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  #1  
Old 04-03-2021, 12:44 PM
mckenney99 mckenney99 is online now
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Default Cowboy reloading.

I Assume that at least some old west cowboys reloaded their own cartridges, 38-40's, 44-40's, 45 Colts and even rifle cartridges.

I also assume they had to use the Black Powder they could obtain in towns that they traveled through.

How did they carry/store their Black Powder to keep it dry and usable until it was needed?

I have seen photos and read stories where they purchased the powder from bulk barrels and it was supplied in cloth or paper sacks, but that packaging would not have provided any type of protection from the elements, even in saddle bags.
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Old 04-03-2021, 01:55 PM
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I find it difficult to assume that the average cowboy from 1875 -1900 shot his revolver more than a dozen times a month. As such most would buy cartridges from the general store. Reloading might have been done by a curious and adept store owner. Someone with a permanent home and an interest in shooting may have reloaded. The general business of a dawn to dusk workday left little time for shooting, hunting or fun. Cooking was at the ranch or if you were at a line camp well provided for.
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Old 04-03-2021, 02:23 PM
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Buffalo hunters reloaded their cartridges, but they travelled with so much baggage they would have had room for waterproof containers for their powder.
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Old 04-03-2021, 04:30 PM
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I would think that the well traveled cow poke, did little reloading..........

since Black Powder was very touchy about ANY, static electricity !!
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Old 04-03-2021, 06:37 PM
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About 60 yrs. ago my great uncle gave me some black powder that was in a brown paper sack and tied with a string. He had not owned a shotgun for at least 20 yrs. The powder was still good. Larry
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Old 04-03-2021, 06:52 PM
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I would think the good ole powder horn that had been used for many years during the flintlock to percussion cap era would have served them well....
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Old 04-03-2021, 07:55 PM
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I think the picture of a cowboy loading cartridges by firelight while on a cattle drive is pretty much a romantic myth. Every town had cartridges for sale at the general store and/or the gunsmith who was probably a watch repairman, blacksmith and perhaps reloaded too. Yes, some people reloaded for themselves, but I don’t think it was a very big thing, except of course for the Lone Ranger... where else would he have gotten silver bullets?

Froggie

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Old 04-03-2021, 08:24 PM
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Default Brass powder flask.......

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Originally Posted by merl67 View Post
I would think the good ole powder horn that had been used for many years during the flintlock to percussion cap era would have served them well....
The brass powder flask was ubiquitous until cartridges became widely used.
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Old 04-03-2021, 09:04 PM
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I think a lot would depend on the actual time frame. Prior to 1870 the cap and ball revolvers were al "hand loaded," one cylinder at a time. For any cowboy used to that routine, loading a cartridge was just more of the same with primers instead of percussion caps. Cowboys in the pre-1880 time period spent a lot of time out where there were no stores. And, in the 1880s there were a plentitude of calibers out there and the local store may have your 32/20 or 41 Colt or 45 Schofield, or maybe only 45 Long Colts. All you need to reload black powder is a bullet mold, a primer punch and seater, and a crimper. The old powder flask has a measure. I believe lots of pocket reloaders were out there by 1880.
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Old 04-04-2021, 09:17 AM
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Winchester's 1875 catalogue

"Where it is desired to have a more perfect cartridge than can be made with a simple cast bullet, the best course is, if practicable, to purchase the machine swaged bullets, having grooves to receive the lubricating compound, from the manufactures; but, where this can not be done, a very perfect bullet can be made in hand swages, furnished to order. For ordinary use, however, it is found that the cast bullet will answer."

I guess it depends on what their goal was.

Last edited by Bryan Austin; 04-04-2021 at 09:19 AM.
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Old 04-04-2021, 09:42 AM
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Those that handload ammunition are an incredibly small faction among those that shoot. It would appear that this faction would have been even smaller in the late 1800s due to the inconvenience of the process, especially considering an unsettled and wandering lifestyle.
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  #12  
Old 04-04-2021, 09:55 AM
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Wet black powder is works fine when dried.
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Old 04-04-2021, 11:27 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rockquarry View Post
Those that handload ammunition are an incredibly small faction among those that shoot. It would appear that this faction would have been even smaller in the late 1800s due to the inconvenience of the process, especially considering an unsettled and wandering lifestyle.
For most of the 1800s cartridges were not an option. Folks were used to muzzleloaders and marvelling at the convenience of the cap lock. Anyone who shot an 1860 Colt army or a 36 Colt Navy knew the basics of handloading. Convenience was having more than one shot. I have a 31 Colt revolver that was used by a Hazard County Kentucky deputy sheriff well into the 1920s.
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  #14  
Old 04-04-2021, 12:55 PM
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My father bought a 36 Navy Colt back in the 50's.

The owner, a older lady in Redding Calif., had no more use for it and let my
father buy it from her. He asked if it was in good working condition, at
which the lady replied........

"Yes it is. I shot a 90 pound black tail, from off my porch, just last year".

Black powder works but a lot of care must be used with the "Real" stuff.
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  #15  
Old 04-04-2021, 01:59 PM
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Just another thought, I’ll bet cowboys didn’t go through a box of cartridges in a year. Just a guess, though.
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Old 04-04-2021, 03:52 PM
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If and when You go to one of the State collectors gun shows notice all of the ancient handloading tools. Some date early 1800's and still work good.
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Old 09-01-2021, 08:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SMSgt View Post
Wet black powder is works fine when dried.
Alliant still has a jar of Unique that has been "secured" in water since June 26, 1899. Samples still work well when removed, dried and fired!
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Old 09-01-2021, 09:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dave1918a2 View Post
If and when You go to one of the State collectors gun shows notice all of the ancient handloading tools. Some date early 1800's and still work good.
Older thread I know... I have an original Winchester loading tool to go with my 1873 rifles in 38 w.c.f. (38-40). I’ve used it to load bp cartridges and yes it works. I’ve used it several times for educational demonstrations. For the demonstrations I have everything in my saddle bag. Not sure if it’s how it was done but the powder is in a brass flask. It keeps a long time.

Dan
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Old 09-02-2021, 12:12 PM
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There's an awful lot of antique reloading tools that were made and still around for a time that no one seemed to reload.
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Old 09-02-2021, 12:23 PM
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Watch Quigly Down Under.
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Old 09-02-2021, 12:36 PM
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Just for giggles unless you don't already know this..........

in the lod days , if a cow polk wandered into the town's bar and pulled out a 44 or 45 round from his belt and put it on the bar..........

it was considered enough , for the bar keep, to pour a "Shot" of wiskey for the gent.

Good day.
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Old 09-02-2021, 12:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mtgianni View Post
I find it difficult to assume that the average cowboy from 1875 -1900 shot his revolver more than a dozen times a month. As such most would buy cartridges from the general store. Reloading might have been done by a curious and adept store owner. Someone with a permanent home and an interest in shooting may have reloaded. The general business of a dawn to dusk workday left little time for shooting, hunting or fun. Cooking was at the ranch or if you were at a line camp well provided for.
This. Or stolen from people they robbed.
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Old 09-02-2021, 12:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nevada Ed View Post
Just for giggles unless you don't already know this..........

in the lod days , if a cow polk wandered into the town's bar and pulled out a 44 or 45 round from his belt and put it on the bar..........

it was considered enough , for the bar keep, to pour a "Shot" of wiskey for the gent.

Good day.
What year?

1877ish a 44 cartridge cost about .02 cents ($25 for 1,000...or about $1 for a box of 50), a bottle of whiskey about .25 cents (or two bits). Hard drink in small glass, about .05 cents

Last edited by Bryan Austin; 09-02-2021 at 12:53 PM.
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Old 09-02-2021, 12:53 PM
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Watch Quigly Down Under.
Great entertainment, but I have my doubts Quigly ever really existed.
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Old 09-02-2021, 01:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Green Frog View Post
I think the picture of a cowboy loading cartridges by firelight while on a cattle drive is pretty much a romantic myth. Every town had cartridges for sale at the general store and/or the gunsmith who was probably a watch repairman, blacksmith and perhaps reloaded too. Yes, some people reloaded for themselves, but I don’t think it was a very big thing, except of course for the Lone Ranger... where else would he have gotten silver bullets?

Froggie
IIRC; In an early (1st?) episode of the Lone Ranger he got a gunsmith to custom cast/load silver bullets in plated cases...

"Oil skin" was used for rain gear back when, so something that needed to be kept dry could have been wrapped in a piece of oil skin...

Last edited by mikld; 09-02-2021 at 01:17 PM.
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Old 09-02-2021, 03:11 PM
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Great entertainment, but I have my doubts Quigly ever really existed.
True. When he had a man load his rifle cartridges for him was what I was talking about.
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Old 09-02-2021, 03:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryan Austin View Post
1877ish a 44 cartridge cost about .02 cents ($25 for 1,000...or about $1 for a box of 50), a bottle of whiskey about .25 cents (or two bits). Hard drink in small glass, about .05 cents
Here - I'll fix this for you:

What year?

1877ish a 44 cartridge cost about 2-1/2 cents ($25 for 1,000...or about $1.25 for a box of 50), a bottle of whiskey about 25 cents (or two bits). Hard drink in small glass, about 5 cents.

Oh yes - what is the source for these figures? Lemme guess: Miss Kitty from the Long Branch? If so, which episode?
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Old 09-02-2021, 03:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mikld View Post
IIRC; In an early (1st?) episode of the Lone Ranger he got a gunsmith to custom cast/load silver bullets in plated cases...

"Oil skin" was used for rain gear back when, so something that needed to be kept dry could have been wrapped in a piece of oil skin...
Black powder and oil (as in oilskin) do not go well together.

Water - not so much.

When making my own black powder, one of the steps is to get the whole batch wet so it can be mixed perfectly. After it is dried and ground it works great.

By the way, the most widely available and most economical handguns in use up to 1890's were cap and ball.

Last edited by crstrode; 09-02-2021 at 04:06 PM.
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Old 09-02-2021, 08:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mikld View Post
IIRC; In an early (1st?) episode of the Lone Ranger he got a gunsmith to custom cast/load silver bullets in plated cases...

"Oil skin" was used for rain gear back when, so something that needed to be kept dry could have been wrapped in a piece of oil skin...
Oil skin, or canvas with impregnated paraffin and ''oil skin'' is still used by people who work outdoors in the PNW. Filson Tin Pants and Tin Coats have been around for 100 years and is still the most durable "rain gear" for loggers and construction workers.



You forgot about humidity. Wrap your BP in an oil skin on the Oregon coast and see how well it works after a year, even indoors with no 24/7 AC control.

The old saying ''keep your powder dry'' was a parting wish for your well being and safety.

BP will soak up moisture if it isn't sealed in a cartridge.

Problems of Blackpowder

All this leads me to believe that very few people reloaded brass cases until smokeless powder came on the scene around the turn of the 20th century.

44-40 was a yugely popular BP cartridge in 1880. 44 caliber and 40 grains of BP. If you wanted to load it how did you keep the moisture out of the powder?
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Old 09-02-2021, 09:31 PM
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Blackpowder was stored in wooden kegs, wooden boxes and in tins. Tins were common by the 1860s. Prior to the tins, powder was stored in horns by the civilian population. Black powder in the 1860s was also kept in flasks with metering spouts. These flasks were rainproof and very handy for reloading. In the 1840s a large number of flintlocks were still in use. Folks knew how to keep their powder dry. A flintlock shooter is not going to be put off by the complications of handloading black powder cartridges.
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Old 09-02-2021, 10:35 PM
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Quote:
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True. When he had a man load his rifle cartridges for him was what I was talking about.
He only went to that man because he said his reloading equipment was on the horse that was taken from him. In the movie Quigly loaded his own cartridge until his equipment was stolen.
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Old 09-03-2021, 10:20 AM
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I think the point here is to not confuse TV cowboys and Rodeo riders with working ranch hands. I think this would be about the same as 1880 era police officers reloading after their shift. If they had a home and were stable, plenty of free time and an interest in shooting sure. If not, once a year go ask the town council for a box of cartridges.
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Old 09-03-2021, 10:32 AM
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Just to set the RECORD straight: 98% of us NEVER reloaded our cartridges.

J.
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Old 09-03-2021, 10:56 AM
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Life was hard everywhere back then. The things that we take for granted doing today that only take a few minutes or even occur without our involvement such as washing dishes or washing and drying clothes took hours back then. I’ve hung clothes on the line as my mom never had a dryer and cut wood to heat with, never to cook with. I believe that reloading for fun was not something that occurred except for the very well off where formal gun clubs were located ‘back east’. Reloading out west would have been a commercial concern done at the gunshop to make some extra money.
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Old 09-03-2021, 11:41 AM
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Cap & ball guns were used well into the 1920's in rural areas (Ever know a dirt farmer who wasn't cheap?). Hickock used '51 Navies because they were more reliable than the cartridges of the time (He re-charged them every night=he also shot targets every Sunday that he could). Read "Mari Sandoz's "The Buffalo Hunters"=they reloaded because they may not see a town for months at a time.
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Old 09-03-2021, 11:57 AM
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Buffalo slaughter [would hardly call it hunting] was a business that required ammo to accomplish so naturally they reloaded but it couldn’t have been fun by any means.
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Old 09-03-2021, 01:57 PM
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The first loaded cartridge that became popular was the 44 Henry developed in 1860. That cartridge was a rimfire so couldn't be reloaded.

I think around 1873 the 44-40 became extremely popular for both the Winchester rifle and Colt revolvers. That cartridge was center fire so could be reloaded.

Tools to reload these cartridges weren't available until the 1880's.

My take on this is reloading BP cartridges was doable but I'm not sure how many people actually did that. I don't think cowboys had the money, time or a place to reload. I'm sure market and railroad hunters did however. I found dozens of 44 rimfire cartridges in an old Santa Fe RR camp near Ashfork AZ in the 70's. That camp was used when the RR was built around 1890. So rimfire was still popular even then.


For many years after smokeless powder became preferred by commercial loaders reloading wasn't popular. Too many things to manage like powder weight.

Here is a good article that explains all of this in detail.

The History of Handloading: Not Just a Fad Anymore | Load Data Article
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Old 09-03-2021, 02:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Green Frog View Post
I think the picture of a cowboy loading cartridges by firelight while on a cattle drive is pretty much a romantic myth. Every town had cartridges for sale at the general store and/or the gunsmith who was probably a watch repairman, blacksmith and perhaps reloaded too. Yes, some people reloaded for themselves, but I don’t think it was a very big thing, except of course for the Lone Ranger... where else would he have gotten silver bullets?

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I think the fireside would have ranked among the WORST places to be messing with black powder.
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Old 09-03-2021, 02:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Baltimoreed11754 View Post
Buffalo slaughter [would hardly call it hunting] was a business that required ammo to accomplish so naturally they reloaded but it couldn’t have been fun by any means.
Probably about as much fun as carrying water from a well or river every day.
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Old 09-03-2021, 02:37 PM
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I wonder about how "unstable" black powder was/is? 18th century navies used tons of it in their cannons without sophisticated storage.
In the Aubrey-Maturin series Patrick O'Brian makes frequent reference to it and the main problem seems to be price and availability.
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Old 09-03-2021, 03:57 PM
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I wonder about how "unstable" black powder was/is?
Black powder is not unstable or dangerous at all . . . unless the user is.
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Old 09-06-2021, 10:51 AM
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Look at the Navy Battle Ships. Their big guns used black powder even during the 1970's. It was not stored in a air tight compartment.
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Old 09-06-2021, 11:33 AM
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The ignorance in this thread is epic.

Before the advent of the cartridge, pretty much every non military shooter “hand loaded”. Military shooters used factory made paper cartridges that they bite the end of the cartridge, put a small amount of powder in the pan to prime, pot the rest down the musket or rifled musket bore and then follow it with the ball and paper wad, or minke ball and ram it home.

Loading got slightly slower with the percussion cap as rather than a flick of the risk, it required fiddling with the cap.

Cap and ball revolvers were similar but were obviously percussion and the charge was in a paper cartridge glued to the back of the ball or conical projectile, which burst as it was seated and was normally nitrated paper anyway.

Once the cartridge came along reloading was not much more complicated. You could, and still can store bullets primers and powder in less space for less weight than you can loaded cartridges. If you had 50 black powder cartridges that was a lot and as straight walled or mildly bottle necked low pressure cartridges they’d basically last forever.

Back when I shot BPCR out west I used the same 100 .45-70 black powder cartridges for about 15 years and never worse one out. They got an occasional wash in soap and water and were loaded with a hand tool. Powder was loaded by volume, not weight so no scale required and all of my loading was done with a hand tool.

In short, a fair amount of powder, lead and primers could be carried in a saddle bag along with a tong type hand tool, a bullet mold and small pot and dipper to run lead with. The shooter then didn’t have to worry about the next down having his particular cartridge, just powder, primers, and enough lead to replace what he didn’t recover from game animals.
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Old 09-06-2021, 01:22 PM
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Take a look at what the Lewis & Clark Expedition took with them! No towns over the next hill for a resupply...

I especially like the air rifles!

Cheers!
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Old 09-06-2021, 04:00 PM
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Originally Posted by BB57 View Post
The ignorance in this thread is epic.

Before the advent of the cartridge, pretty much every non military shooter “hand loaded”. Military shooters used factory made paper cartridges that they bite the end of the cartridge, put a small amount of powder in the pan to prime, pot the rest down the musket or rifled musket bore and then follow it with the ball and paper wad, or minke ball and ram it home.

Loading got slightly slower with the percussion cap as rather than a flick of the risk, it required fiddling with the cap.

Cap and ball revolvers were similar but were obviously percussion and the charge was in a paper cartridge glued to the back of the ball or conical projectile, which burst as it was seated and was normally nitrated paper anyway.

Once the cartridge came along reloading was not much more complicated. You could, and still can store bullets primers and powder in less space for less weight than you can loaded cartridges. If you had 50 black powder cartridges that was a lot and as straight walled or mildly bottle necked low pressure cartridges they’d basically last forever.

Back when I shot BPCR out west I used the same 100 .45-70 black powder cartridges for about 15 years and never worse one out. They got an occasional wash in soap and water and were loaded with a hand tool. Powder was loaded by volume, not weight so no scale required and all of my loading was done with a hand tool.

In short, a fair amount of powder, lead and primers could be carried in a saddle bag along with a tong type hand tool, a bullet mold and small pot and dipper to run lead with. The shooter then didn’t have to worry about the next down having his particular cartridge, just powder, primers, and enough lead to replace what he didn’t recover from game animals.
This is how you loaded a BP cartridge according to the instructions that came with a sharps rifle.

Quote:
“Instructions for Re-Loading Metallic Shells

The cartridge issued with the Sharps Company's Arms are made up of shells that are susceptible to being re-loaded and fired many times.

After the cartridge has been fired, the following process must be strictly observed in re-loading:

Bore a hole in a piece of hard wood, the size of the body of the cartridge, leaving the rim of the cartridge even with the surface of the board, in which place the empty shell.

Perforate the exploded cap on one side of its centre with the awl, and pry out the exploded cap; clean out the debris in the small end of the exploded shell perfectly, and insert a new cap in the head of the shell, setting it home snugly by pressure.

Charge with 70 grains of powder, with a pasteboard wad upon the powder, forcing the wad down the full length of the follower.

Insert upon the wad a lubricant disk composed of one part of pure beeswax to 2 parts sperm oil in weight, to occupy 3/16 of an inch in length of the shell.

Dip the base of the ball [bullet] up to the forward ring [grease groove] in the melted lubricating compound, taking care to fill the grooves.

Insert the point of the ball in the chamber of the Ball Seater, and introduce the shell through the circular orifice at the opposite end of the Ball Seater, and press the shell home with the hand on a soft piece of wood.

Wipe the cartridge clean and it is ready for use.”


I hate to say it but that looks like a lot of trouble to get a box cartridges that one could buy in a general store and carry until you needed another box a year later. Cowboys weren't gun fighters or market hunters and they didn't need to hunt for meat with all that beef on the hoof. Just because it was possible doesn't mean it was practiced by cowboys who had access to store bought goods like everyone else. They didn't make their own boots, clothes, or saddles either.

The incentive today to reload is because it's stupid easy with the gear we have today and less expensive, neither of which was the case in 1880.

I grew up in AZ in the 60's and knew some old cowboys in their 80's. Not a single one knew anything about reloading cartridges. A few of them rolled their own cigarettes' though.
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