The brownsville riot and cartridge case comparisons

In 1907 several U.S. Army infantry soldiers allegedly fired 150-200 shots from their army-issue rifles at various targets within the town of Brownsville, Texas. This was all supposed to have taken place within an approximately 10-minute period during the night. The facts were and continue to be very much in question. It was never confirmed that any of the accused soldiers actually fired a shot.

What was significant about the incident is that it marked the first shooting episode in the United States in which an effort was undertaken to examine fired cartridge cases and to attempt to match them to a specific rifle. This task fell to the Frankfort Arsenal in Kentucky. A total of 39 fired cartridge cases, some fired bullets, and numerous rifles were shipped to the arsenal for examination and comparison.

The arsenal staff devised a method of comparing markings on the fired cartridge cases to test-fired cartridge cases from the rifles. Ultimately, four of the rifles were determined to have been used to fire the cartridge cases. No conclusions were reached regarding the fired bullets, but the government published a report entitled "Study of the Fired Bullets and Shells in Brownsville, Texas, Riot." This extensive report marks a milestone in the forensic examination of firearms and ammunition components as the first recorded instance of cartridge case examination and comparison.

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