A Model 1884 Springfield Rifle

The .45-70 Springfield Rifle.

The Buffington sight. A second adjustment screw (not visible) swiveled the entire sight left or right.

During the summer months, visitors to Fort Mackinac are able to see a real piece of history in action every single day. Historical interpreters representing soldiers from the 23rd Regiment of Infantry perform rifle firing and drill demonstrations throughout the day. The weapons they carry, the .45-70 Springfield rifle, are all 19th century originals, making them at least 130 years old. Let’s take a closer look at one of these fascinating weapons.

 

Introduced in 1873, the .45-70 remained the standard issue arm of the American army for 20 years. A single-shot weapon, the rifle derived its name from the cartridge it fired: a .45 caliber bullet propelled by 70 grains of black powder. Over the course of its service life, the army refined the rifle several times, making almost yearly changes to the design to reflect the realities of daily use and at the suggestion of officers and enlisted men. Only rarely did these design changes cumulatively result in the designation of a new model, but in 1884 the army approved a “new” design incorporating improved features.

 

The improved cleaning rod, with tapered button tip.

Note the knurling on the trigger and on the hammer.

This Model 1884 displays many of these design elements. The two most prominent “new” features are the sight and the cleaning rod. The sight, designed by Lt. Col. A.R. Buffington of the Ordnance Department, includes a leaf that can be flipped up and adjusted to sight the weapon at ranges up to 1,400 yards. It also includes an adjustment screw to compensate for windage- by turning it, the entire vertical leaf swivels right or left. The cleaning rod, meanwhile, incorporates the flared button head adopted in 1879 and put into widespread production in 1882. The breechblock is stamped U.S. MODEL 1884, although in reality these stamps were not added to new rifles until 1886, and weapons marked this way did not enter widespread service until 1887. The rest of the rifle incorporates several other design improvements adopted over the years, such as knurling on the trigger and hammer, which was intended to improve a soldier’s fingertip grip on these critical pieces.

 

The star symbol stamped next to the serial number (it looks like a flower) indicates that this rifle was probably rebuilt at an arsenal at some point.

The rifle’s breech in the open position. When opened after firing, the weapon automatically ejected the spent cartridge, allowing a soldier to quickly reload.

This particular rifle has a serial number in the 141000 range, indicating that it was probably originally produced in 1879 or 1880. How, then, can it incorporate features only authorized in 1884, and not actually put into service for a few more years? The small five-pointed star or flower next to the serial number most likely indicates that this weapon is an arsenal rebuilt. In 1879 the Springfield Armory began collecting older .45-70 rifles and using some of the parts to build new weapons, which were held in reserve or eventually issued to various state units (the forerunners to the National Guard). Furthermore, since the rifles were built using entirely interchangeable parts, after the weapons left frontline military service and entered the civilian market (which many did- they are still relatively easy for collectors to obtain) it was simple for gun brokers and owners to cobble together “new” weapons with a mixture of parts from different model years.

 

In any case, this rifle, and the others in daily use at Fort Mackinac, are truly history that you can see, smell, hear, and touch. Our interpreters carry rifles of both the 1873 and 1884 models, with many of the small variations added each year. We even have a few rifles equipped with ramrod bayonets, an experimental design attempted on three different occasions in the 1880s. These weapons had a small, sharpened metal dowel mounted under the barrel in lieu of a cleaning rod in an effort to eliminate the need for soldiers to carry a separate bayonet and scabbard. Historically, one of the two companies of the 23rd Infantry stationed at Fort Mackinac from 1884 to 1890 were issued the experimental ramrod bayonet rifles for evaluation. When you visit us at Fort Mackinac, be sure to ask the interpreters about their rifles- they’re a fascinating link to the past!

Mackinac Parks: 125

Mackinac State Historic Parks turns 125 years old in 2020. Established in 1895 when the federal government shuttered the country’s second national park, Mackinac National Park, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission has pursued the important mission of protecting, preserving and presenting Mackinac’s natural and historic wonders. Today, Mackinac State Historic Parks is a family of living history museums and nature parks located in Mackinaw City and on Mackinac Island. (more…)

Huron Road Rest Area

The structure in November, 2019.

Progress is moving forward on the Huron Road Rest Area. Mackinac State Historic Parks identified the long-standing need for an easily accessible public restroom and rest area within in the state park. Located behind Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, the rest area consists of a 30 ft by 44 ft pavilion. Construction began in December 2018 and will be completed this upcoming spring. The state park maintenance crew is currently evaluating winter usage with the intention of having the pavilion open to the public year-round. The Huron Road Rest Area will be a great spot for guests to relax and enjoy their time within Mackinac State Historic Parks.

Guests will be able to rent the pavilion for events as well. The pavilion will serve as the perfect host for private events, wedding receptions and more. Contact our Special Events Coordinator, Cassie Boothroyd at boothroydc@michigan.gov or (231) 436-4100 for more information.

The rest area is located east of Fort Mackinac, across Huron Road from the Scout Barracks.

Mackinac State Historic Parks protects, preserves and presents Mackinac’s rich historic and natural resources to provide outstanding educational and recreational experiences for the public.

Fort Mackinac: A Century of Military Service to the Country

Veteran’s Day is the Federal holiday which encourages Americans to take a moment to reflect upon and honor the sacrifices of every generation of Americans that have served the country in the Armed Forces from its inception to the present. The holiday originated as a proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 to commemorate the cease fire which signaled the end of the “war to end all wars,” World War I, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month as Armistice Day. In the words of President Wilson, “the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…” This serves as a powerful  description of what the holiday today known as Veteran’s Day is intended to reflect in commemoration of those who have served the country and it’s ideals in the military not only during WWI but over the course of the nation’s entire history. (more…)

2018 Collections Acquisitions

2018 Collections Acquisitions

Weidenaar etching of ‘Big Mac.’

In 2018, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission accessioned 120 gifts and 82 purchases to the historic object and archival collection. Among the objects acquired was an 1891 register from the New Mackinac Hotel, a walking stick that belonged to park commissioner James Dunnigan, a plastic viewfinder with slide images of Mackinac Island and several photograph albums. During the year, the park purchased two miniature etchings by Reynold Weidenaar, a black and white photograph showing early transportation in the park and accepted a donation of images showing a prominent Mackinac Island family.

Weidenaar etching ‘At Mackinac Straits’.

In 2017, the park commission purchased the mezzotint Bridge Builders by Michigan artist Reynold Weidenaar. This was the last of three large etchings showing the Mackinac Bridge being built that the park needed to complete its collection. This year, staff were made aware of two miniature etchings of the bridge also done by the artist. At Mackinac Straits and Big Mac were purchased and will complete the collection which will be on display in The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. (more…)

Invasive Species Want to Come to Mackinac, too!

Invasive Species Want to Come to Mackinac, too!

Things are always changing in the natural world. At any one location, some species become rarer as time passes, while other species become more common. In a mature northern Michigan forest these changes in species composition usually take a long time to occur and are rarely noticed by a casual observer.

Over the years many species of plants and animals have been intentionally or accidentally introduced to Mackinac Island and its forests. A small percentage of those non-native species have become Invasive. (more…)

Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac National Park

Lt. Calvin Cowles, along with Lt. Benjamin Morse, surveyed the National Park in 1885.

Lt. Calvin Cowles, along with Lt. Benjamin Morse, surveyed the National Park in 1885.

This year, the National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary. By 1916, the Mackinac National Park had already passed into and out of existence, its fate linked to the fortunes of Fort Mackinac.

After Congress created Yellowstone in 1872, Senator Thomas Ferry introduced legislation to create a second park on Mackinac Island. In addition to the island’s attractive history and natural features, the U.S. government already owned much of the island as part of the Fort Mackinac military reservation and the soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac could act as caretakers. As a result, the park would cost almost nothing, which Ferry knew appealed to the tight-fisted Congressmen of the 1870s. After two years of campaigning, President Ulysses Grant created the Mackinac National Park, the second park in the country, on March 3, 1875. (more…)