Cimarron "Billy Dixon" 1874 Sharps .45-90
by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

May 15th, 2003

 

 

Sharps. Just the name recalls not only the rifle and its maker, but brings to mind images of times long past. Images of professional hunters whose lives and livelihoods depended upon the power and accuracy of their rifles. Images of the great bison herds that once covered the plains of the Western United States. Images of hunters and skinners setting around the evening fire planning the next dayís work, with hides piled high in the background, as the hunters cast bullets from lead melted over the campfire, and loaded them into huge brass cartridge cases stuffed full of black powder. Although other rifles were used during the years of the bison slaughter, the Sharps is the one most identified with the period. Modern day shooters who love the old Sharps are not merely enjoying a great old rifle, but are connected by the gun to a time when life was a bit less hectic, a bit more dangerous, and guns were made of metal and wood.

The Sharps rifle gained its popularity in the nineteenth century due to its durability, accuracy, simplicity, and power. The cartridges for which the Sharps were chambered could reliably kill the largest animals on Earth.

Today, the choices available in a good Sharps replica are many. The original Sharps company is long gone, but several manufacturers now offer rifles that are even better than the originals. Some of these modern rifles are very expensive custom guns, costing thousands of dollars are requiring a very long wait. As with many rifles of the nineteenth century, quality replicas are manufactured in Italy and Spain. One of the best Italian Sharps builders is Davide Pedersoli, and one of the best importers is Cimarron Firearms in Fredericksburg, Texas. The subject gun of this article is built by Pedersoli, and sold by Cimarron. Cimarron is very serious about authenticity in its replica firearms, paying close attention to every detail. Cimarron offers several variations of the Sharps, with the model sent to me for testing being the "Billy Dixon", chambered for the .45-90 cartridge.

Billy Dixon, for those who havenít heard the story, was  among other things in his life, a buffalo hunter during the heyday of the hide hunting business. It is said that he could keep ten hide skinners employed just to keep up with him. In addition to hunting, he was also well known as a target shooter. While later working for the Army as a civilian scout, he would be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroics at the battle of Buffalo Wallow, but the event that propelled him to fame happened at the second battle of Adobe Walls. Adobe Walls was the remains of an old Spanish mission, that had been occupied for the purpose of supplying the hide hunters in the Texas panhandle. The day of June 27, 1874 found Billy Dixon, 26 other men, and one woman fighting for their lives against a party of Kiowa and Comanche warriors, the number of which is reported to be between 250 and 500 strong, depending upon the account. As the war party was forming for an attack on the people holed up at Adobe Walls, Billy Dixon took a shot at a mounted Kiowa warrior, knocking him off of his horse at a distance that was later confirmed by a surveyor to be 1538 yards, or a full nine-tenths of a mile! Billy never attributed the feat to anything but good luck, but it saved him and his associates from certain death at the hands of the war party. The Indians were so surprised at the power and accuracy of the white manís rifles that they retreated.

[Ed. Note: the June 2003 issue of the NRA's magazine America's 1st Freedom features an article on Billy Dixon's remarkable shot. Entitled "Gun Smoke Over Adobe Walls", the excellent article was written by Gary Lantz. - Boge Quinn]

This Cimarron Sharps is named in honor of Billy Dixon, and is set up right for long range shooting. Some shooters, who are accustomed to the latest and greatest Ultra Flat-Shooting Gee-Whiz Magnum, canít see cartridges such as the .45-90 as a long range weapon. It does have a rather curvaceous trajectory, but in the hands of a capable marksman can do rather well out to about 1100 yards, and beyond.  The Cimarron has both  a medium range ladder rear sight, and long range tang-mounted aperture sight. The front sight is a thin blade mounted atop the heavy octagon barrel, which measures a full thirty-two inches in length and .885 of an inch across the flats at the muzzle.

The Billy Dixon Sharps is a very good-looking rifle, exhibiting better than average fit and finish, with well-executed case hardening and beautiful bluing. The walnut stock is checkered on the wrist and forearm. The double set trigger released with a pull of just under seven pounds in the normal mode, and just over one pound in the set mode, and is adjustable for weight-of-pull.

As I assembled the necessary components and accessories for shooting the Cimarron Sharps, I found that while .45-90 components are not really hard to find, they are also not available at every local gun store. A call to Starline Brass soon had some of their top-quality .45-90 cases on the way. These cases are made just like Starlineís other brass from new materials, and not reformed from another case.  I have found that Starline makes some of the best brass on the planet, and can supply cases that are considered obsolete by other manufacturers. I already had on hand jacketed bullets from Remington that I keep to feed my .45-70 rifles, and I also ordered some of the superb cast bullets from the fine folks at Mount Baldy Bullets in Cody, Wyoming for some long range target shooting. These bullets are made from the best alloys available to ensure proper obturation, accuracy, and expansion.

As you will notice in the photos, I also made use of a beautiful cartridge belt that is a new item from San Pedro Saddlery called their "Quigley" model, in deference to the belt worn by Tom Selleckís character in the movie "Quigley Down Under". This San Pedro belt is the best execution of its type that I have ever seen, and is the perfect way to carry extra cartridges for the big Sharps. It is built of fine quality leather, and exhibits superb craftsmanship.

Testing was done using a variety of powders, including Accurate 5744, Hodgdon 322, Clean Shot, Hodgdon Pyrodex and Triple-Seven, and good olí FFg black powder. With any of the various loads tried, the Cimarron Sharps is just plain fun! The smokeless powder loads were accurate and powerful, but the black powder and replica black loads were just as accurate, and added a bit more authenticity to the procedure, producing a thick cloud of smoke upon firing. From a bench rest at 110 yards, the Cimarron would place three of the Mt. Baldy 480s into a nice little cloverleaf, when I did my part. That is very good accuracy, proving that the old style guns can shoot along with the best modern rifles, all while using the original style iron sights. I was pleasantly surprised. The other Mt. Baldy bullets, as well as the jacketed bullets, also exhibited great accuracy, but the Mt. Baldy cast bullets seemed more at home in the Sharps. I was unable to try the Cimarron Sharps at longer ranges, but intend to take the gun out West and give it a try at a few hundred yards, after adding a globe front sight.

I believe that the combination of the Cimarron Billy Dixon Sharps, the great Mt. Baldy bullets, and that beautiful San Pedro belt will make for some fun and interesting shooting in the desert Southwest. I have no hopes of hitting a man-sized target at almost a mile as Mr. Dixon did, but I do intend to have fun trying.

For those shooters who long to own a piece of history, and a fine Sharps replica, you canít go wrong with this rifle from Cimarron. It is available in several other variations and calibers, in addition to the .45-90.

For more information on the complete line of fine quality replica sixguns and rifles from Cimarron, check them out online at: www.cimarron-firearms.com.

Check out Starlineís catalog of cartridge cases online at: www.starlinebrass.com.

The extensive line of San Pedro leather goods can be viewed at: www.sanpedrosaddlery.com.

For a look at the full line of Mt. Baldy Bullets, go to:  www.mtbaldybullets.com

Jeff Quinn


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Click pictures for a larger version.

 

Cimarron's 1874 Sharps "Billy Dixon" rifle is a superbly-crafted reproduction of the legendary Sharps.

 

 

Beautiful in every way, the Cimarron "Billy Dixon" Sharps shoots as good as it looks!

 

 

The "Billy Dixon" Sharps comes with two rear sights: a barrel-mounted mid-range sight (top) and a tang-mounted long-range sight (bottom).

 

 

The "Billy Dixon" Sharps is an authentic item, from the octagonal barrel to the steel butt-plate. Fit and finish of all wood and metal parts is consistently excellent, along the lines of what you'd expect on a rifle costing thousands of dollars more. Cimarron's legendary attention to detail has never been more apparent.

 

 

Starline Brass offers great-quality newly-made cases for the big .45-90.

 

 

Bullets tested included (left to right): Remington 300-grain JHP; Remington 405-grain JSP; 460-grain, 480-grain, & 500-grain cast lead bullets from Mt. Baldy Bullets. The jacketed bullets performed superbly in the .45-90, but the big Sharps seemed most at-home with the big lead bullets.

 

 

An assortment of components used in testing the Cimarron "Billy Dixon" Sharps. The rifle performed superbly with all loads tried.

 

 

The perfect accessory for the modern-day "buffalo hunter" is San Pedro Saddlery's brand-new "Quigley" model cartridge belt. Named for Tom Selleck's famous character in the movie "Quigley Down Under", this belt is beautifully-made, rugged and practical.

 

 

If you yearn for the feel of one of the finest rifles ever made, the Sharps, you have a choice: you can spend thousands of dollars and wait for years for a custom-made rifle, or you can spend hundreds of dollars on a rifle you can begin to enjoy right now. Jeff's not made of money and he won't live forever (at least not on this Earth), so the choice is obvious: Cimarron's "Billy Dixon" 1874 Sharps .45-90 is a winner!