Bass Reeves Engraved Rifles

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Tue May 25 2010, 09:21 AM
Bass Reeves Engraved Rifles
Winchester has manufactured a limited set of .38-.40 carbines with engravings honoring Bass Reeves. A portion of the proceeds from each sale will go to the Bass Reeves statue fund. For more details:


Tue May 25 2010, 12:42 PM
Curious choice of caliber. I would think that Winchester would make a limited addition .45 caliber as a Bass Reeves commemorative. It would seem likely that Bass would have preferred the .45 caliber because of the ammunition exchangeability with the Colt .45 pistol. Maybe Winchester does not make the .45 anymore.
Tue May 25 2010, 08:46 PM
Oklahoma Kid
To my knowledge there was never a .45 Winchester. This was basically a pistol cartridge. There was a .44 rifle cartridge. Actually the 38.-.40 was a pistol round that could be used in the Winchester chambered for the same round. Therefore making it interchangeable and was quite popular for a while in the Old West. During his career Reeves used all three calibers and possibly a few more.
Fri May 28 2010, 11:32 AM
Thanks Art. I have a lot to learn about ammunition and firearms, not being a firearms kind of guy. I was aware that many law enforcement officers liked to use a rifle/pistol cartridge that was interchangeable. Are you saying that the 38.-.40 could be used in the .44 Winchester rifle? I am wondering what Reeves might have predominantly carried – his preferred choice of weapons. It seems that a Colt 45 Peacemaker would be an obvious choice, probably two of them, and a Winchester lever action rifle. Now, what size bore and ammo?
Fri May 28 2010, 01:38 PM
Oklahoma Kid
No, you couldn't use a .38-40 cartridge in a .44 Winchester rifle. But they did make the Colt revolver for the .38-40 cartridge as they also did the Winchester. The Colt .45 was a pistol round. If you carried a rifle you would have to also carry rounds for your rifle of a different caliber. There were a few other rounds like the .38-.40 that were interchangable for pistol and rifle, but not many. Reeves if carryiing a .44 Winchester rifle would also have to carry seperate bullets for his .45 pistol. Actually this was the reason he gave for shooting his cook in 1884. He stated he got a .45 round mistakingly stuck in his .44 Winchester by mistake. In the process of digging the .45 cartridge out, he accidently shot his cook, who later died. Reeves used many types of guns and calibers during his long career as law enforcement officer. I have reports that he once carried a Marlin lever action rifle at one point in his career. His main weapon was his Winchester and he carried numerous pistols for back up. As many as three on his person at one time during his career. Late in life while walking the streets of Muskogee, he had a side kick who carried a satchel full of pistols for Reeves access. Never heard Reeves was much of a shotgun man.
Fri May 28 2010, 02:50 PM
Daniel Baker
Here's a link to the Wellington, LTD site, that is selling the Bass Reeves Rifle. Wish I had $3200.00 laying around! Seriously, though, as pretty as it is, I want all of my guns to be shooters.


( formerly Cowboy Dan)

Fri May 28 2010, 05:50 PM
Thanks Art. I went to my local gun guy today, as I know little about guns period, and he gave me a little education concerning the caliber sizes for the Colt and Winchester, and the interchangeability issue. The big question I had was concerning the second number in the .38-.40, or the .44-40. As I understand it, the first number is the diameter of the bullet, and the second number is the size of the charge. I did not recall the .44 versus .45 issue in his defense during his trial. That fact is probably in Black Gun Silver Star and I have just forgotten it. Thanks to everyone on this thread.
Sat May 29 2010, 05:01 AM
The rifles of the day were not chambered in 45 Colt. The 1873 Winchester was chambered in 32 WCF / 32-20, 38 WCF / 38-40, and 44 WCF / 44-40. The 1892 was chambered in the same with the addition of the 25-20. The Colt 1873 was chambered in the same plus some more. S&W and Remington Revolvers could also be had in some of those calibers. The first number is usually but not always the bore diameter and the second is usually the standard BP load. In the 38-40 Winchester AKA 38 WCF it is reversed. the bore diameter is .401 cal. The powder charge is around 38 grains. Actually with BP you just fill er up and seat the bullet. Most 38-40 cases will only hold around 33 -35 grains of BP. The Marlin 1889 and 1894 were loaded in the same calibers. I have an 1889 in 38-40 Winchester and it is a blast to shoot.

And just to muddy the water more there are other 38-40 designated cartridges and they are not interchangeable. I have a 38-40 Remington Hepburn rifle. It is a 38 caliber.

BTW It would be impossible to get a 45 in a 44-40 chamber. He may have got it stuck in the action but I do not believe he could have accidentally fired it. If it had discharged in the chamber area he would have received the worst of it not the cook.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: GBE,
Sun May 30 2010, 09:22 AM
Oklahoma Kid
This is the story Reeves told during the trial. I am sure if a bullet went of it wasn't the .45 but one of the .44's in the rifle. It would be interesting to know what really happened. I am sure he was trying to come up with a plausible story for the shooting. Thanks for the information on rifle cartr8dges.
Sun May 30 2010, 07:28 PM
After being schooled by Mr. Burton concerning ammunitions calibers, I went to a friend who owns a local gun store here in town. He explained the caliber issue briefly, and that in the year of the alleged murder, Bass would have been carrying an 1873 model Winchester. I am going to make the assumption that the rifle was a .44 caliber, only because it seems to make sense according to the following scenario. Not that I am correct mind you, but I am thinking that the closer the ammunition in question is in size, assuming two different calibers (which is what Bass claimed), that these two calibers might be the easiest to get mixed up. They might also be the only two calibers in which this kind of scenario would play out.

Now, my question is this: knowing that a .45 can not fit into the breach of a .44, and thus can not be fired from a .44, can a .45 fit into the magazine of a .44? Obviously, the diameter of the magazine is not nearly as critical as the diameter of the barrel. If a .45 can fit into the magazine of a .44 Winchester, then consider the following.

Reading Black Gun Silver Star, and reviewing all of the trial testimony, I find the most believable testimony to be that of Deputy Reeves himself. Art, I know you wrote the book, but so you don’t have to look it up, I’ve included Reeves’ testimony here:

Reeves: - “Before I would start anywhere when I was out on a trip, I would always examine my cartridges and gun and that night in examining my gun I found I had a .45 cartridge in the magazine and I couldn’t throw it up in the barrel.”

My observation: - Notice that Bass said he found a .45 in the magazine, not the barrel. But, and here’s the big question: might there have been a live .44 caliber already in the breach of the barrel? If so, was the .45 in the magazine interfering with the load and eject process, so as to leave that live .44 in a position of constantly being unseated and reseated every time there was an attempt by Reeves to chamber a round? And, could there have been multiple .45 caliber cartridges in the magazine, thus meaning that every time one was dug out, the live .44 stayed in the breach?

I suspect that taking a normal round out of the magazine backwards, which would be required if you could not “lever” it out, would be difficult at best. I will have to try it someday with my Winchester, though it is not an 1873, but rather an 1894 30-30. But, if it is difficult to reverse load a normal round, how much more difficult would it be to back a slightly larger round out of the loading gate? It might require the use of a tool, or a knife to dig it out, a safe procedure if there was no live round in the breach.

Continuing with Reeves’ testimony:

Reeves: - “I was down on my knee and had the Winchester laying up this way. (Shows by holding Winchester in position etc.) I reached my hand in my coat pocked and got my knife and put my hand back this way and either my knife or hand struck the trigger and the gun went off. (Shows by getting down to the jury and laying the gun across his left arm the muzzle pointing about 40 degrees). The gun went off then and the boy [Bass Reeves’ nephew John Brady] hallooed an said, ‘lordy, you have hit Leach.’”

My observation: - The idea of the rifle being down low to the ground, perhaps the butt on the ground, and the rifle pointed up slightly (though I think 40 degrees might be a bit much) would put the rifle into the perfect position to shot the upper part of someone’s body, especially if that person were standing. If the angle were something less than 40 degrees, it might have been the perfect angle to strike a seated man.

Two points: had Reeves intended to kill Leach, he would have been killed instantly. The jury was aware of this. Everyone knew of Bass Reeves’ prowess with a rifle. Also, an observation that is less flattering to Reeves: He got careless. For someone as schooled in firearms as Bass Reeves (I mean, the guy was banned from turkey shoots) it is difficult to believe that he would have been negligent. However, time and time again, in modern times, we find that no matter how skilled we are, as airline pilots, as doctors, or as policemen, accidents do happen.

So, in conclusion, I am suggesting that a .45 round was not accidentally loaded into the barrel of a .44 caliber rifle. That, as GBE said, would not be possible. A more plausible, and I think workable scenario, would be exactly what Bass Reeves testified to: he accidentally loaded at least one .45 into the magazine. In order for the rifle to fire, there had to also be a .44 in the barrel.

Mystery solved? Or mystery muddied even more?
Mon May 31 2010, 05:35 AM
The 45 would probably fit in the 44 wcf mag. The base diameter's, which is the largest diameter on a rimmed cartridge,of the 2 calibers is very close. .480 on the 45 and .471 on the 44 wcf.

The problem I see with the testimony is this. If the 45 made it in the magazine there would be no way for Reeves to "discover" it until it jammed the action. On the Winchester 73 that would occur after the chambered cartridge was ejected. The cartridge once loaded is contained in the magazine tube and fed into the action by spring tension so it would be out of sight. It would be an easy theory to test if one had a 44 wcf 1873. I have access to a 32 wcf but not a 44.

Then again it could have been sloppy or careless gun handling and he needed an excuse. It happens to the best. You grow complacent when you handle them daily. The great Bill Jordan killed a co-worker in a similar mishap.
Mon May 31 2010, 08:27 AM
Thanks for your thoughts GBE

I know that when I load and unload my .40 cal H&K, I have one word that I recite to myself: think! It would be very easy for me to mechanically go through the steps and make a mistake. One of the biggest mistakes with a simi-automatic pistol is to eject the magazine and forget that there is still a bullet in the chamber. As you alluded, when you are handling firearms day in and day out, it only takes once.

In law enforcement training, we were taught that there were no accidental discharges, only negligent discharges. That stuck with me. So, from what I read in Reeves’ testimony, I see negligence. Could Reeves have invented this scenario? Sure. But from other testimony, it doesn’t seem likely.


“Before I would start anywhere when I was out on a trip, I would always examine my cartridges and gun and that night in examining my gun I found I had a .45 cartridge in the magazine and I couldn’t throw it up in the barrel.”

The “couldn’t throw it up in the barrel” part of the statement is telling. That could indicate that he did attempt to lever the rifle. Now, the big question is: with a .45 in the magazine, and a .44 in the breach, what actually occurs in the levering sequence, and in what order? Does the ejection of the spent round occur first, and then the loading of the next round in the magazine, or are these two functions performed somewhat at the same time, perhaps overlapping a bit? Is it possible to attempt to lever the next round up, have it jam, and then reseat the existing .44 round back into the barrel when the lever is returned to its operating position? A non-spent .44 round would be longer than a spent .44 round, thus making ejection failure more likely for a live round, I would think. Someone would need to try this in an experiment, but with dummy rounds of course. The dummy rounds would need to be as close as possible to the real thing, perhaps uncapped bullets with an inert substance instead of BP.

Reeves may have also misspoken in his testimony, or the vernacular of his day may not match our contemporary usage of language. He may have placed a .45 into the magazine, and then before levering the rifle realized his mistake. Yes, he did say that he “couldn’t throw it up in the barrel.” Examining his statement however, he notices that the .45 is in the magazine before he says, “I couldn’t throw it up in the barrel.” “I couldn’t throw it up in the barrel” may have been a simple observation of the facts, rather than an actual attempt to lever a round. Change just one word in his testimony and it reads completely different:

“Before I would start anywhere when I was out on a trip, I would always examine my cartridges and gun and that night in examining my gun I found I had a .45 cartridge in the magazine meaning I couldn’t throw it up in the barrel.”

Or add just one word:

“Before I would start anywhere when I was out on a trip, I would always examine my cartridges and gun and that night in examining my gun I found I had a .45 cartridge in the magazine and thus I couldn’t throw it up in the barrel.”

He may have simply been saying that he knew that an attempt to lever the rifle would be futile, and thus he went to digging out the .45 from the magazine.

In any case, I am pretty sure that the shot fired was a .44, not a .45. As you have indicated, a .45 could not have been loaded into the barrel and fired successfully.

And none of this discussion even touches on any of the other testimony of the trial, all of it leading to an accidental shooting. Reeves simply did not have the motive to kill Leach, and had he wanted Leach dead, he would have been dead instantly, instead of lingering for a day or so before dying. The two men were the distance of a campfire from one another. If Reeves had wanted to kill Leach, he would have done it, and done it quickly, and there wouldn’t have been any witnesses.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: J.D.,
Tue June 01 2010, 05:48 AM
"One of the biggest mistakes with a simi-automatic pistol is to eject the magazine and forget that there is still a bullet in the chamber." A buddy of mine shot himself in the stomach trying to clean his gun after a search warrant the same way. Got the Glock disassembly sequence out of order.

The vernacular of the day could certainly contribute to mis-understanding. I take "throw it up to the barrel" to mean the rifles lifter "lifting" the round to chamber it. I hunt with vintage lever actions and they all work about the same. As soon as the lever is lowered it immediately starts extracting the cartidge (live or fired) from the chamber. In very short order it releases the next round from the mag on to the lifter. Lifting it to the barrel is accomplished at the end of the downstroke and finishes on the upstroke of the lever and after the previously chambered round is extracted and ejected. I still see no way he could have discovered the 45 while checking the gun with a 44 still in the chamber. But after working homicide for a few years I know that what happened and what people believe happened are often two different things.
Tue June 01 2010, 10:20 AM
GBE - Good points. That is why I like to throw these ideas around on this site.
Tue June 01 2010, 03:46 PM
Daniel Baker
I'd say it was more likely that he cleared the jammed .45 cartridge, and chambered a .44WCF. Then, while putting away his knife, or from careless handling, the rifle went off, killing the cook. Of course, just a viable scenario.

( formerly Cowboy Dan)

Wed June 02 2010, 05:37 AM
Dan, I think that is a high probability.