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Colorado Territory Marked M-1865 Spencer with Custer Connection

Colorado Territory Marked M-1865 Spencer with Custer Connection

  • Product Code: FLA-1352-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $1.00

Sometimes when you by a gun you just have a gut feeling that it is cooler than it appears on the surface. This M-1865 Spencer Carbine by the Burnside Rifle Company is just such a gun. The gun is clearly branded on the obverse of the buttstock in three lines: U.S. / COL. / TER., which clearly stands for U.S. Colorado Territory. The more interesting marking is carved into the stock above that and reads in two lines: iN CUSTERS / FighT.. At first glance even though the carved letters are quite old and have clearly been with the gun a long time, it simply makes no sense. Everyone knows that the 7th Cavalry under former Brevet General George Armstrong Custer was wiped out at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, carrying US M-1873 “Trapdoor” carbines. While it seemed possible that the gun may have been issued to a Native American scout serving with Custer, the marking just did not make any sense. Then I started to do some research and remembered that we cannot always look at historical things with the perspective that our additional years of knowledge allow us to have. You have to look at historical items in the context of their actual time of use. As usual when researching carbines,John D McAulay and his Carbines of the U.S. Cavalry shed a lot of light on this very interesting gun.

In 1866 the US government formed 4 new cavalry regiments to help control the “Indian situation” that was coming to a boil out west. These were the 7th “ 10th US Cavalry regiments. The 7th, was of course lead by Colonel Custer, and the 9th & 10th became known as the famous “Buffalo Soldiers”. What they all had in common was that they were primarily issued the US M-1865 Spencer Carbine in 56-50 Spencer caliber with the Stabler cut-off. In fact, but the middle of 1867 the M-1865 Spencer was the primary long arm in the hands of all US Cavalry units (except for the 1st & 5th), with a total of 4,336 in the field with 2-4 and 6-10 US cavalry. The 7th had 374 on hand as of June 1867. This important because on November 27, 1867, the 7th was involved in a large fight that would be their most famous fight until that fateful day in June of 1876. On November 27, Custer’s command attacked the village of Chief Black Kettle of the Cheyenne in what would become known as the Battle of the Washita. Custer did extensive damage, destroyed most of the Cheyenne’s supply of food for the winter and suffered only 21 killed and 14 wounded. I believe that this is the fight that the inscription on the gun refers to. During the period of use of the gun, this would have been a very famous and well-known event, and only after the disastrous battle in 1876 would Custer’s reputation for a successful leader by overshadowed. Over the next couple of years, the 7th saw more and more of them M-1865 Spencer’s be replaced with 50-70 Sharps carbines, until by December of 1870 the 7th had only 4 Spencer carbines left in their possession. This dovetails quite nicely with the other marking on the carbine. In October of 1868 the US Government issued 500 M-1865 Spencer Carbines to the Territory of Colorado and 81 to the State of Nebraska (which had only entered the Union in 1867). The timeline all fits and makes perfect sense. This carbine was at the Battle of the Washita, and was subsequently issued to the Territory of Colorado, where is was marked as their property.

Overall this about a Good to Very Good M-1865 Spencer Carbine. The gun is complete and original, lacking only the sling ring that was originally attached to the sling bar on the left side of the receiver. The gun has very good, sharp markings and the top of the receiver very clearly reads in four lines:

PAT. D MARCH 6,1860

The front of the receiver is marked perpendicularly to the other markings in two lines: MODEL / 1865. The top of the receiver, behind the breech is marked with the serial number 20480. The Burnside Rifle Company produced approximately 34,000 M-1865 Spencer carbines in 1865/66. These were slightly different from the Civil War era M-1860 carbines. The primary differences were a shorter 20” barrel (instead of the Civil War era 22” barrel), a slightly smaller .50 caliber instead of .52 caliber and the addition of the Stabler Cut-Off to most of the carbines, a device that allowed the carbine to be used as a single shot weapon when it was engaged, thus saving the 7-round magazine for use when rapid fire was essential. The action of the gun works very well. The hammer responds correctly to both half cock and full-cock and fires as it should when the trigger is pulled. The Stabler Cut-Off is present as works as it should and the breech loading action remains crisp and works correctly. The gun has a smooth mottled brown patina across all of the metal parts. The inside of the receiver’s breechblock retain about 10%-20% faded case colors. It shows some light scattered peppering and pinpricking, and only some very light scattered roughness on the metal. The bore rates about Good + with strong 3-groove rifling (correct for a Burnside Spencer) and light to moderate pitting scattered along the entire bore. The only significant roughness or pitting on any of the metal is on the bottom of the buttplate and the magazine floor plate. The edges of the receiver remain sharp and the carbine retains the original rear site, both sling swivels (the rear one may be a replacement) and the original and correct magazine tube with a grooved floor plate. The magazine is in about good condition with a small crack at the leading edge of the tube. The original follower is missing and by creating a follower out of wood and fastening the magazine spring to it the original user affected a very practical repair. The follower repair is clearly from the time of use and actually adds great “Old West” feel to the gun. The stock is in about Very Good condition with two decent cartouches visible on the left wrist of the stock. The forend and the buttstock both have a deep, dark, un-cleaned look to them. The gun has the normal bumps and dings that one would expect a carbine that saw use to have. There is a tiny piece of wood missing from the very bottom of the buttstock-receiver junction, under the hammer, next to the Stabler Cut-Off. There are two small hairline grain cracks, one on each side of the butt, along the line of the magazine. This is where the stock is weakest and is fairly common in Spencer’s that saw significant service. The one on the right side of the butt is about 4” long and the one on the left is about 3” long. Neither appears to be particularly structural and seem to just be grain cracks. They blend into the dark wood well and do not detract from the display of this very neat old west carbine.

If you have ever wanted a Spencer carbine that has lots of old west history this is the one for you. It is clearly marked as one of the 500 issued to Colorado before it was a State and was likely involved in one of the more famous Indian battles of its era. The connection to Custer and his 7th Cavalry make is really interesting gun that is worthy of more research. Regimental records may well hold the key to verifying that this gun was present at the Battle of the Washita. Overall this is a great looking Spencer that saw lots of use and clearly had a very interesting service life during the Indian War days of American westward expansion.


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Tags: Colorado, Territory, Marked, M, 1865, Spencer, with, Custer, Connection