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?