The history of Uncle Tom’s sword

Thomas Edward Brophy (1914 – 1983) was the paternal grandson and maternal son of three Irish immigrants, one of 12 kids, veteran of WWII, farmer, rancher, one-term Yuma County Commissioner, all around delightful man and bachelor.

There is not anyone alive who is able to confirm the year ‘Uncle Tom’ found a hunk of iron lodged stubbornly in the sandy ground not far from a livestock tank in one of his pastures in the sandhills northeast of Schramm, northwest of Eckley. Upon excavation, he discovered it to be a sword that had a broken blade with a brass hilt and handguard with a bit of leather remaining wrapped around the grip. Not knowing exactly what he had discovered, he still enjoyed sharing this found oddity with family and friends.
Niece Joni (Brophy) Colwell of rural Atchison, Kansas recounts, “My parents Jim and Dorothy always liked antiques, so of course Dad was quite intrigued by the sword. I believe Dad asked Uncle Tom (his brother) if he could have the sword not long before Uncle Tom passed-on. Knowing how much both Dad and Mom would enjoy and appreciate it, I’m certain Uncle Tom was happy to give it to them. Enjoy it they did! Mom and Dad loved to talk about their antiques and arrowheads and old bottles, etc. with pretty much everybody who visited them over the years and the sword was no different.”
Jim shared the story of the sword with local historian and writer Matt Vincent who researched and determined that the sword was most likely lost or discarded by its owner during Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s 1867 campaign, whose route traversed across the Brophy property. Joni inherited her mom and dad’s love of and appreciation for antiques and requested the sword to continue to share its story with others. After nearly five years of the sword gracing the fireplace’s mantle in rural northeast Kansas, Joni’s family decided to return it to Colorado.
Members of the Brophy Family and close friends gathered at the site of the sword’s discovery, a pasture that is still owned by brothers Joe & Don Brophy, on Sunday, June 25, 2023 to present the sword to the Wray Museum in joyful & grateful memory of their adored ‘Uncle Tom’. Although, he never knew it’s history.

The sword
The sword that Tom Brophy found is a M860 US Cavalry Saber. It is in rough condition from being buried for almost a century and has about 13.5 inches broken off of the tip. While the maker’s mark is gone from the blade, the two US Armory Inspector’s initials are still legible on the pommel’s brass hilt: C.E.W. (Charles E. Wilson [1846-1865]) and W.E.H. (unknown [1862]). These initials appear together only once on sabers manufactured in 1862 by Millard Production. That year they produced 10,031 M1860 swords for the US Army (American Swords and Sword Makers, Richard Bezdek, Paladin Press, 1994). The M1860 Light Cavalry Saber is the most clearly recognizable and preferred sword of the American Civil War. This model of saber was used by dragoons, mounted riflemen, and cavalry regiments in the Army.
The design of this sword was inspired by the hefty cavalry saber of 1840, but shortened and lightened to improve use. It is 41 inches in length with a curved steel blade that measures 35 inches long and one inch wide. It has a brass hilt and a hand guard that ran the entirety of the handle to the end of the pommel. It weighs two pounds and four ounces alone or three pounds ten ounces with its iron scabbard.
Sabers had mostly fallen out of favor by 1876, especially in frontier combat, as the military was concerned that the clanking of the swords and scabbards would hurt the element of surprise. The last M1860 US sabers were issued in 1913. Today, officers only carry sabers as part of their dress uniform.
If you would like to know more about Custer’s 1867 campaign, the Museum recommends local author, Matt Vincent’s book, The Chronicles of Custer, First Stand of a Failed Campaign which is available in the Museum’s gift shop.