Original French Tabatière Breech Loading Rifle Converted to Shotgun and Marked to a U.S. Indian Agency c.1880

Item Description

Original Item: One of a Kind. This is a truly interesting item, originating as a French breech loading military rifle withdrawn from service and then converted to a 12 gauge shotgun carbine intended for the third World market. This conversion took place in Liège, Belgium, as indicated by the E / L G/ * in an oval "Tower of Liège" proof marks on the breech and barrel. However, instead of ending up in Africa, this example ended up in the United States, and in 1889 was marked up by a U.S. Indian Agency in North Dakota, with numerous most impressive markings.

Fitted with a 21" smooth bore barrel, this carbine looks to follow the lines of most all Civil War Carbines. The Walnut butt stock is clearly stamped on the left side with "U.S." in a Diamond shaped box, next to some rather detailed stamped markings:




In addition there is a white metal plaque shield on the right buttstock stamped with :-


Next to this is another STANDING ROCK / INDIAN AGENCY marking. Additionally, the butt stock has the Butt plate area surrounded by 40 brass headed tacks, in a double line, as well as 8 brass headed tacks running down the fore end on each side, for 16 in total.

Condition is quite nice, especially considering the age and provenance. The breech opens correctly, and the ejection system is functional, though it sticks a bit. The locking spring for the breech is worn, so it can open easily. The bore is clear, and partly bright, with the expected wear and oxidation. The lock is also still functional, though only really has a full cock position.

So this is a surplus military item basically reworked for the use of African Natives in the 1880's that somehow was sold to the U.S. Indian Agency at Standing Rock for use by the Indian Police based there. Furthermore it is adorned with the most desirable markings. The Collector from whom we received this item understood that there were about a half dozen of these Carbines housed in the Police Department at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

There is a very interesting relationship with the famous Sioux War Chief SITTING BULL. After the massacre of Colonel CUSTER at the LITTLE BIG HORN in 1876, many of the Sioux Nation fled to Mexico and Canada. In 1883, things having cooled, Sitting Bull returned to the United States and joined Colonel Cody's WILD WEST SHOW for several years. By 1889 he was back in his homeland of Standing Rock. There was some unrest among the Sioux Warriors and the local Reservation Indian Agent named JAMES MCLAUGHLIN concluded, wrongly, that SITTING BULL was responsible for this situation.

In 1890 he dispatched a Troop of Mounted Native Indian Police to arrest the War Chief. On December 15th clearly something went seriously wrong and several Sioux warriors including SITTING BULL were killed by Indian Police Lieutenant BULL HEAD, who led the small troop. It was claimed that the Sioux warriors fired first. At a stretch but just possible, this Carbine MAY have fired the fatal shot to kill this legendary man.

There appear to be no known written records surviving from the period for Indian Agencies referring to these interesting carbines. However, word of mouth definitely supports that a half dozen had been purchased by the Indian Agency.

A very interesting item with possibly a great history. Ready to Display!

More on the French Tabatière Rifle:

The U.S. Civil War was a time for invention: hundreds of new better types of firearms were developed. In addition conversions of older weapons to work with new technology resulted in many brilliant ideas. The Americans, the British, and many other countries throughout Europe took full advantage of these changes.

The British, with a large Empire to protect, developed the SNIDER Breech loading Rifle, although Jacob Snider was an American. The French developed the "Tabatière Rifle", called that because the new breech resembled a "Snuff Box" (tabatière literally means "snuff" in French). The Tabatière breech loading system was first designed in 1857. It was adopted in 1864 but conversions were slow to start.

At the same time, the French flirted with the Chassepot Needle Fire Model of 1866. By 1870, the Tabatière was considered inferior to the Chassepot and was abandoned. The French had converted 358,000 Rifled Muskets from Percussion to breech loading, leaving an amazing 1.4 Million in their original percussion state. In the 1880s the French Government disposed of most all of their Tabatière Rifles, mostly to Belgium for conversion into half stocked 12 gauge shotguns for the African Native trade in the Belgian Congo. Original military Tabatière Rifles are very rare and command serious prices.

Most of the Tabatière Rifles were converted from the 1857 French back action Percussion Rifle and were designated the Model of 1857/1869. A much smaller quantity were converted from the original French Modèle 1822 Flintlock smooth bore muskets, which had been converted themselves into percussion in the 1840s, and had been fitted with RIFLED Barrels.


Years of Manufacture: circa 1830 - converted later
Caliber:  about 19mm - 12 gauge
Ammunition Type: Centerfire Cartridge
Barrel Length: 21 inches
Overall Length: 39 inches
Action: Side Action
Feed System: Single Shot hinged Breech block.

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