View Full Version : Needle gun help requested

April 11, 2011, 10:14 AM
I read many old original accounts of western history, and on a few occasions the author talks about trading to the indians, a needle rifle. I am aware of only four types of needle rifles, the Dreyse, the Doersch - von Bumbgartner, the Carl and the Carcano. All of these are early foriegn military arms. I have real doubts that any of these made to our shore and out west in sufficent quantity to be often mentioned. In fact in my 45 years of haunting pawn shops, gun shows, museums, and personal collections I have never seen one. So my question is what gun could these authors be talking about? Remember these arent Loius La More type books I am reading. I am reading old diaries, and memoirs. At present I am reading " Tough Trip Through Paradise" by Andrew Garcia. It is the actual memouirs of a young man in 1876 Montana. He set up a trading company for the Indians in the Judith gap area. He had purchased from his suppliers 13 used " needle guns and cartridges" in which to sell to the indians. His price was 8 buffalo robes per rifle and 2 robes per box of 20 cartridges, or 2 robes for a box of 50 Winchester 44 carbine ammo. I would assume that the needle guns mentioned would be some kind of US surplus rifles. If I recall correctly in the early portion of this book he stated they were 50 caliber. Anybody out there that can enlighten me it would be appreciated.

April 11, 2011, 10:20 AM
Found something on Needle Guns here is a Wiki on the subject I hope this helps.


April 11, 2011, 11:57 AM
Needle guns were an early attempt at cartridge firearms, and used a paper cartridge. They were quickly obsoleted by metallic cartridges and magazine repeater after the late 1860s. The German Empire dropped the Dreyse very soon after adopting it in favor of a cartridge rifle (Mauser Gewehr 1871), the Kingdom of Italy replaced the Carcano needle gun with cartridge Vetterli rifles in 1870, and the Swiss Republic did so in 1869.

Many old military firearms were sold off to indigenous peoples of frontier areas (Africa, South America, SE Asia, and North America) when they became obsolete. It is entirely likely that the firearms in the accounts you are reading are one of the needle gun types you mentioned that had become available from military surplus sources.

April 11, 2011, 12:02 PM
Misnomer. When the breech loading .50-70 Springfields were first used on the plains, they were referred to in some accounts as "needle guns". Not the same thing as the Prussian needle guns.

April 11, 2011, 12:18 PM
OLD MARKSMAN, I had to assume the same thing as you. With as many reports as I have read about "needle guns" in the west, I couldnt imagine a European needle gun making it to our shores in an real quantity. The fact the guns sold to the indians had catridges doesnt help much as even Revelutionary ammo was loaded and listed as cartridges. The fact those mentioned in the present book are 50 caliber got me to thinking either Springfield model 1868-1870 or Sharps model 1863-68's. However this book is written in 1878 not 1876 as I miswrote in first post. This time frame makes me wonder if these above models were already on the surplus market by then. Also it puzzles me how they got the needle name. Do you have any references?

April 11, 2011, 12:32 PM
This (http://books.google.com/books?id=zmopM8QYA_sC&pg=PA106&lpg=PA106&dq=needle+guns+at+the+wagon+box+fight&source=bl&ots=Z-GfXPfvjf&sig=C84epZrJb7qtNzRGF6Yf4lJr-SA&hl=en&ei=BjqjTZHTJMLmiAKMkZSIAw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&sqi=2&ved=0CCkQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=needle%20guns%20at%20the%20wagon%20box%20fight&f=false)is one of several accounts of the Army's use of "needle guns" at the wagon box fight. The rifles in qustion were 50 caliber trapdoor Springfields.

April 11, 2011, 01:00 PM
The German Empire dropped the Dreyse very soon after adopting it in favor of a cartridge rifle (Mauser Gewehr 1871)
Since the Dreyse was adopted in 1841, it probably had one of the longer service lives during that period. The 1871 was replaced by the 1888 to be passed out for the 1898.

Mike Irwin
April 11, 2011, 01:18 PM
Fifth needle gun, the French Chassepot.

4V50 Gary
April 11, 2011, 01:18 PM
Here's another link which explains why the .50 caliber Trapdoor was (unofficially) called the needle gun. Link (http://www.rifleshootermag.com/featured_rifles/RS_0108_11/#cont)

James K
April 11, 2011, 02:51 PM
All models of the "trapdoor Springfield" were called "needle guns" due to the long firing pin and basic lack of knowledge. Probably the old-timers had heard of a "needle gun" and when they saw the trapdoors with the long firing pin, they thought of that term. In the aftermath of the Austro-Prussian war, the U.S. press had many accounts of the Prussian success, which was attributed to the "needle gun", ignoring Prussian training and the abysmal incompetence of the Austrian army and leadership.

Before someone invents a whole scenario about thousands of Prussian soldiers marching through the Old West, the U.S. never used or adopted a true needle gun. The Ordnance Department did obtain one for testing in the leadup to adopting the trapdoor, even though it was recognized as obsolete.


4V50 Gary
April 11, 2011, 05:24 PM
The U.S. may never have adopted the Prussian Needle gun, but after 1871, it did adopt the Pickelhaub. http://cdm15330.contentdm.oclc.org/cgi-bin/getimage.exe?CISOROOT=/p15330coll22&CISOPTR=68802&DMSCALE=50.00000&DMWIDTH=600&DMHEIGHT=600&DMX=1255&DMY=577&DMTEXT=&REC=1&DMTHUMB=1&DMROTATE=0:D

April 11, 2011, 05:31 PM
Years ago I read Buffalo Bills' autobiography, he kept referring to his "needle gun", I was just as confused, then I found he meant his 50-70 Trapdoor Springfield-he called it "Lucretia Borgia".

April 11, 2011, 06:15 PM
SIGSHR, you joggled my poor memory. I as well remember Buffalo Bill refering to his 1868 Springfield 50-70 as a needle gun. Thanks everyone for clearing up the confusion.

April 11, 2011, 11:05 PM
Just to confuse the issue, there was an American made needle fire gun made in the 19th century known as the "Klein's Patent Needle Fire Sporting Rifle."

It was closely based on the Dreyse system, but apparently didn't generate a whole lot of interest as it seems not too many were produced.

Here's a link for photos:


James K
April 12, 2011, 03:38 PM
I have heard of the Klein gun but it is so obscure that I doubt it could possibly have influenced the use of the term "needle gun."

As for the spiked helmet, the U.S. did use them as part of the dress uniform from c. 1870 up to about the S-A war period, as did many other countries. It was a military fad of the time, like the beret is today.

Contrary to silly WWI propaganda about Germans killing babies by tossing them onto the "deadly" spike, the actual point was made of thin tin and would be unlikely to do serious injury to anyone.


April 13, 2011, 06:42 PM
OT, but only a little. The first time I used wiki to look something up was about 3 years ago, and the original entry for the Sharp's rifle described it as a "needle gun" - due to the pointed shape of the bullets. Really.

This entry has since been updated, but it was enough to inspire extreme suspicion of Wikipedia as a source of accurate information.

James K
April 13, 2011, 09:28 PM
Wikipedia is quite valuable but the articles can be written and edited by anyone, and there is no expert checking or monitoring. I can post on Wikipedia that Barack Obama is the illegitimate son of the Queen of Sheba and Franklin Roosevelt, and it will stay there unless someone comes along and changes it.

In other words, use Wikipedia as background or supportive information, never as a first or only source.