"A great many Indians think they are better armed than they were formerly, but they must recollect that we are also."
-Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock to Cheyenne chiefs, Fort Larned, April 12, 1867.
In an era of conflict on the Great Plains, the tools of war were essential. In the two decades Fort Larned was active - from 1859 to 1878 - the weapons available to troops changed continuously as new technology became available. At Fort Larned, the army's need to keep costs down limited the implementation of some advances in weapons technology. A variety of historic and replica weapons used at Fort Larned are viewable today at Fort Larned National Historic Site.
Infantry weapons at Fort Larned mainly consisted of several generations of Springfield rifles. In the fort's early days, the Springfield rifle muskets were the .58 caliber, muzzle-loading variety, such as the M1855, M1861, and M1863. Following the Civil War, .50 caliber breech-loading weapons including the M1866 and M1868 became available to troops at Fort Larned. These newer weapons featured modern bullets, simplifying the loading procedure. Later models such as the M1868 and M1873 featured shorter barrels than earlier models. The M1873 also saw its caliber size reduced to .45 caliber.
Infantry also carried bayonets, though they were ineffective in combat against mounted warriors armed with superior melee weapons. As faster-loading guns became available, bayonets and bayonet tactics became less important than they were in an age of slow-loading muskets.
Equipped with speed and mobility in mind, mounted soldiers used smaller rifles called carbines in order to save weight. However, this lighter firepower was augmented with the addition of revolvers and sabers. Sharps carbines were typical; the 10th Cavalry used the M1865 .56/50 Spencer carbine at Fort Larned. Cavalry units utilized a variety of revolvers including Colt, Remington, and Starr revolvers. Sabers were also part of the complete armament of cavalry, though they were typically more ornamental than practical during the Indian Wars.
The M1841 Mountain Howitzer was the artillery piece deployed at Fort Larned. The gun's smaller size compared to other contemporaneous field guns allowed for easier transport over roadless terrain.
Despite its smaller size, the mountain howitzer could still pack a punch: it could send a 12-pound projectile over 1000 yards. However, these cannons usually proved to be more cumbersome than advantageous against an evasive and fast-moving opponent like Plains Indians. Artillery units were not typically assigned to Fort Larned as a result.
Fort Larned National Historic Site often provides weapons demonstrations during special events. See our Schedule of Events.