Many years ago, I was able to purchase a German M1871 Mauser rifle from an estate collection. The M1871 was the granddaddy of them all, the first Mauser military rifle. 

This example was made in 1881 at the Bavarian Royal Arsenal at Amberg. It carried the royal cypher of King Ludwig II and an issue-date of 1882. I primarily bought the rifle as a shooter, however, there was one unusual thing about the rifle that was readily apparent. There were five notches cut into the comb of the stock. This was unusual, because one doesn't often see deliberate defacement of military rifles. Armies are the same all over the world. You deface your piece and the sergeant takes you out behind the barracks and permanently disabuses you of that notion.

Granted, the notches could have been placed there by anybody. However, the M1871 is long, heavy, and is only a single-shot rifle. Not what a hunter would typically choose for hunting, so probably not from a hunter. The collection from which it came was very well cared for and had some very nice pieces. That guy wasn't likely to have done it either. Although I had no idea at the time, there were a couple of other unusual things about the rifle. First, the German unit markings had been scrubbed from the tang of the buttplate, where they are customarily found on the M1871. I knew that it had been unit-marked at one time, because of the issue date. Second, there was a strange cartouche on the buttstock that read:  “E.N”. 

I searched for years for the identity of that cartouche. I consulted Jeff Noll's excellent book, The Imperial German Regimental Unit Marking, and couldn't come up with anything that even remotely made sense. I corresponded with the author (a BCN member). He wrote back that he thought that had seen the marking somewhere but didn't recall what it was. I spent hours and hours researching on the Web, sporadically, over the years. It seemed like a dead end. 

The breakthrough came in 2005. A thread started on about another E.N–marked M1871 Mauser. The mark was identified as an Argentine military property mark, commonly seen on Remington rolling block rifles. E.N stood for Ejercito Nacional (National Army). What! The Argentines used Remington rolling blocks, beginning in 1879, until their adoption of the M1891 Mauser. Then it came. Noted firearms writer Paul Scarlatta posted the following:

“Yes, the Argies used Werndls, Gras and Rolling Blocks. According to Argentine arms expert, Senor Eduardo Fontenla, the dimensional similarities of cartridges for this trio of rifles permitted the use of the Remington round in Werndl and Gras. The usual practice was to issue 11 x 58R Spanish cartridges to troops regardless of which rifle they were equipped with. One can only wonder at the levels of marksmanship?

Snr. Fontenla told me that during one of the periodic civil upheavals that rocked Argentine history, the rebellious province of Buenos Aires purchased 500 Mauser Infanterie-Gewehr M.71 rifles from Steyr. After the federal army put down the rebellion, these Mausers were reissued to loyal national guard units. Because of the unique design of the Patrone M.71's case head and rim, 11x58R Spanish ammunition could not be used with it.”

It all fell into place. While I couldn't find it plausible that a regular army soldier would deface his piece, an irregular doing so made more sense. The Germans didn't usually go out of their way to remove unit markings before selling off rifles. However, if a German arms dealer was selling them to a group fighting against one of Germany’s potential allies, where some of the rifles would inevitably fall into Argentine hands, he would want to make sure that the rifles couldn't be traced back to him.

I had been barking up the wrong tree all along, presuming that the marking was German. While this rifle is probably not one of the 500 referred to by Snr. Fontenla (it wasn't made at Steyr), however, it obviously was in Argentina.

Since the mystery of the “E.N” cartouche was solved, I have corresponded with individuals regarding four additional Argentine-marked M1871 Mauser rifles.  In 2009, one owner offhandedly mentioned that, in addition to the E.N cartouche, his rifle had four metal pins in the buttstock in a diamond pattern (as if a plaque of some sort had once been affixed, then broken off).  In reexamining my own rifle, I discovered that it had the identical holes, which, on my rifle had been filled (plainly visible in the last image before the target). 

One aspect of collecting that is so interesting is how solving one mystery can bring on another.  Hopefully, information will someday come to light that addresses what was once affixed to the buttstock of these rifles.  In the meantime, it remains a mystery, a chapter of this rifle’s story that has yet to be written. Still in quite good condition, this example still has plenty of life left in it, as the target below illustrates.


© Ralph E. Cobb 2011 All Rights Reserved

Argentine M1871 Mauser Rifle?

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