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MUSEUM MARVELS!! #32

A Very Significant Firearm

The museum has had what is known as a Custer Colt in our collection for years. While it was already a significant firearm in our collection, new information has made it possibly one of the more historically significant Colt’s in any collection anywhere.

A “Custer Colt” is a well-known term for historians and collectors. It’s a Colt revolver within a serial number range that gives it an increased possibility of having been issued to Custer’s Seventh Cavalry and possibly used on the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. However, while there are roughly 8,000 Colts that fit within the Custer serial number range, there were only about 700 Seventh Cavalrymen engaged in Little Bighorn. So the chances of a Custer Colt having any relation to one of Custer’s men is pretty low. Also take into account that about 250 of the Seventh Cavalry died during the battle. Most of their firearms would have ultimately been acquired by the victorious Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapahos. So, just 700 Colts that have 142 years’ worth of mostly unknown fates.

The museum recently decided to revisit our Custer Colt to see if any new information had surfaced over the years to help tell its story. Imagine our excitement when it had!

An auction back in 2014 saw the sale of a Custer Colt with serial #4815 which had an interesting story attached. The auction provenance mentioned a document found in the walls of Ft. Abraham Lincoln during its demolition. The document outlined the proceedings of an inquiry held on April 24, 1876, just two months before Little Bighorn, against Lt. William Van Wyck Reily of the Seventh Cavalry. At issue was Reily allowing his service issued Colt revolver to be stolen - possibly by one of the other cavalrymen. Lt. Reily was required to repay the U.S. for the loss and was issued revolver serial #4815 as a replacement. Reily’s stolen revolver, the document stated, was none other than the museum’s #5126!

Though we are still authenticating this document, this new information possibly gives our firearm not only a direct link to Custer’s Seventh Calvary, but to an exact individual. We can’t fully express how EXTREMELY RARE this is. The news of this discovery has already attracted visits from a few of the most knowledgeable firearm experts in the field. They have all stated that the gun appears to be an absolutely authentic Custer Colt. We will keep our audience posted with any updates to this story.

Lt. Reily died on Little Bighorn just two months after losing his Colt #5126. It is currently on display here at the museum.

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Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
2horses,
Could you tell me where you get that there were roughly 8,000 Colts that fit within the Custer serial number range ? Thanks.
Well that is wrong.
Custer didn't have 8000 soldiers!
I got it from the Guns of the Old West forum, on Face Book.
I took it, when reading it, that was written by the Museum staff, from they're research.
Again, you can't believe everything written anymore.
Good job!
They should have come to this forum.
I can't get the original Facebook page to come up that I posted now.
Wish I saved it, then could be sent here again.
I was working, when I read it,
Cruising on a barge.
Well, kinda working, lol.
So I didn't pick that up.


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I've read about the Ft. Lincoln papers in the walls. Makes me wonder why the papers were in the walls in the first place. #5126 is in Lot 5 but if it was with Custer the Indians would have got it. If it was with Benteen or Reno, remaining in service, wonder how it missed the recall? :unsure:
 

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I've read about the Ft. Lincoln papers in the walls. Makes me wonder why the papers were in the walls in the first place. #5126 is in Lot 5 but if it was with Custer the Indians would have got it. If it was with Benteen or Reno, remaining in service, wonder how it missed the recall? :unsure:
[/QUOTE
I’d guess if stolen by another trooper it may have been discovered during a subsequent inspection. Possibly stolen by civilian and therefore didn’t make the LBH excursion. (?)
 

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I was thinking the same thing. If S/N 5126 was stolen, chances are just as good that the trooper who stole it then traded it away for whiskey or sold it to a civilian or whatever than it remained in service with Custer's troops and was at the Little Big Horn.
So yes, S/N 5126 was originally issued to Trooper Reily of the 7th. Cavalry but a direct connection to action at the Little Big Horn after it was stolen from Reily's possession is a bit tenuous sorry to say.
It is still a valuable and historic SAA.
 

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Strange, officers were not issued revolvers, but supplied their own. We know that an officer would have been responsible for the pistols issued to troopers under his command and would have had to replace any missing ones.
 
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Strange, officers were not issued revolvers, but supplied their own. We know that an officer would have been responsible for the pistols issued to troopers under his command and would have had to replace any missing ones.
Just wondering, if officers did have to buy there own hand guns, if so, what was Lt. Reily doing with Colt # 5129 from lot number 5 ?
Could officers buy from the issue weapons ? I kinda doubt if officers on the front [7th cav. etc.] had to buy there own hand guns. maybe those officers hanging around Washington did.

Like Berkeley, I have always wondered what happened to the 200+ Colts that the Indians took to Canada ? did they just vanish ? they had to be left to someone, or did they all end up in the trash dump ? they had to have some value even then.
Custer and "The Little Big Horn".... what an interesting part of this country's History.
 

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An Officer of the era would supply himself with a service pistol in the service caliber and could petition Ordnance to sell him one - most did that very thing.

The horse tack and small arms - in general - were worked to death over time, though there will always be stories that they were cached away 'up North', and the native tribes are on record of doing that sort of thing, but that's basically a tribal secret - apparently one that they kept.

Some weapons were turned in when the tribes came in under treaty - there are excellent records of what was turned in, and who they were turned in to - as well as who had them at the time - most were in sad shape - some got refurbished - some trashed.
 

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Dogface, is there a reference that lists the serial numbers of the turn-ins?

As for the possibility of 8000 serial numbers fitting into the 7th Cav range, if you work from the known serial numbers of SAAs issued to scouts (in the 12,xxx range?) and figure that replacements for the lost or stolen revolvers must have come from between Lot 5 and the the lots issued to scouts, you get to 8,000 possibles or thereabouts. I don't think the article says that 8,000 were issued to the 7th, just that the issues were from a range of 8,000.
 
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