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Little Bighorn Memorial 2-Gun Match, with a Winchester 1866

On this day 138 years ago, the combined forces of the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho tribes delivered a staggering defeat to the US Army’s 7th Cavalry under the command of General George Armstrong Custer. The battle was glorified in the East for largely political reasons in its immediate aftermath (and there were no white survivors to contest the story), and it has only been in the last few decades that the true story of what happened in that fight has become well understood. A major academic revelation (not counting the Indian accounts of the battle, which gave a pretty accurate description all along) came from a field study in 1984 and 1985 which collected and mapped thousands of artifacts, mostly cartridge cases and bullets (for a full account, the book written on the study is “Archaeological Perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn”).

One of the results of that study was indisputable evidence that the Indian forces were much better armed than had been previously believed. Among the 40+ different types of firearms carried by the warriors were a large number of lever-action Henry and Winchester rifles and carbines. With that in mind (and because of his interest in frontier history), my friend Karl decided to shoot this month’s 2-gun match with a replica 1866 Winchester. He used it in place of both rifle and pistol, since handguns saw minimal practical use at the Little Bighorn (or the Greasy Grass, as the Indians called it). He isn’t shooting black powder, simply for ease of use (it was 105F during the match), but his .45 Colt ammo pretty much matches the ballistics of the original loads.

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