Weapons of War at Fort Spokane

This powder magazine once held the latest weapons of war, along with tons of gunpowder.

Soldiers need weapons, and in the era of combustible black powder, a safe place to store weapons and ammunition was especially important. Powder magazines like this one were present on every military base.

Black powder is inherently dangerous and accidents were common in 19th century America. To avoid disaster, the black powder was intentionally isolated in fireproof buildings away from the living quarters of a fort. Such precautions were justified. In 1928 for example, four workers were instantly killed in Valley Falls New York when around 10,000 pounds of black powder was set off, presumably by sparks from hammers created by the working men.

Soldiers of Fort Spokane were typically issued one of two kinds of rifles during their service. Before 1894 they were issued the Model 1873 .45 Springfield rifle. This was a breech loaded single shot rifle that used the black powder stored in the forts powder magazine. There was a shorter, easier to handle carbine variant of the rifle used by cavalry troops. After 1894 the Army began to adopt the Krag-Jorgensen rifle of Danish origin. This rifle featured a bolt-action mechanism and its own internal magazine storage for ammunition. Soldiers could fire faster, reload quicker, and also benefited from the smokeless powder the ammunition used.

Along with their rifles, soldiers at Fort Spokane were supported with a few different field guns. The fort had two to four of these field guns, There is a good chance that they were old artillery pieces from the Civil War, known as 12-pounder Napoleons. They fired 12 pound projectiles with black powder stored from the powder magazine. Even though the fort saw no military action with Native Americans, there’s a good chance that at least one of the field guns was used to sound reveille in the mornings.

In addition to these field guns, the Fort was also assigned a Hotchkiss gun. This was a new kind of artillery with multiple barrels that would fire shells while being rotated with a crank. The shells were loaded into a single breach block via a magazine that would hold 10 rounds. The standard Hotchkiss revolving gun fired a 37mm shell. Larger variants were made and the gun was also used on US Navy vessels.

Unfortunately for the US Navy, it was much more difficult to resolve safety concerns of explosive powders on ships than on land, a fact that led directly to the abandonment of Fort Spokane by the Army. In 1898 the USS Maine was sunk in a violent explosion. Though the real cause was almost certainly a U.S. sailor smoking too close to the gunpowder stores, the yellow press of the time was quick to blame a Spanish torpedo. The incident directly helped kick off the Spanish-American War. The 16th Infantry of Fort Spokane was deployed to Cuba to fight in the war, bringing with them their Hotchkiss gun and other weapons that had been stored here. The Army would never return.


Powder Magazine

Powder Magazine

The Fort Spokane Powder Magazine as it stands today. | Source: Photo courtesy of Erin Baumgart View File Details Page

Weapons of Fort Spokane

Weapons of Fort Spokane

Some of the rifles used by the soldiers of Fort Spokane | Source: Photo courtesy of Sentinel of Silence | Creator: Photo courtesy of Sentinel of Silence View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Josh Van Veldhuizen, “Weapons of War at Fort Spokane,” Spokane Historical, accessed April 28, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/662.

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