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Cap and Ball, back in the day

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by OrangePwrx9, Sep 14, 2012.

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  1. OrangePwrx9

    OrangePwrx9 Member

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    How was a Cap and Ball revolver, in its practical role as a defense tool, maintained back in the day? Specifically, if the Sheriff used his '58 Remmy or '51 Colt to dispatch a bad guy with a shot or two, what did he do to clean it afterwards? I doubt he discharged or pulled the unfired chambers so he could run home, fully disassemble the thing and wash it in the the kitchen sink.

    If he did anything at all, I imagine he'd take a few minutes in the evening to run a damp patch or two down the barrel and into the fired chambers, then a dry patch, reload the fired chambers, wipe down the frame and, finally apply some kind of natural lube to the barrel and cylinder pin. More likely he reloaded the fired chambers at the very first opportunity....which means they never got "properly" cleaned by our standards. Maybe a spare cylinder was slipped into the gun while the partially discharged cylinder went into the pouch for later cleaning.

    We buy these things as range toys. They get shot a lot in a session and then they're immediately showered with prompt, detailed attention. But what if you had to depend on one? What kind of cleaning regimen would work over extended periods with limited shooting and minimal opportunity/resources for maintenance?

    I'm thinking of experimenting with this with one of my '58 Remmys. What would you suggest?

    If this has been discussed before, please pass along a link to the thread.
     
  2. tscmmhk

    tscmmhk Member

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    A great question that I've thought about myself. How did the folks back then take care of their shooting iron?? Especially if they only fired a couple of shots.
    Sorry I can't offer any insight on the subject but hopefully someone on the forum can offer some history on the subject.
     
  3. BADUNAME30

    BADUNAME30 Member

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    Hope this thread takes off. It should make fer a good read.
    Heck, maybe some one here is old 'nough to give us first hand knowledge. punch.gif
     
  4. Steel Horse Rider

    Steel Horse Rider Member

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    I have read and studied the Lewis and Clark expedition at great length and while they recorded problems with reloading a flintlock quickly due to a charging bear or Indian they do not speak of the daily rituals associated with their weapons, including any maintanence of the air rifle. I think modern gunowners (including myself) tend to overclean our weapons and worry about things that the early pioneers never even thought about. If it would go bang and send a projectile in a relatively constant arc I think they were happy. The ordinary cowboy, farmer, trapper, or explorer didn't care if he was able to hold 1 moa at 100 yards without a variable power scope and the latest in primers, powder, or jacketed bullet but was rather more interested in whether there would be meat on the table or a sunrise to observe on the morrow........
     
  5. volleyfire

    volleyfire Member

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    Wild Bill Hickock was well known for discharging and cleaning his Navy Colt's each day.
     
  6. Pulp

    Pulp Member

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    Very good question. Powder, ball and caps weren't cheap. Or maybe they were, but money wasn't prevalent.

    On the other hand, I have a hard time picturing in my little mind, that if a feller's life depended on those guns, he would have taken care of them. Like Hickock did. Also, a lot of the folks of the Wild West had served in the War Between the States and had experience in maintaining weapons.

    Several years ago there was a book and movie called "Jory".
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068773/
    It involved a cattle drive. One of the drovers had a pair of '51's. The book went into pretty good detail about how the cowboy religiously cleaned them. I never saw the movie. I think the movie dealt more with the pair of 38's on the leading lady character, at least based on the previews I saw. Anyway, it's all useless information as it was a fictional novel.
     
  7. sltm1

    sltm1 Member

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    It's my opinion that the folks who thought they might need these weapons to preserve their lives, would threat them like a tool they needed to make their living, with respect and proper maintanince to make sure of their dependability, otherwise why carry an extra 3 pounds of iron on your hip?
     
  8. Loyalist Dave

    Loyalist Dave Member

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    Wild Bill was a rather eccentric fellow, and I believe his daily cleaning and loading ritual was also his self assurance that his personal skill and the accuracy of his guns was maintained. I have also read that he kept his main shooting hand free at all times... perhaps he is not the best gauge of what an average person or lawman did.

    Now as to being in an actual gunfight..., why not fire off the remaining chambers of your gun, clean it, and then reload it? The sheriff isn't getting into a gunfight once a week, or once a month even, in most locations. They did a study when DC was the "homicide capital of the nation" because the mayor kept runnin' his mouth about "Dodge City",...., and per 1000 people, Dodge City, Kansas in the 19th century had less people shot than did DC in the 20th century. The towns that got famous for lots of gunfights did so because that wasn't the norm..., and if you worked in those towns you probably had to be a lot more scrupulous about your handguns..., otherwise... shoot it and clean it once a week was probably more than sufficient. It it got damp or wet outside, when the conditions were drier..., empty, clean and reload.

    A better question might be what did they do when they fell off the horse into a creek or got caught out in the rain without a slicker..., and when they went to clear, clean, and reload, how did they clear the "dud" chambers? Did they pull the nipples, and try to add a bit of powder, or did they let the guns sit and dry for a spell, ? Did they whittle a small wooden pin, remove the nipple, and drive out the damp powder and recover the bullet?

    There was no dearth of components nor cash money in America in the 19th century..., now individual locations might not be well supplied from time to time, based on the farther you got away from a railhead, so in those cases, remove the cylinder, wipe the bore clean and the empty chambers, apply whale or sweet oil to the barrel and the frame and wipe down. Replace the cylinder, carefully bust a cap on the empty chambers, and then reload them and recap.

    LD
     
  9. Foto Joe

    Foto Joe Member

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    The way that I read the OP is that our guns might just be a little bit more "durable" than we give them credit for.

    Keep in mind that in times of old the main mode of transport for a working cowboy was equine not Honda. He dressed for his job which meant being out in all sorts of weather and that apparel went with him at all times, it wasn't like he could run back to the house to grab a jacket after all. His "duster" served as a weather garment which also protected his weapon. His saddlebags might be packed with whatever foodstuffs that he would need during his time on the range which would include such things as bacon, not the stuff we buy in the store today but real cured bacon. The remnants of which make pretty good lubrication and waterproofing when needed, a touch of bacon tallow around the nipples will provide a decent amount of waterproofing. As far as sealing the chamber mouths, keep in mind that they are pointed down and unless you get dunked in the river they will stay dry. By the way, getting dunked in the river was something to be avoided if at all possible, it wasn't like in the movies where they just amble out into the Missouri river on horseback and swim across, that was a very good way to lose their life and they knew it.

    There's a reason why you just don't see a lot of 100% condition 19th century guns. They got used, abused and they were treated like the tools that they were, they were not fashion statements. Personally, I think our guns will take a lot more punishment and still function that we think they will.

    This is of course just my opinion, I could be wrong.
     
  10. unspellable

    unspellable Member

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    Not cleaned

    At a gun show I picked up a 58 Remington replica that had obviously not been cleaned since the last time fired, full of crud. I bought it for a song figuring I could practice at a trigger job on it. Much to my surprise, when cleaned up it had a nice shiny bore & chambers. (My first attempt at a trigger job worked out very nicely too.)
     
  11. hang fire

    hang fire Member

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    David Thompson gives a very good description of ‘washing’ the flintlocks after a days hunt. Especially interesting was where the polar bear stuck it's head into the tent and all guns were inoperable when being washed.

    Many may have never heard of him, but David Thompson was one of the greatest explorers and map makers in the North America of late 1700s--early 1800s. In his narrative he describes what so many others missed putting down. This to include but not limited to the most accurate descriptions of the Indians, weapons, the landscape, fauna, flora, water ways, watercraft, privations, recording very accurate celestial readings as to latitude and longitude of places, drafting maps that have been proven true to this day. He was not a flamboyant and self promoting egotistical man with political connections of the day, so others often stole his works and presented them as their own.

    http://archive.org/stream/davidthompsonsna00thom/davidthompsonsna00thom_djvu.txt

    http://www.northwestjournal.ca/V1.htm
     
  12. mr16ga

    mr16ga Member

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    If my life depended on my cap and ball:

    I would shoot and clean it every day.

    I would worry about caps falling off so I might use hot wax to make sure they were in place.

    I would have several pistols and a shotgun.

    I wold start with the shotgun then go to the pistol.

    I would never ever give the PERP a chance.

    Anyone know what the Army regulations were about cleaning cap and ball guns?
     
  13. Mike OTDP

    Mike OTDP Member

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    Ned Roberts, in his book on the muzzleloading rifle, said he'd been taught to clean the gun thoroughly every time it was fired. We're used to starting with smokeless powder and non-corrosive primers. To the old-timers, a thorough cleaning was simply what you did.
     
  14. Steel Horse Rider

    Steel Horse Rider Member

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    Thanks for the links to the manuscripts hangfire, they will make good reading later this fall. I have read of a few western characters who described the process of maintaining their weapons but they were after the introduction of brass cased cartridges. With most of the trappers and explorers in the percussion and flint days I would think that most of the time caps, balls, and powder would be in limited supply so a daily shot for no reason other than to empty your weapon would be very wasteful, not to mention possibly alerting alerting neighbrs that might not be healthy for you.
     
  15. Hellgate

    Hellgate Member

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    I really doubt that Hickock shot and cleaned his guns every day to keep the loads fresh & reliable. He probably cleaned & shot his guns fairly frequently but not daily just for the heck of it. However, one of the main duties of the peace officer was to shoot stray dogs of which there were likely many. The dogs were a menace to freighters & anyone on horseback who might get bucked off & injured or horses/oxen/mules/burros getting tangled in the gear & break a leg etc. by barking or chasing dogs. So Hickock shot a lot of dogs. Maybe that is why he reloaded his guns so much.
     
  16. StrawHat

    StrawHat Member

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    Sam Colt proved, in many demonstrations, that his revolvers were fit to be used without greasing or waxing. He would begin a lecture by loading one of his C&B revolvers, powder, a lead ball and caps, no wax, no grease. Then drop either the cylinder or the whole revolver into a bucket of water. At the conclusion of his lecture, maybe 15-30 minutes, he would retireve the revolver and fire off all six shots.

    The only reason I use a greased wad between the bullet and powder is to provide lubrication. THe shaved ring of lead provides a waterproof seal.

    As for Hickok, I have no doubt that at some stage of his life, he probably did fire, clean and reload everyday. That may have lasted a week or a month but I doubt it was a lifelong practice.
     
  17. Desert Scorpion

    Desert Scorpion Member

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    There was no one way back then; many who used Cap&ball revolvers reloaded them regularly" weekly even. This was because of moisture ruining the powder in the revolver that was already loaded. They would still shoot but at such a low velocity the lead would probably bounce of on impact. I know this because I use cap&balls very regularly on my ranch; I have personally stopped using modern firearms altogether and only hunt or hike with a sharps carbine and various cap&ball revolvers. These revolvers can not be trusted to function after so many days depending on humidity and weather. I had a 1858 rem loaded while I worked on my property for about 5 days when I went to shoot it; the ball went maybe 10 meters because of moisture. During the civil war especially in Georgia in large humidity I would re load every day if I could!
     
  18. YumaKid

    YumaKid Member

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    Interesting; given your screen name.

    I too live in "scorpion territory"; and this time of year, winds out of the south bring up quite a bit of moisture from El Golfo de California. I've not had your experience with squib loads after a full week (or two); and I'm shooting Pyrodex, which I've been led to understand goes bad much faster than real Black.
     
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2012
  19. Driftwood Johnson

    Driftwood Johnson Member

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    Yes, believe it or not, Black Powder fouling is nowhere near as corrosive as most people believe. I shoot Black Powder in CAS all the time, with revolvers, lever gun, and shotgun. I almost never clean them the same day I shoot them, usually I try to get to it within a week. However, many times I have gone more than a week before getting around to cleaning my guns.

    In truth, it was the combination of corrosive primers (and caps) with Black Powder fouling that caused most of the corrosion we associate with guns from the 19th Century. Modern primers (and caps) are not corrosive, and the fouling is not as corrosive as most believe it to be. If you don't get around to cleaning the gun the same day, it will not turn into a pile of rust.

    I have no idea what shooters did in the past. I do know most did not fire their guns anywhere near as much as many of us do today. I probably fire more rounds in a CAS match than most cowboys would have in a year or two.

    I also know that not everybody was taking great care of their guns because I own antiques from the Black Powder era, and some of them have some pretty badly pitted bores. The interesting thing is, most of these old guns are still good shooters, despite having pitted bores. As long as the rifling is still strong, it will grab the bullet and give it a good spin, in spite of the bore looking like a sewer pipe.

    So asking what was common practice is a little bit hard to answer. Back then, just as today, different folks treated their guns differently.

    And I do believe Wild Bill shot and cleaned his guns daily. It has been reported often enough that I believe it.
     
  20. AJumbo

    AJumbo Member

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    Shortly before engaging the Blevins family in one of the 19th century's most remarkable gunfights, Sheriff Commodore Perry Owens of Holbrook, Arizona Territory had been out practicing "considerably" with his two revolvers and Winchester rifle. He was actually on his way back to his lodgings to clean his guns when he got diverted to the Blevins home.

    What I glean here is that a professional peace officer recognized the necessity for cleaning his weapons soon after using them, and that he knew he could go into a dangerous situation before cleaning them. While his guns were cartridge arms, they still used black powder.

    A lot of fur trade-era literature refers to not only cleaning the guns whenever a chance popped up, but also spoke of not cleaning all the guns at once. Bad ju-ju top be wiping out all your guns and suddenly have to repel a Blackfoot raiding party.

    I have also read that they pulled the loads from their ML rifles and pistols before cleaning, and I want to know how. I have always thought that most trappers probably weren't firing their arms every day. As long as the weather was decently dry, leaving a ML gun loaded for days at a time wasn't much of a problem, even if it was a flinter. If the gun wasn't dirty, there was no need to clean it. If a trapper was many miles and months from resupply, he wouldn't want to just fire into a stump in order to have a gun to clean. It's a great mental exercise, isn't it?
     
  21. Steel Horse Rider

    Steel Horse Rider Member

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    It is unfortunate that so much of what was considered every day and routine by our ancestors was not recorded. In addition to cleaning their weapons many of them also had to manufacture their own ammunition while away from civilization. Lewis and Clark transported their gunpowder in lead containers; each container having enough lead when converted to ball would equal the required powder contained within. Nothing was written about the ladles, molds, and other equipment required to convert the sheet lead into bullets and how the powder was dealt with once the container was opened and the lead covering removed either partially or completely. Given the range and variety of equipment and tools used by the average cap and ball shooter today an individual would have had to carry a huge load before even considering his shelter, food, water container, and knife.

    The story of Old Jules Sandoz in the sand hills of Nebraska during the later half of the 19th century supplies a bit of a look into the everyday life on the frontier although his story was after the advent of brass cartridges. It does detail (somewhat) how he cared for his Swiss Vetterli http://www.swissrifles.com/vetterli/ rifle and even to some extent how he reloaded the .41 caliber rimfire cartridges for it by hand, although it doesn't detail how he reprimed the rims. It is a good story of the impact of eternal optimism too!
     
  22. splattergun

    splattergun Member

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    To clean up a CB revolver after firing 1 or 2 rounds at the nearest coyote is really no big deal. The cylinder is easily removed, making cleaning the gun itself a simple chore. I can picture a simple moist swab, brush and dry swab, repeat as necessary, and prick of the nipple cleaning as being sufficient for the cylinder. Then a quick reload.

    A proficient gunman likely fired all his cylinders more often than the average joe, but Joe Avg would conceivably practice as often as budget would allow, that is, if he wanted to be a good shot. He'd perform the requisite cleaning and reloading at that time, thereby freshening his loads. Depending on budget, that could be a long time between thorough cleanings.

    A rifle, on the other hand, is a different critter. Most only load 1 round at a time, so if you shot it you cleaned it tht evening, whether 1 round or 20. It is what put food on your table.
     
  23. OrangePwrx9

    OrangePwrx9 Member

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    Desert Scorpion states that after 5 days a load in a cap & ball revolver has absorbed so much moisture that it has lost most of its power. And this apparently in the desert???

    OTOH, I've left ML percussion rifles loaded for a year (w/Pyrodex) with PRB or sabot. When discharged before hunting season, they were at or very close to full power....and this in often humid NYS.

    Assuming the caps are good and tight on the revolver, the only way moisture could get to the load is around the ball. Would it make sense to seal this entry point with beeswax, candle wax or some other substance? Would grease serve this purpose?

    I have heard of wax being used over the loads in a c&b revolver. I seem to recall that Robert E. Lee's revolver surfaced not too long ago and the chambers were loaded and sealed with wax. To clear the chambers, the piece was fired and all chambers discharged on the first try. (I may have mis-remembered this...memory isn't too good anymore).

    Seems like sealing the chamber mouths with wax would keep out moisture, hold the balls in, prevent chainfire, and possibly provide a bit of lube. Maybe this was a common trick used to keep the c&b revolver viable without frequently discharging and reloading.
     
  24. michaelbsc

    michaelbsc Member

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    I think the story is that Lee's revolver fired properly shortly after his death, at which time it had been loaded about 4-5 years.

    But my story is just as much hearsay as yours.
     
  25. StrawHat

    StrawHat Member

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    If the lead ball shaves a ring off when loading, how is that not sealing the chamber?
     
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