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Buckskin Riflecases: A Brief History


First Arms Dealers
Eastern Native Americans received muzzle loaders by gift, trade, or capture from the Dutch, French, Swedes, and British.  In the west the Cree and Blackfeet Indians were the first to be gifted muzzle loaders by the French - long before Euro-Americans reached our western plains.

To protect these prized possessions they made buckskin riflecases.  Western rifle cases were often highly decorated to show the importance of the case's contents.

With their mighty weapons the Blackfeet and Cree maintained superiority over their neighbors for many years, until Euro-Americans reached our northern and north-central plains with similar gifts for other Indian nations.  The traders, unknowingly, created a balance of power by providing "smokepoles" to many other plains residents.     [Top of Page]

Good Military Strategy
Providing guns to the Native Americans was a military decision.  Indian warriors could shoot 3 to 4 arrows per minute at the interlopers, and remain in a safe, crouched position.  Even the best of their warriors, though, could rarely manage more than 2 shots per minute with a gun, and often had to reveal themselves to reload.  Most of them could only manage a single shot per minute, if that.  Europeans could reload and fire 2 to 3 shots in the same minute.   Guns changed the odds in favor of the europeans.     [Top of Page]

Not Universally Used
People of the southern plains eventually also had rifles, since the mid-1800's.  If rifle cases was an idea learned from Euro-Americans they would have used it for such an important tool.  However, they rarely used rifle cases.  They had little, if any, contact with Indian peoples of the northern and north-central plains regions.  Those who had contact with their northern neighbors, such as the Cheyenne, did occasionally use rifle cases.  It seems obviously, then, the use of rifle cases was learned from the northern Indian nations and not from Euro-Americans, as many have assumed.     [Top of Page]

How Rifle Cases Were Made
Buckskin rifle cases were NOT laced.  Nor were they thonged together.  Even when men's clothing was still being thonged together, rifle cases were fully sewn, clearly indicating how valuable the rifles (or smoothbores) were to the men.

However, the stitches used on riflecases were much larger than those used to make clothing (see Holding Buckskin Together).   Running stitches (- - -) were about 5/16" to 3/8" (8 - 9.5 mm) long.  Whip stitches ( ) were about 1/4" (6.4mm) apart.  Fringe panels were often added, depending on national (tribal) preference.

Eastern riflecases rarely had fringe, and generally had a butt flap to secure the gun in its case.  Western cases all used some form of fringing, but no butt flap.  Instead, western men secured their gun in its case with a tie around the case behind the trigger guard.     [Top of Page]

Copyright Jan 1999, 2015, Gary A. Reneker. All rights reserved. All text, graphics, programming, and coding are protected by U.S. and International Copyright Laws, and may not be copied, reprinted, published, translated, hosted, or otherwise distributed by any means without explicit permission from Gary A. Reneker.