Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Shootin' & Drinkin' Volume 49 Number 4, July/August 1996
by Evelyn Boswell

Hundreds of empty, unfired rifle cartridges excavated from a former soldier station in Yellowstone National Park suggest that soldiers who were supposed to protect buffalo and elk may instead have been shooting them. In 1886 some 200 to 300 soldiers from the U.S. Cavalry were assigned to the park to prevent visitors from throwing trash into the geysers and poachers from killing game. Letters from visitors to the park, however, complain of soldiers shooting the very animals they were ordered to protect.

Ken Karsmizki, associate curator of historical archaeology at the Museum of the Rockies, excavated one of 16 stations where soldiers lived. Beneath what had been a front porch, he found empty unfired cartridges from both government-issue rifles and sporting guns. Karsmizki suspects the soldiers were removing lead and powder from their military cartridges and reloading them into larger sporting-gun cartridges suitable for shooting large game.

Karsmizki also found gin, beer, and medicine bottles in the front porch area and in a root cellar, suggesting the soldiers may have been drinking, which was prohibited.

© 1996 by the Archaeological Institute of America