Blasts From the Past: The Custer Carbine

A .44-caliber 1853 Sharps straight from the pages of history

George Armstrong Custer, Sharps 1853, Carbine
Custer’s Sharps carbine.Courtesy of Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY, USA; Gift of Olin Corporation, Winchester Arms Collection, 1988.8.743.

Today’s gun is a .44-caliber 1853 Sharps that belonged to George Armstrong Custer, and was originally donated to the Winchester Arms Collection by his widow. Elizabeth “Libbie” Custer followed GAC to his postings throughout the West and, through her books and public speaking engagements after his death, helped shape the legend of Custer and the Last Stand in the mind of the public.

The 1853 Sharps rifles gained fame as "Beecher's Bibles." Some 900 Model 1853s were sent to Kansas by the congregations of abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher, where they helped put the blood in "Bleeding Kansas." Some of the guns were shipped in crates marked books or, legend has it, bibles. John Brown took 200 1853s with him to the Armory at Harper's Ferry.

The falling block breechloading 1853 Sharps used paper or linen cartridges, with the breech block acting like a cigar clipper to shear off the end of the cartridge when the action was closed, leaving powder exposed inside for ready ignition. It also featured a pellet primer system in which a disk of priming compound was mechanically flipped under the falling hammer when the gun was fired.

This rifle is among the many historical wonders at the Cody Firearms Museum, and we thank them for sharing it with us.

Please keep your own old gun pictures coming to fsgunnuts@gmail.com, as reader guns are an important part of Blasts From the Past.