Wagon Box Fight

Wagon Box Fight
Painting of the Wagon Box Fight near Fort Kearny, Wyoming Territory, on August 2, 1867. (Image source: Jim Gatchell Memorial Museum via philkearny.vcn.com)


“Wagon Box Fight on August 2, 1867, near Fort Phil Kearny, Wyoming Territory.”

Statement in question:

“U.S. soldiers circled their wagons together and held off the warriors with their new repeating arms rifles.”

There are several issues to consider:

  1. The woodcutting detail was made up of civilians under contract to provide heating wood for the fort.1 “J. R. Porter of the Gilmore & Proctor firm . . . had the contract from the Quartermaster Department to supply wood for the fort . . . Porter’s train brought seven hundred new breechloading Springfield rifles and a hundred thousand rounds of ammunition for them.”2
  2. The soldiers were an escort detail to protect the woodcutters. Captain James Powell commanding “C” Company of the 27th Infantry was detailed to guard the contractor’s party. Powell along with Lt. John C. Jennes and twenty-six men were the guard detail at the wagon-box corral.3
  3. The soldiers had not been issued, nor armed, with “repeating arms rifles.” The soldiers had just been issued the 1866 Second Allin conversion of the Springfield musket. These rifles were chambered for the .50-70-450 center-fire cartridge.4 Known as the “trapdoor” it was a breech loader and could fire considerably faster than a percussion cap muzzleloader.
  4. The 2nd Allin conversion Springfield trapdoor using the obsolete .58 caliber muzzleloader. These conversions were chambered for the .50-70 center-fire metallic cartridge. The .58 caliber bore was made to accommodate the .50 round by boring out the barrel and inserting a .50-caliber liner. The 2nd conversion rifles saw some heavy action at the Wagon Box fight in 1867. (Used by permission of Springfield Armory National Historic Site.)
  5. Four additional civilians were able to join the defenders of the corral bringing the number to thirty-two. Two of the civilians did have Spencer carbines which were repeaters with a seven-shot magazine.5

  1. Curtis Townsend Brady, Indian Fights and Fighters (1904; reprint, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1971), 42. Hereafter cited as: Brady, Indian Fights.
  2. Roy E. Appleman, “The Wagon Box Fight,” Great Western Indian Fights (1960; reprint, Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), 149
  3. Brady, Indian Fights, 42,43.
  4. Albert J. Frasca, The .45-70 Springfield Book II: Springfield Caliber.58, .50, .45 and .30 Breech Loaders in the U.S. Service 1865-1893 (Springfield, Ohio: Frasca Publishing, 1997), 23, 26.
  5. Brady, Indian Fights, 67.
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