Skip to main content

Military Mystery: What was George Custer's Last Gun?

Military Mystery: What was George Custer's Last Gun?

For a good number of years there has been much speculation about what was Lt. Col George Armstrong Custer's last gun. As he and most of his command  were killed during the Battle of Little Big Horn, everything has to be put together from spotty evidence, innuendo and guesswork. Here's my take on the matter.

There is extant, a revealing 1870s-vintage photograph (below) of Custer and his wife, Libby, sitting in their library at Ft. Abraham Lincoln on the Missouri River, Dakota Territory. In the far right corner is the Lt. Colonel's gun rack. Four handguns can be seen — two Smith & Wesson No. 2s that had been presented to him by Major General J.B. Sutherland, a percussion revolver which is most likely either a Colt 1861 Navy or Remington New Model Army that was given to him by Remington, and what strongly appears to be a Webley Royal Irish Constabulary revolver (pictured above).

One tradition persists that British sportsman Lord Berkeley Paget presented George Custer with a solid-frame Webley First Model Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) revolver on a buffalo hunt in 1869. The British revolver in Custer's gun rack follows the lines of the RIC much more closely than those of the Galand, which has a rather involved under-barrel extraction mechanism and slightly different grip than the Webley. Over the years, for reasons we will mention later, it has been supposed Custer had a pair of nickel-plated RICs with ivory grips--but there is no question the gun in the Ft. Lincoln photograph has walnut grips and a darker, blued finish. Also, there is only one such gun showing, leading me to surmise that Custer, in fact, only had one RIC.

As both Smith & Wessons are displayed and there appear to be empty slots in the rack this supposition would appear to be confirmed. It was very unusual to see double-cased British cartridge revolvers at this period. Of course there is always another explanation; that being the whole Berkeley Paget thing was something of a red herring and Custer either purchased the Webley himself, or it was given to him by someone else. Just because a gun was made in England, doesn't necessarily mean it had to come from an Englishman. British firearms of all types had been actively marketed in the States for decades prior to the 1870s.



The Royal Irish Constabulary revolver, built by Birmingham, England gunmaker Philip Webley, took its name from the force that adopted it in 1868. This solid-frame double-action at one time or another was chambered in such calibers as .430, .442, .450, .476 and .44-40, among others. While the military version of the gun had a four-inch barrel, over its long career the gun was also made in short barreled "Bulldog" versions. "Bulldog" by the way is a British term going back at least to the latter part of the 18th century and along with "barker" and "snapper" was slang for a short-barreled, large caliber pistol.

Due to the date of presentation and/or the Ft. Lincoln photograph, there can be little doubt that Custer's RIC would have been a First Model, recognizable by forward locking notches on the cylinder. The caliber would unquestionably have been .442, for even though the British military had adopted the .450 round in 1868, this chambering was not offered in the RIC at the time of the surmised Berkeley Paget gifting.

After the battle Lt. Edward Godfrey, of K Company, 7th Cavalry, noted that during the expedition Custer was carrying "two Bulldog self-cocking, English white handled pistols with a ring in the butt for a lanyard." As we have determined, Custer's RIC was blued with walnut grips and no lanyard ring, so it's possible that Godfrey might have confused the Webley with the Smith & Wessons which were plated and had pearl grips, though they didn't have lanyard rings either, and to be fair he did describe Custer's other gear pretty accurately.

Too, the fact all of the guns seen in the gun rack are currently accounted, for with the exception of the Webley, adds more strong evidence to the assumption the RIC was the gun Custer probably had with him at Greasy Grass.


To date, no .442 cartridge cases have been found on the battlefield, but as things were getting pretty hot and heavy as the Indians approached the troopers at handgun range there's a good chance that Custer might not have had time to fire off more than a cylinder-full of bullets. This means that the empty cases could have still been in the gun when it was taken from the commander's dead body by one of Sitting Bull's best. Of course, there is also the very real possibility that he never even drew his revolver and used only his .50-70 Remington rifle. There is also the excellent chance he simply had a Colt SAA.

In any event, it is a mystery that will never be completely solved. The chances of the gun turning up with decent provenance after all these years are virtually nil. Unearthing of spent .442 cases on the battlefield would certainly lend more veracity to Godfrey's claims but as the round, while uncommon, was not unknown in the West at the time there is no way of conclusively proving they came from a revolver actually fired by Custer.

What do you think?


Current Magazine Cover

Enjoy articles like this?

Subscribe to the magazine.

Get access to everything Guns & Ammo has to offer.
Subscribe to the Magazine

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Red vs. Green Lasers: Visibility in Bright Light

Red vs. Green Lasers: Visibility in Bright Light

In this segment of “At The Range,” Handgunning Editor Jeremy Stafford and contributor Patrick Sweeney compare the visibility of red and green lasers in outdoor, sunny conditions.

First Look: Springfield Armory Model 2020 Waypoint Bolt-Action Rifle

First Look: Springfield Armory Model 2020 Waypoint Bolt-Action Rifle

At the heart of the rifle is the Model 2020 action which wish designed and built with very tight tolerances thanks to Springfield's technology-driven manufacturing capabilities The stainless steel action features an integral recoil lug, and pairs with a fluted bolt employing dual cocking cams and an enhanced extractor for high pressure loads. The blueprinted and precisely machined action allows Springfield to offer the Model 2020 with .75" MOA accuracy guarantee. Despite being a production rifle, the Model 2020 should rival more expensive custom builds.

Trijicon RMRcc Reflex Sight – Perfect for Optics-Ready Concealed-Carry Pistols

Trijicon RMRcc Reflex Sight – Perfect for Optics-Ready Concealed-Carry Pistols

The people asked and Trijicon answered. Introducing the RMRcc miniature red-dot sight for compact, concealed-carry pistols. Trijicon's new RMRcc features the durability and reliable controls that have made the RMR so successful, but its reduced dimensions make the “Concealed Carry” model better suited for the popular small-frame pistols designed for discreet carry and personal defense.

Air Gun Reviews: Why Shoot Airsoft?

Air Gun Reviews: Why Shoot Airsoft?

In this Guns & Ammo TV segment, Gun Tech Editor Richard Nance and Pro-Shooter Jim Tarr discuss the benefits of airsoft training for uniformed professionals and armed citizens alike.

See More Popular Videos

Trending Articles

Small, lightweight and purpose-built for sub-compact carry guns, Surefire's XSC pistol light takes on EDC illumination segment.Surefire XSC Micro-Compact Pistol Light: First Look Tactical

Surefire XSC Micro-Compact Pistol Light: First Look

Jeremy Stafford - September 10, 2020

Small, lightweight and purpose-built for sub-compact carry guns, Surefire's XSC pistol light...

Whether you're going hunting or to the range, hitting your target is more fun when you have a zeroed rifle scope. Here's how to sight in your rifle scope setup in five quick-and-easy steps.How to Sight In a Rifle Scope in 5 Steps How-To

How to Sight In a Rifle Scope in 5 Steps

Craig Boddington - June 04, 2018

Whether you're going hunting or to the range, hitting your target is more fun when you have a...

The Winchester .350 Legend straight-wall cartridge is ideally suited for hunting hogs and deer; here's everything you need to know to make it work for you..350 Legend Cartridge: Everything You Need to Know Rifle

.350 Legend Cartridge: Everything You Need to Know

Tom Beckstrand - April 02, 2019

The Winchester .350 Legend straight-wall cartridge is ideally suited for hunting hogs and...

The first in this new family of Springfield Armory rifles is the Model 2020 Waypoint, the result of years of engineering, testing and evaluation, combined with premium grade components found on rifles costing thousands of dollars more.First Look: Springfield Armory Model 2020 Waypoint Bolt-Action Rifle Rifles

First Look: Springfield Armory Model 2020 Waypoint Bolt-Action Rifle

Guns & Ammo Staff - September 29, 2020

The first in this new family of Springfield Armory rifles is the Model 2020 Waypoint, the...

See More Trending Articles

More Handgun

When it comes to ammunition for personal defense, the Winchester Silvertip Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP) is a time-tested, proven round.Winchester Silvertip Ammo Features New Look, Pack Size in 2020 SHOT Show

Winchester Silvertip Ammo Features New Look, Pack Size in 2020

Guns & Ammo Digital Staff - January 28, 2020

When it comes to ammunition for personal defense, the Winchester Silvertip Jacketed Hollow...

Federal Ammunition introduces Punch: it's newest defensive handgun option for personal defenders.Federal Punch Defensive Handgun Ammo — New for 2020 Handgun

Federal Punch Defensive Handgun Ammo — New for 2020

Guns & Ammo Staff - May 20, 2020

Federal Ammunition introduces Punch: it's newest defensive handgun option for personal...

Whether you're looking to thin the herd of lawn-destroying gophers without alarming your neighbors, or if you simply need a low-noise alternative that helps protect your hearing while shooting, here's a look at five of the best subsonic .22 LR ammo loads.5 Best Subsonic .22 LR Ammo Options Rifle

5 Best Subsonic .22 LR Ammo Options

Eric Conn - September 17, 2019

Whether you're looking to thin the herd of lawn-destroying gophers without alarming your...

The new Federal Syntech Defense and Training Match loads push the Syntech line into bold new territory.Federal Syntech Defense and Training Match Pistol Ammo Handgun

Federal Syntech Defense and Training Match Pistol Ammo

Eric Conn - September 05, 2019

The new Federal Syntech Defense and Training Match loads push the Syntech line into bold new...

See More Handgun

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE Arrow

Buy Digital Single Issues

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Guns & Ammo App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Guns and Ammo subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now