-loaders, they inserted in the open end of it a small piece of gravel. They then forced the cap into a hole punched in the center of the cartridge shell with a round nail or other pointed instrument.
"The piece of gravel served as an anvil under the firing pin to explode the fulminate, and the Indians had very few misfires. These cartridges caused a great deal of comment among Army officers, and specimens were sent to Washington.
"Then came the invention by Colonel Berdan of the central-fire primer, with its own brass anvil fitted inside.
"However, the invention was basically of Sioux origin, and to these Indians we are indebted for starting the practice of reloading, probably a score of years before it would otherwise have been thought of."

Gatofeo notes: Now, I don't know if Major Clark's story is true but it is plausible.
I don't know who Major Jerome Clark is (or more likely, was, considering his report was written more than 70 years ago) but I wonder if verification exists in some old Army report from the early 1870s?
Perhaps some of these "reloaded" Sioux cases still exist in the Smithsonian, private collections or in archaeological finds. They would certainly be easy to spot, with a hole punched in the back of a case and a percussion cap jammed in the hole.
I have an early inside-primed .45-70 cartridge in my collection. To many, the inside-primed .45-70 looks like a rimfire cartridge because no primer appears on the rear.
I believe that reloading this case as above is entirely possible.
The base appears to be thick and strong, requiring quite a strike from a firing pin (which the 1873 Springfield has) to reach the internal primer. This strong base would facilitate reloading with a hole punched through the base and a percussion cap pressed in the hole. Though some gases would certainly escape back through the punched hole, into the firing pin recess, the pressures would be relatively low given the strength of black powder compared to smokeless powder.
An interesting little story, eh? Wonder if it's true? Anyone ever heard of this?
 

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I heard this story many years ago and gave it great credence until I actually started reloading. Where did they get the powder and bullets? How did they know how much power to use. What did they use for press and dies? It's oen thing to overcome the issue of primers, but that is only one consideration. The other considerations are other components such as powder and bullets. The other consideration is how to have assembled the ammo. Never saw these issues addressed.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
What did they use for press and dies?
None are required.
Actually, resizing the case is not necessary if you are using the same cases in the same rifle. And if a case is a bit balky at entering the chamber, the strong camming action of the Trapdoor action will seat it quite handily. I know, I own a (reproduction) 1873 Springfield in .45-70.
Knowing how much powder to add?
Remember, they were using black powder. You simply add powder, leaving a little room for the bullet. The measurement of black powder is not critical.
Where did they get the bullets?
Bullet moulds were a common item on the frontier. Surely, they were easily captured from settlers and Army patrols. There were numerous .45-caliber muzzleloading rifles on the frontier, and many of their moulds cast conical bullets as well as balls.
Of course, some .45-caliber moulds would cast projectiles over or under-sized but a bit of experimentation would determine which fit the Brave's case best.
Lead was a common item on the frontier and quite valuable. Its weight made it difficult to transport in great amounts, especially before the railroad system was fully in place. If you read the manifests and suggestions of those who crossed the plains, at least 50 pounds of sheet or bar lead was suggested.
The Army and the Indians typically did not fight during the winter months on the Plains, high desert plains and mountain ranges because of the horrible weather. This meant there was a lot of downtime during the winter, to repair equipment and prepare for the fighting in the Spring and Summer.
 

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Reloading?

Gentlemen;

The Indians did not invent reloading! The muzzleloader was the original reloading platform! You could tailor your loads to any environment. The Indians at best, simply rediscovered the art.

Dan C
 

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D.C.

OK if you want to get that nit-picky, then reloading started way back when some cave-man invented the second arrow. Or, perhaps after he pulled the first arrow out of the first tree stump ever shot.

I think for purposes of this thread, reloading is meant specifically in terms of metallic cartridge reloading.

And the idea sounds very plausible to me. Gatofeo pretty much answered all of Advocate's questions the way I would have. Since by this time the indians had already mastered the issues of powder and bullet with their muzzle loaders, they really only needed to figure out how to re-prime empty brass.

But, even with the possibility that you DID find the artifact (a case primed in such a way) doesn't necessarily mean the Indians thought it up first.

It's equally possible that an ingenious Indian could have seen a cartridge designed by Col. Berdan and, using that inspiration, make the necessary adaptations to the materials he had on hand.
 

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Indians and Reloading

Boy this thread was resurrected from the dead pile! Are the cartridges in question rimfire or centerfire? If they were centerfire then there would be no need for them to make a hole in the case as it would already be there. If they were rimfire cases and rimfire weapons, then punching the hole in the center of the cartridge case to insert their perc cap would not allow for the impact of the firing pin which would be aimed at the rim. So, I don't see how one could modify a rim fire case in that manner to fire with a rimfire rifle. No, I doubt the Indians invented reloading! They barely mastered marksmanship! Not that they were incapable, but there are no accounts - credible - where Indians took the time or invested in the effort to replenish their stock of cartridges from any endeavor other than barter or thievery! The Indians of the 19th Century were dependent on the things they covetted from the Whites.

Dan C
 

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Dan:
I saw a thread on this topic over on the Civil War Guns Message Board. The cartridges in question weren't the 45-70 Govt. round but were the early 50-70 brass. The earliest of these weren't primed using the methods that we are familiar with today ala Boxer or Berdan type primers. They were non reloadable centerfires. They had a solid casehead that was very thin in the center. A dab of priming compound was applied to this area inside the case and was ignited by a firing pin strike to the center of this thin case head. I believe that the compound being used was fulminate of mercury "very volotile stuff". I've not seen any of these modified cartridges myself but as the story goes the indian would use a nail or other sharp metal object to pierce the casehead, probably reaming out the opening until a percussion cap could be pressed into place similar to a modern primer. I'm not sure how this worked without a primer anvil of sorts. Reloading dies aren't neccessary as all that was required was to charge the case with powder and seat a 50 Cal roundball into the case, so conical bullets weren't even needed. Bar lead and powder could be gotten at frontier trading posts and remember not all traders followed the rules for not selling items like Whiskey and guns to the indians. Never discount the ingenuity of the plains indian. What he lacked in technological training he more than made up for in his ability to improvise.
 

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Reloading ******

During the fights by General Crook against the Cheyenne and Sioux, one of the things they found plenty of in the Indian camps after the battles were copious amounts of bar lead. However, many of the Indians still carried muzzleloaders. Much has been said about the Indians being better armed than the soldiers. About 1/3rd had repeating arms. The rest had bows, lances, muzzleloaders and shotguns. I suppose it's possible.

Dan C
 
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