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50 Caliber Artifact

Most of the artifacts I find on the place are historical instead of archaeological.  Two, found about a half-century apart were cartridge cases from the Sharps “Big Fifty.”  Both were probably not just ejected, but rather discarded.  Each had a split along the sidewall, suggesting that they had been reloaded and re-used at least once past their “best-used before” date.

It is hard to figure out the story behind this brass.  The “Big Fifty” was introduced in 1872 as the 50-90, but with differing bullets these old empties could have been 50-100 or 50-110 cartridges.  Sharps Rifle Company folded its tent in 1881, the last of the great buffalo herds was slaughtered in 1884 (Standing Rock, North Dakota) and, by 1890 the rifle and cartridge were obsolete.  Both were found in wooded areas that overlooked spots where long shots -a bit over 200 yards- might have been possible – but the only solid inference I can make is that each was discarded after the shooter noticed the split.

Another empty from a “buffalo gun” showed up maybe 25 yards from one of the big fiftie empties.  This one could probably still be reloaded safely.  The 45-75 Winchester was the original chambering for Winchester’s 1876 rifle.  It was found in a spot that was unwooded, and coming from a lever gun, might well have been ejected for a fast second shot.  The rifle was produced until 1897, and the cartridge until 1935.  I suspect there were two different hunters using buffalo rifles long after the herds were gone. 

I have never encountered a 32 special empty – despite it being the only centerfire rifle my Grandparents used here.  I suspect they carefully hoarded each piece of brass – but on the other hand, the empty case is small, and every acre has 43,560 square feet for the years to conceal all evidence.

I still encounter haywire artifacts in the woods.  I started moving bales in 1960, and worked with twine-tied square bales.  The first incarnation wire-tie bailer was developed in 1879, so it’s hard to pin a date on that.  Occasionally tangling a foot in haywire along an old logging trail suggests that bales were brought in for a lunch for horses that were skidding logs out.  I haven’t ran across much haywire in the fields – but my explanation could be out to lunch.  Still, I think the baling wire came after the cartridge cases.

The orange artifacts are Dad’s – it’s amazing how long orange baler twine can last when it becomes one with the ground.  It’s equally amazing how long I have had to lie on the ground with a Kabar cutting it out of the rototiller.  I had to sharpen the knife 6 times before I got the last of the bailer twine cut out of the tines.

1 thought on “50 Caliber Artifact”

  1. Mike, Isn’t it amazing the amount of stuff we find when we move back home. I lived in town, but mom never threw anything out, so the house is full of stuff. Hope to get up to Montana next summer. Planning our 52nd HS class reunion. didn’t have one last year of course and not this year either. Also planning two family reunions. One on Mom’s side and one on Dad’s side. Mom’s side will be in Augusta in June for the rodeo and /dad’s and the class reunion will be in Eureka during the fair. Stay cool and hope to see you and your family next summer.

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