Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

May 14, 2013

Century of firepower

EKMHS members treated to firearm display

ASHLAND — A side-by-side comparison of the Model 1873 “Trapdoor” Springfield used by Custer’s cavalry and the Model 1860 Henry rifle used by native Americans at the Battle of the Little Bighorn offers insight about the nature of the famous last stand.

Members of the Eastern Kentucky Military Historical Society gathered at a local rifle range Monday afternoon for an exhibition/demonstration shoot with firearms spanning time from before the American Civil War to the days of combat in Korea, often displaying weapons fired from both sides of the battle line.

“I think you can see the Sioux might’ve had a slight advantage over Custer with the rate of fire,” explained antique firearms enthusiast and EKMHS officer Bob Long after pumping a single shot through the Springfield’s trapdoor as well as repeated rounds from the .44-40 caliber Henry rifle.

Long said approximately 300 of the 3,000 Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors were believed to have carried the repeating rifle into the battle popularly known as Custer’s Last Stand. Even though the Henry rifle fired a smaller round than the Springfield’s used by the cavalry, Long noted the concentrated firepower of the enemy put the uniformed soldiers at a distinct disadvantage.

As the crowd of fellow history enthusiasts adjusted ear protection, EKMHS president Matt Potter demonstrated the evolution of ammo cartridges used for combat, using the 30.06 round as an example of “great stopping power” compared to slower-moving bullets.

“The bad thing about this round, especially in this gun, is it kicks like a mule,” Potter said before sighting a 1917 Enfield “Eddystone” rifle in on one of several water-filled targets down range. Potter moved down the line of rifles on display, stopping to pick up an m91-30 Mosin-Nagant rifle and explaining the weapon was the primary firearm for Soviet soldiers from 1891 until the 1970s, and even turned up in Afghanistan in more recent years. Unlike many of the highly collectible firearms in the day’s exhibit, Potter said the Mosin-Nagant is highly accurate and still affordable at around $150.

Smiles spontaneously appeared on the faces of those in the audience as Potter and Long teamed to demonstrate the m1 Garand, which Long noted was designed by “a mechanical genius” from Canada. Long said the rounds fired by the Garand are superior to modern military rifles in terms of penetrating things such as cement-block walls.

Aiming at the “reactive targets” filled with water 30 to 40 yards down range, Potter said he was surprised at his own reaction to the first round that essentially caused the container to explode as the round pushed through. Long said the m1 Garand’s projectile travels at 2,800 feet per second “and creates a vacuum inside that water container and creates and over-pressure situation.”

Long said the Garand demonstration, which sent water flying approximately 30 feet into the air, “pretty much shows the lethality of a modern round.”

Potter said the local group wanted the demonstration “to raise awareness to the historical aspect of firearms,” and included 40 to 45 antique and vintage firearms.

“I think the best part was seeing the progression of firearms, and how, over the last 300 years, it really hasn’t changed all that much,” Potter said.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.

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