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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Harrowing Histories

Humanity's fascination with villains goes back almost as far as written language itself.  Names such as Herod the Great, Nero, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Vlad the Impaler, and Macbeth have been indelibly written in the pages of history.  Even today, people are fascinated with Disney villains and The Joker.  The sheer number of documentaries in recent years shows a great and growing interest in the Third Reich, earning one unfortunate network the moniker "The Hitler Channel."  Certainly one does not wish to glamorize the men associated with the following weapons, however, neither can one ignore the impact they have had on history and the world.  We display the following weapons without any admiration for the company they kept, but merely present them as historical items that we feel will be of great public interest in our upcoming September 2013 Premiere Auction.

Lot #1357: Cased Factory Relief Engraved Walther Model 9 Semi-Automatic Pistol with Ivory Grips Attributed to Adolf Hitler

At Rock Island Auction Company, we get it all.  In this auction we even  have guns that a noted Walther expert attributes to Adolph Hitler.  Its journey started, of course, in Nazi Germany, but in an abrupt turn of events ended up in the hands of an official of the U.S. State Department.  Our item description says it best when it states that this official, "with the cooperation of the U.S. and British governments, helped himself to a myriad of German treasures after the formal surrender of the German forces on May 8, 1945."  This official apparently got to go where ever he wanted!  He had access to Hitler's yacht, the Aviso Grille, while it was moored at Runsted Kanal, Schleswig-Holstein.  He no doubt perused the untold treasures at Goring's 200 acre estate/hunting lodge north of Berlin, and at the homes of Himmler, Speer, Borman and others. All artifacts he "recovered" were shipped to the U.S. under diplomatic immunity. The pistol is reported to have been in storage in the U.S. since 1946. There is also a signed letter of provenance from noted Walther author and expert James Rankin describing the pistol and its attribution to Adolf Hitler.  It also mentions the engraving having been possibly done by the same engraver that engraved the Adolf Hitler Walther PP pistol. The letter states that this pistol along with other firearms and pieces of memorabilia were purported removed from an area of Adolf Hitler's home at Obersalzberg.

The pistol itself is quite different from most engraved pistols intended for higher-ups in the Nazi regime.  While it seems that Walther PP/PPK pistols are usually the weapon of choice (Hitler had one of those as well), this weapon is a Walther Model 9, a vest or pocket pistol.  It borrowed heavily from their popular and successful Model 8, but with a few design modifications to accommodate the new, smaller size.  Unique to this pistol, is the engraving design.  Both this Walther and the known Hitler PP are a departure from the deeply engraved, oak leaf pattern typically seen on Nazi presentation pistols, instead featuring a floral scrolling with an incorporated lion's head on the slide right above each ivory grip.  It also has the same gold plating as the Hitler PP and both are in the usual style of gold plated engraving utilized by Walther.  The enamel medallions on each grip relay the pistol's manufacturer ("CW" stands for Carl Walther) and the caliber ("6,35").

Close up of the lion's head incorporated in the scrolling.

Lot #1468: Documented Historic/Notorious One-of-A-Kind Saddam Hussein's Personal Ruger M77 Bolt Action Mannlicher Rifle as Shown on Numerous Newsreels with Affidavit

If you've been alive in the last 20 years, then you've already seen our next rifle, and if not simply look at the above photo.  The rifle in itself doesn't stand out especially.  It's your run of the mill Ruger M77 with standard features, markings, .243 caliber, though it does have an atypical Mannlicher stock.  The only clue to its dark history lies in some Arabic engravings on the top of the barrel.  Those engravings list the date of the rifle's presentation and the name of one of the Middle East's most brutal dictators, Saddam Hussein.  Ruger won't disclose who initially bought the rifle, but it's safe to say we know where it ended up.  This rifle was taken from the Presidential Palace in Mosul, also known as the "Palace of Swords," by a group of Sufi Islamic militia members.

The Presidential Palace was a 2.2 square kilometer site that inspectors were long denied access to during the conflict with Iraq.  It was a campus that held several palaces, VIP residences, guesthouses, hardened underground bunkers, date palms and other fruit trees, a palace for Saddam himself, 3 lakes, and man-made waterfalls.  The rifle was turned over to a CIA officer in March of 2004 and eventually transported to CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where it was kept until our consignor received it as an honorarium for his 29 years of clandestine service for the CIA.  The rifle comes with a league of documents and affadavits detailing this rifle's history, journey, and deacquisition from the CIA.  How this rifle escaped life in a museum is a small miracle in itself, but we're happy to be bringing this historic and well known rifle to the gun collecting public.

Lot #56: Historic Smith & Wesson .44 Double Action First Model Revolver Once Belonging to Infamous Outlaw Emmett Dalton with Documentation

The Dalton Gang is known for being one of the last bands of outlaws in the Wild West and for their inglorious end at the hands of angry townsfolk in what was later dubbed “The Coffeyville Raid,” which took place on October 5, 1892.  Initially employed as lawmen, the three Dalton brothers became outlaws after having their reputations sullied in a series of events.  They recruited a handful of other men in late 1890 and became known as the Dalton Gang, an outfit infamous for robbing trains and banks.  It would only be two years later that Bob Dalton would suggest that they “beat anything Jesse James ever did – rob two banks at once, in broad daylight.”  His desire was rooted partly in ego, but also in part to avoid capture.  Deputy U.S. Marshall Heck Thomas was tirelessly pursuing the gang and always hot on their trail.  By robbing two banks, the gang hoped to steal enough to live off for a while after leaving the territory until the pressure had subsided.

Emmitt Dalton at Lansing Pennitentiary
To turn a long story short, the bank robbery did not go well for a host of reasons:  they were recognized by townspeople despite their false beards, they chose to tie up their horses in an alley after their original location was found to be under construction, a bank teller cleverly lied about the safes being on time locks thus delaying their escape, citizens utilizing a close-by and well-armed hardware store, and it took place in the light of day.  Anytime they name something “Death Alley,” because of how poorly it went, you know it was a catastrophic failure.  After the smoke had cleared from the ensuing gun battle with citizens, four of the five Dalton Gang members were dead, four townsmen had been slain and another four  wounded.  Emmett Dalton did not die, but took 23 slugs to the body for his troubles.  He was sentenced to life in prison at the state penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas, but was paroled after 14 ½ years due to a diseased portion of bone in his arm, the result of a Winchester ball he received in Coffeyville.  During parole, Dalton was so well-spoken, genuinely polite, well-behaved, and kind that an outpouring of public support for his full pardon was directed to Governor Edward H. Hoch, much to the chagrin of the Coffeyville banks.  However, Hoch was in Washington when Dalton’s parole expired, so Dalton returned himself to the prison unescorted.  His sentence was fully commuted on November 3, 1907.  After being pardoned, Emmett made the following statement with trembling voice to the Governor, “Governor, the trouble is that there is no way to express my gratitude.  But I certainly thank you with all my heart and soul.  I wish to say this, however, that you nor anyone else will ever have occasion to regret what you have done today.  I shall do everything in my power to live a useful life and be a good citizen.”  He did not disappoint.  Dalton would move to Oklahoma to become a peace officer before a moving to California, marrying Julia Johnson, dabbling as an actor, becoming involved in real estate, and passing away quietly at the age of sixty-six in Hollywood, California on July 13, 1937.

The gun being the original property of Emmett Dalton, was given to his physician Dr. Tilman H. McLaughlin sometime in the 1920s-1930s as payment for his services.  The revolver was inherited by McLaughlin’s daughter Lucille, who later would pass it down to Dr. McLaughlin’s grandson, Merrill H Deal, Jr.  Included with this revolver is a notarized letter from the grandson’s wife, Marilyn, a letter from the Smith & Wesson factory signed by noted Smith & Wesson Historian and author Roy Jinks, along with several documents and photos of Dr. McLaughlin.  It still has over 85% of its original nickel finish and is a fine example of a S&W .44 Double Action First Model.

Lot #1392: Extraordinary World War II Walther Factory Relief Engraved Cased Presentation Model PPK Pistol with Documentation

Hermann Wilhelm Göring was Adolph Hitler's right hand man, literally.  He had been with Hitler since his rise to power and eventual Chancellorship in 1933.  When Hitler took power, Göring became the second-most powerful man in Germany.  He was personally responsible for founding the Gestapo in 1933, was appointed commander of the Luftwaffe in 1935, and in 1940 had found so much favor with the führer that Hitler appointed him Reichsmarschall, the senior commander of all the German armed forces.  1941 Hitler went one step further and declared Göring his successor.  All that of course ended in April of 1945 when the Russians fought their way through the streets of Berlin, capturing it for the Allies officially on May 2 when the Germans surrendered the city.

This remarkable, one of a kind pistol was acquired by Bronze Star recipient, 2nd Lt. Frederick Weisenberger directly from the Walther plant manger Conrad Mueller in May 1945.  Weisenberger had been assigned the task of Captured Materials Officer of the Walther plant, a job that required inspecting and seizing any war materials.  At that time the young Lieutenant was given a tour of the plant by the cooperative Mueller, who took great pleasure in showing the American the facilities.  Just before the U.S. personnel were to leave, Mueller revealed that he possessed a hand engraved Walther PPK made especially as a presentation piece for Reichsmarschall Göring.  However, the end of the war prevented such a presentation and the pistol remained at the factory.  Mueller, forbidden from possessing the pistol, expressed his desire for Weisenberger to have the pistol as a memento - from a German to a German descendant.  The pistol is accompanied by a notarized certificate of retention, customs declaration, and a signed letter of explanation from Lt. Weisenberger.  Eventually, this pistol would find its way into Volume II, of "Walther: Engraved, Presentation and Standard Pistols" of noted Walther expert and author James Rankin.  An appearance in this definitive work is yet another testament to this gun's beauty, rarity, and provenance.

The gun remains in immaculate condition inside of its leather, red velvet lined case and features a non-traditional vine engraving, another departure from the more commonly seen heavy, oak leaf motif.  Its surface is 98% covered in engraving, even the underside of the barrel continuing around the trigger guard, and it was no doubt completed by a senior Walther Master Engraver, whose skill would be emblematic of Göring's status and rank.  The gun lacks the slide legend or markings on either side; only the Walther banner is present, further evidence that this PPK was certainly non-standard and likely pulled directly from the production line for the Master Engraver.  Its case also holds three nickel plated dummy cartridges, a spare magazine with finger extension, and a nickel plated cleaning rod.  This is an exquisitely engraved gun whose craftsmanship surpasses many others of its kind.

Lot #1469: Historic Documented Browning High Power Presentation Pistol Belonging to Iraqi General Hussein Kamal and Engraved by Ken Hurst with Provenance

This gun was procured in the same way that Saddam’s rifle was (a CIA honorarium), but it still has details all its own.  This Browning High Power has had quite an adventure, most of which takes place squarely in the lap of luxury.  To start its life, it was sold in April of 1981 to a representative of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia, who immediately shipped it to Master Engraver Ken Hurst.  Hurst has over 50 years of experience to his name and has worked as a Master Engraver for Colt and Winchester.  He has also worked for Ruger, Thompson Center, Walther, and Harrington & Richardson.  He engraved the piece, including the name on the backstrap, signed the work, and sent the pistol on its way.  Its surface is 98% covered with the floral pattern and punch-dot background and, as you can see from the photos, is quite the work of art.  It is safe to assume that the Saudi Royal Family then presented this arm to Gen. Hussein Kamel al-Majid.  Kamel, the Minister of Industry and Minerals and former Director of Iraq’s Military Industrialization Corporation, had full responsibility of all of Iraq’s weapons programs.  He would defect from Iraq in 1995, be granted asylum in Jordan, and would begin pouring important intelligence to UNSCOM (United Nations Special Commission).  Iraq, nervous at what Kamel might be telling the UNSCOM, began confessing all sorts of sins and revising previous admissions, in one instance even turning in vast amounts of documentation that had been hidden on a chicken farm.

Eventually Kamel, his brother, and their spouses, who had all defected, were convinced into returning to Iraq by messengers of Saddam Hussein under the guise that all was forgiven.  Immediately, the brothers were divorced by their wives (or forced to divorce them) for treason and branded as traitors – undoubtedly a capitol charge at that time in Iraq.  Three days after they returned, the two men refused to surrender themselves and were shot and killed after a 13-hour gunfight at a safe house.  Some sources say that Saddam’s Security Forces were the ones who killed the two, while others say that it was other cousins of the family who were trying to win back their clan’s honor for Saddam.  In any case, the pistol remained in Iraq where it was recovered by Iraqi insurgents after the fall of the Iraqi Government.  It was eventually acquired by the CIA and sent to CIA Headquarters in Langley, VA.

Despite all the travel, warfare, overthrown governments, and treason, the gun’s condition remains excellent.  It comes from a lesser-known name in that conflict, but is from someone who played a fascinating part in its history on top of being wonderfully decorated.

Lot #59: Spectacular Exhibition Quality Engraved Documented Alvin A. White Signed Gold and Silver Inlaid Colt Single Action Army Revolver with Carved Ivory Grips Intended for Presentation to Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev

The name Nikita Khushchev doesn't come up a lot when speaking of notorious heads of state.  However, Khrushchev not only tried to put nukes on the United States' doorstep during the height of the Cold War, he also served under Stalin both before and during WWII.  He supported and assisted Stalin's "purges" (i.e. mass political killings) so much so that he is quoted as saying, "Everyone who rejoices in the successes achieved in our country, the victories of our party led by the great Stalin, will find only one word suitable for the mercenary, fascist dogs of the Trotskyite-Zinovievite gang. That word is execution."  Not a great guy.

So how did this gorgeous pistol become associated with such a contemptible man?  That story starts with an American businessman simply trying to grease the wheels of foreign relations.  Have you ever tried to do something nice for someone and just have it blow up in your face?  Ever have it happen on a national scale at the peak of the Cold War?  Probably not, but that’s exactly what happened to poor Romaine Fielding.  Mr. Fielding was President of Romaine Fielding & Associates, an export company he founded with his own two hands.  He leaned fluent Russian in the years following World War II and became a welcome business partner to the Russians.  Fielding would make his living and fortune selling small machinery to Russia: washing machines, dryers, sheet metal manipulation, electrical equipment, and other appliances.  Fielding, in an attempt to show his immense gratitude to the Russians, and probably to kiss up, had a pair of Colt revolvers made for Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.  As you can see from the photos, this was no ordinary Colt.

Fielding had these guns engraved and gold inlaid by renowned Master Engraver Alvin A. White.  It is liberally covered with White’s distinctive “foliage style” engravings and highlighted with numerous arabesque gold border lines.  Even the backstrap is marvelously decorated and features a silver wire in the shape of the “onion domed” Russian landmark, Saint Basil’s Cathedral.  The famous building is also referenced in two deep relief, gold inlaid depictions on the recoil shield and the top of the back strap.  Fielding was truly going all out for Khrushchev and White’s ornate designs more than met the mark.  However, it was the height of the Cold War (or just prior) and everybody was more than just a little suspicious.  Khrushchev and his people were no different.  The amazing gift was objected to by Khrushchev’s personal security believing that the revolvers were booby-trapped or possibly contained listening devices.  These amazing firearms remained in Fielding’s collection and eventually entered the collector’s market.  Good for collectors, bad for Fielding.  This revolver also comes with letters and newspapers articles about Fielding, one of which is even written by then Vice President Richard Nixon!

This is a lot of guns owned by some morally inferior men, but they are not an exhaustive list of what will be appearing in this auction!  We have items attributed to Helmut Gommlich, the Nazi Chief of Police; known Ponzi schemer Alonzo Follett, Nazi higher-up Max Amann, Butch Cassidy, and others.  We also have plenty of weapons from the good guys like Norman Schwarzkopf Sr., USMC sniper Steven Reichert, fascinating Nevada lawmen, Civil War soldiers and surgeons, stage coach drivers, and others who have helped make this world a better place to live.  Go on and take a look to see who has the better weapons, but don't be afraid if you like the bad guys' guns a little more.  As this article shows, good guys don't always get all the good guns.

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-Written by Joel Kolander

Thursday, August 22, 2013

John Browning & The Birth of the Model 1911

The sight of a M1911 pistol evokes over 100 years of firearms history in a single glance.  Carried on the hips of thousands of G.I.s and invented by "the greatest firearms inventor the world has ever known," it has a special place in American history.  But what about its own history?  How did it come to be and how did it starts its legendary journey?  Come with us as we explore this iconic and revered pistol and then show you some prime examples of its early prototypes that will be up for sale in Rock Island Auction Company's 2013 September Premiere Auction.

Lot #1804: Desirable Early Colt Model 1902 Military Pattern Semi-Automatic Pistol
First things first, the M1911 was not actually "invented" in 1911.  That designation instead reflects its March 29, 1911 official date of adoption by the U.S. Army.  The journey of the semi-automatic pistol starts almost two decades earlier.  Semi-automatic pistols had already been invented long before the 1911, the first of which to enjoy any level of commercial success being the Borchardt C-93 followed soon after by Mauser's C96 "Broomhandle."  For that matter, Maxim had already patented his fully automatic machine gun midway through 1883.  That in mind, it seems that the semi-automatic, especially the 1911, was a bit behind the times.  However, the development of a U.S. made semi-automatic pistol would still be a great boon to U.S. troops.

The Philippines declared war on the United States on Jun 2, 1899.  It lasted only until 1902, but gave rise to the Moro Rebellion, a conflict that would last until 1913.  The Moro were a local tribe that lived in the southern islands of the Philippines, known for their fanatical guerrilla fighting.  The Moro were no stranger when it came to warfare., having fought the Spanish for years prior to encountering the U.S. Army.  At that time, the U.S. soldier's standard sidearm was the Colt M1892 .38 caliber double action revolver.  Unfortunately for the U.S. forces when they would find themselves locked in combat with the Moro tribesmen, they found the revolver to be unsuitable for the task.  The hand-to-hand combat weapon of choice for the Moro tribesmen were several distinct bladed weapons, most notably the kris.  When the kris was placed in the hands of a man motivated by the cocktail of hatred of occupying forces, religion, and the natural octane of adrenaline, he could do much damage to U.S. troops before he would be brought down by the smaller cartridges.  This situation was documented by one recent author, when he writes,

"In response to problems encountered by American units fighting Moro guerrillas during the Philippine-American War, the then-standard Colt M1892 revolver, in .38 Long Colt, was found to be unsuitable for the rigors of jungle warfare, particularly in terms of stopping power, as the Moros had very high battle morale and frequently used drugs to inhibit the sensation of pain."

A painting where a U.S. soldier finally wields a 1911 against the Moro.

There is speculation that the Moro would take various types of drugs before their battles, a debate that also revolves around other berserker-style warriors.  Given their Islamic religion this seems unlikely, however, it seems to be the current, popularly accepted history.  Their fierceness in battle is recalled by Gen. John " Black Jack" Pershing in a letter to his wife stating that, "the fighting was the fiercest I have ever seen.  They are absolutely fearless, and once committed to combat they count death as a mere incident."  The army tried several different sidearms to remedy this "anemic" firearms, even the 9mm Luger, but its ineffectiveness was documented in a quote of Brig. Gen. Samuel S Sumner when he said, "The Luger automatic pistol as a hunting pistol and for dress occasions is attractive and useful.  I have one which I prize highly, but for field service, in the hands of officers and men, it is a failure.  It is too complicated, and cartridges often jam, but the main defect is that the bullet will not stop a Moro."  The Army eventually reissued the M1873 Colt .45 revolvers, the "Peacemakers," as they were still plentiful.

While 1911s were not developed in time to be used against the Moro in any notable capacity, except perhaps the 1913 Battle of Bud Bagsak, the early battles against the Moro did give rise to the well-known Thompson-LaGarde field tests held in Chicago, Illinois.  The Thompson-LaGarde tests took place in 1904 to find out just which caliber of weapon the U.S. military should be using in its handguns.  These tests took place using live and dead cattle as well as some human cadavers used as ballistic pendulums!  As one can expect the tests have drawn harsh criticism for being unscientific, predetermined, as well as inhumane, but in the end the tests concluded that "the only safeguard at close encounters is a well-directed rapid fire from nothing less than a .45-caliber weapon."

John Moses Browning
This new requirement in mind, six manufacturers submitted entries into the 1906 trials to find a new military handgun.  Three of the designs were eliminated early with Colt, Savage, and DWM remaining as the sole survivors.  Improvements would gradually be made to each model and subsequent tests would be performed, but in 1910 the Browning would set itself apart from the Savage, the only remaining competitor at that time.  A test was held and personally attended by John M. Browning (JMB) himself, where the 1911 fired 6,000 rounds over the course of two days with no malfunctions; the Savage suffered 37.  The story goes that when the Colt sample became too hot it would simply be dunked in a pail of water to cool it.  The Colt would be formally adopted by the Army on March 29,1911 and was then bestowed with its famous moniker.  The initial order of 31,344 pistols would be more than one third of the entire company revenues for 1910.  There is so much more to talk about regarding the genius of Browning, the early importance that the manufacturing prowess of Colt would have for our country, Browning's other contributions to the world of firearms, and the many later roles that the 1911 would hold.  However, today we're here to show off early models and prototypes, so we'll have to hold the 1911's story to just its birth and a general one at that.  If you want the minutia of every adjustment, modification, patent, letter, and model that Browning and Colt worked on, may I recommend the book The Government Models: The Development of the Colt 1911 by William H.D. Goddard.  It is oft considered the authoritative work on the subject, is unrelenting in its thoroughness, and shows large, detailed photos of each example discussed.  Oh, and the second gun discussed in this article (Lot #1775) is from his phenomenal collection.

Rock Island Auction Company is proud to offer several Browning-Colt prototypes that were steps on the journey to this legendary firearm.  The first is a 1900 U.S. Navy contract model that features the "sight safety."

This scarce pistol is all original and one of the first Model 1900 semi-automatic pistols produced for the U.S. Navy.  The "sight safety" is an extremely rare feature that incorporated both the rear sight of the pistol as well as the safety.  Like most safeties it worked by blocking the hammer from striking the firing pin when engaged.  The Model 1900 was the first semi-automatic pistol manufactured by Colt and also the first of JMB's successful semi-automatic pistols.  The sight safeties were an early feature and considered especially rare.  Making this particular pistol even more exception is that it is part of the original 2250 Colt contracts pistols that were shipped to the U.S. Navy in October 1900.  They were shipped in 5 lots of 50 and this pistol was in the third of them.  It lists the Colt serial number of 1146 on the right side of its frame and the Naval serial number of 146 on the left.  It's about as early as it gets regarding Colt semi-automatic production (i.e. non-prototype) pistols and this one is in excellent condition.

Sight safety visible in front of the hammer spur.  Also notice the case-hardened hammer, screw, and magazine catch.

This particular Colt Model 1900 might appear very similar to the one listed above.  After all, they're both Colt 1900's, right?  Correct, to a point.  The right side of the receivers and slides look identical other than condition.  Take a good long look at the left side of the slide and receiver on this pistol.  Starting to see the differences?  There's a notch out of the slide and the addition of a small vertical, thumb operated "switch"?  That, dear reader, is the prototype for the slide lock and its release switch.  That's right!  The feature now found on virtually EVERY semi-automatic pistol!  He created it to quell the criticism that the gun required two hands to initially fire, a complaint absent from the proven, popular revolvers.  Browning personally pulled this pistol, serial #1433, from the Browning Bros. store stock and added his new, revolutionary feature after constructing it himself out of steel.  Aside from the small switch, the additional hole in the frame above the trigger, and the small notch removed from the slide just forward from the serial number, this pistol looks like any other Model 1900.  Revolutions sometimes arrive quietly.

Showing a close up of the sight safety and a inconspicuous looking slide release lever at lower left.
 During improvements JMB submitted 5 patents: parallel ruler hesitation locking, slide lock, single link barrel, grip safety, and thumb safety.  Each improvement would have its own prototype.  The pistol showing the "parallel ruler" feature resides in a Browning family collection in his hometown of Ogden, Utah, and the other three prototype pistols are in private collections.  Knowing that this gun is one of the five Browning prototypes AND fashioned by Browning's own hand, it can be easy to forget that this gun also still features 90% of the original blue finish and has the desirable sight safety.

Lot #3551: Exceptional and Rare First Year Production Colt Government Model Semi-Automatic Pistol with Low Three Digit Serial Number C183

This model should look a little more familiar to fans of the Government Model, though this pistol is anything but modern.  Timeless perhaps, but not modern.  It is a first year production of the Government Model and its condition is exquisite.  This revolver was made in 1912, and is serial number C183.  Colt would make up through C2030 that year and pistols with the "C" prefix ("C" for commercial) would only be manufactured through 1949.  The gun's condition will meet the requirements of any collector.  The finish is gorgeous and shows the deep, gorgeous, early finishing process that Colt used before the Army declared it "not durable enough."  This resulted in Colt no longer buffing the pistols to a blued mirror finish around serial no. 500 and after serial no. 2,400 the process changed greatly and the resultant finish would be gray/blue in color.  The peacock blue accented small parts add another level of eye-catching beauty to this phenomenally kept weapon.

If you miss the bid on this one, you can always catch serial number C502 in Lot 1779, still a first year production and in an equally gorgeous condition.  You could also bid on C1878 in Lot 1797, which is a second year model and as beautiful as the first two.  Colt collectors, you have been put on notice.

These are some of the highlights of the early Colt models that will be for sale in our September Premiere Firearms Auction to be held September 13th-15th, 2013, but they are far from the only ones.  We'll have another low serial number, first year production, a Russian contract, a Brazilian contract, Aces, a Singer "Tool Room Prototype," a Colt 380 vest pocket hammer pistol prototype, rare finishes, fancy grips, cased models, a test pistol, and a Colt-Jolidon semi-automatic prototype.  And those are just the Colts!  We'll also have several early Savage semi-automatic prototypes and even a DWM 1902 American Eagle "cartridge Counter" Test Luger.  You want early semi-autos?  We've got 'em at Rock Island Auction Company!

"Firing the Automatic, a snapshot somewhere in France."  Here, a Marine
demonstrates the 1911 for the French in a well-known 1918 photo.  Goddard notes
in his book that, "In the Sunday Globe Magazine, it illustrated an article entitled,
"Eight Million Shots Ready for the Hun."


Goddard, William H. D. The Government Models: The Development of The Colt Model of 1911. Lincoln, R.I., U.S.A.: A. Mowbray, 1988. Print.

Linn, Brian McAllister. The Philippine War, 1899–1902 (Modern War Studies [Paperback]). University Press of Kansas, 2000. Print
Sweeney, Patrick. 1911: The First 100 Years. Iola, WI: Krause Pubns, 2010. Print.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Did Custer Die in this Coat?

"I am not impetuous or impulsive.  I resent that.  Everything that I have ever done has been the result of the study that I have made of imaginary military situations that might arise.  When I became engaged in campaign or battle and a great emergency arose, everything that I had ever read or studied focused in my mind as if the situation were under a magnifying glass and my decision was the instantaneous result.  My mind worked instantaneously, but always as the result of everything I have ever studied being brought to bear on the situation."
-George Armstrong Custer

Few names are as known in American History for their failures as George Armstrong Custer.  Many early Americans have cemented their names into history for their daring-do, ingenuity, talent, inventions, selflessness, or sheer bravery.  Instead, Custer is known for his disappointments, inglorious end, and little else, but is that a fair estimation?  Countless volumes of literature have documented and/or speculated about the man, so to try and author an article with any sort of new material would be folly.  However, one can look past the decades of myth and into the documented realities that surrounded his life and death to draw some conclusions that take a step away from the generally accepted notions and wild rumors about Custer and his life.

This article will look at some of those facts that surround Custer's life and, more specifically, his death.  The topic of George Custer is specifically raised because Rock Island Auction Company will bring to the auctioneer's block an extensively documented elk skin jacket attributed as the Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer's Death Coat.  It is accompanied by a buckskin shirt which is attributed to Lakota Tribe Chief Rain-In-The Face.

The elk skin jacket.
The buckskin shirt.

Early Life
Born in Ohio on December 5, 1839 to German immigrants from Rhineland, the son of a farmer and blacksmith, George Custer would spend most of his childhood growing up with his half-sister in Monroe, Michigan.  Later attending college, in Hopedale Normal College in Hopedale, Ohio, Custer would pay for his own room and board by carrying coal.  Custer, known as "Autie" to his immediate family thanks to his early attempts to say his own middle name, would soon have a teaching certificate and teach grammar.  However, teaching did not suit George and he would enroll at the U.S. Military Academy in 1857, which also barely fit the man.  Custer was a poor student, known for playing pranks on his fellow cadets, earning demerits (726 by one report!), facing near expulsion every term for his exploits, and for famously finishing last in his West Point class of 34.

Many associate this with Custer being "stupid" or unable to absorb military tactics.  On the contrary, Custer's antics always required that he buckle down, adhere to discipline, and work his way back into good graces.  Much like later on in life, he showed examples of risk taking, fun seeking, being slightly chaotic, and a strong desire to stand out.  His West Point class would graduate a year early due to the demand for officers required by the Civil War.  Were it not for that great conflict, many say that Custer's performance at academy would have earned him an obscure, low ranking post and a short career.  In fact, several days after that graduation he "failed in his duty as an officer of the guard" to break up a fight between two cadets.  He was court-martialed, but again benefited by the outbreak of the Civil War.

Military Career
Instead of the inglorious posting he had earned, Custer was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Cavalry and would bounce around the Union forces through various successes, campaigns, and promotions.  In 1862, Custer would come under the command of Maj. Gen. Alfred Peasonton who would introduce Custer to his love of fine, fancy uniforms and political maneuvering.  This would alienate him from some of his men, but he would win over  the majority by always being willing to lead attacks, fighting in the front lines, and seldom asking a subordinate to do what he would not do himself.

George & Elizabeth Custer
That same year, Custer would be "introduced" to a young woman he had first seen at age 10, Elizabeth "Libby" Clift Bacon.  The young, intelligent beauty was the daughter of a wealthy and powerful judge who disapproved of the budding romance so much that he allegedly refused Custer to enter the house let alone bless the proposal of marriage he offered in November 1862.  Libby was also initially less than impressed with this son of a blacksmith, but George would win her over with persistence.  Just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg in June 1863, Custer was promoted from Captain to Brigadier General of Volunteers, forcing Judge Daniel Bacon to relent and allow the courtship.  The two would eventually marry in February of 1864, fourteen months after they met, but would have their honeymoon cut short when he was recalled to active duty.  She would return with him to the front, staying in a tent or house near to where the fighting would occur.  Libbie would often accompany Custer and the two were nearly inseparable.  When they were apart they would write frequently to each other, filling their letters with innuendos, playful language, and sweeping romantic declarations.

His promotions were well-earned, having performed nobly in many Civil War battles, while his bravado, fancy uniforms, and battlefield victories would make him the darling of the national media.  A promotion to Brigadier General make him one of the youngest generals in the union Army at a surprising 23 years of age, earning him the nickname, "Boy General."  He would fight against Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart at Hanover and Hunterstown en route to Gettysburg, where he would have some of his greatest accomplishments.  There are several reported instances reporting that Custer had his horse shot out from under him at more than one time (one source reports 11 times!), would commandeer another horse, and continue to fight in the front with his men.  His most famous accomplishment came on July 3rd, 1863 in a feat that this brief synopsis will do little justice.  J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry, known as the legendary gray horsemen, "the Invincibles," was about to overrun the Union's right flank on the final day of this momentous battle.  George Custer mounted a daring counter-charge with a shout to his First Michigan Cavalry, "Come on, you wolverines!"  His uniform flashing, red neckerchief snapping in the wind, golden hair straight out behind him, Custer led his forces into a full speed charge.  One veteran wrote the following about the collision of the two forces,

Pictures such as this 1864 cover of Harper's Weekly
would help make Custer a national celebrity.
"So sudden and violent was the collision, that many of the horses were turned end over end and crushed their riders beneath them.  The clashing of sabers, the firing of pistols, the demands for surrender, and cries of combatants filled the air."  Horses screamed as they slammed into one another.  Echoes of gunfire incessantly clapped their deadly applause.  Thick smoke and dust choked the combatants, but when it all cleared the Union had repelled the Confederate advance at a critical moment in one of the Civil War's most important battles.  After that day, he became one of the most famous Union officers of the war.  He would enjoy other victories, but would also be known for pursuing Robert E. Lee, cutting off Lee's escape from Appomattox Court House, and having his men be the first to receive a flag of truce from the Confederates.  Custer himself was present at Lee's surrender and was given the table on which it was signed for his gallantry.  Lt. Gen. Philip Sheridan, in addition to the table, also penned a note to Libbie which reads, "...permit me to say, Madam, that there is scarcely an individual in our service who has contributed more to bring about this desirable result than your gallant husband."  The nicknames that Custer earned during the Civil War are another testament to the duality of the man.  He was called "Iron Butt" and "Hard Ass" for his longevity in the saddle as well as the less flattering "Ringlets" - a jab at his vanity and appearance and a specific reference to his long, curly blond hair.

Custer (at far right) seen here with other generals and President Lincoln at Antietam.

Indian Battles
After the Civil War, Custer found himself fighting American Indians.  However, in a mismanaged campaign the time away from his beloved Libby was too much and he ordered his men on a 150-mile, 55 hour march to Fort Riley where she was located.  Some men & horses couldn't keep up due to the fatigue and were left behind - at least one would be killed by Indians. It earned him a court-martial and he was suspended from duty for a year.  Other sources indicate that his court-martial was also in part due to Custer's order to shoot deserters and refuse them medical treatment.  His reinstatement by friend and admirer Sheridan in 1868 would reinvigorate Custer's Indian fighting ways.  Much like his days at West Point, he would now have to buckle down to win back his reputation and his good graces.

Buckle down he would.  Custer would command the 7th Cavalry with great efficiency, especially at the Battle of Washita River - a one-sided rout on the encampment of Black Kettle and his group of Cheyenne on November 27, 1868.  In most accounts of Custer's life, there is a 5 year gap until it is reported that in 1873, he is sent to Dakota Territory to protect railroad surveyors from the Lakota, but in 1874 he leads an expedition into the Black Hills where, of course, gold is discovered and announced.  A gold rush was on in the Black Hills, but the land was promised to the Lakota by the U.S. government only six years prior.  The Army was dispatched to protect the new flood of prospectors and to force the Sioux onto reservations.  Due to some politics at the time involving President Grant, Gen. John Gibbon, and Gen. George Crook, Custer was almost not allowed to go!  Long story short, he was still placed in command after Grant faced strong popular opinions contrary to his own.  Custer would go West to meet his demise.

The Battle of Little Big Horn is one of the most examined, studied, and argued about battles in all of U.S. history.  The controversies are almost as numerous as the buffalo herds of Custer's day:  when it started, how long it lasted, how Custer was killed, how big the American Indian encampment was, did Custer disobey orders, did Custer ignore the reconnaissance from his scouts, did Custer use bad or faulty tactics, did Sitting Bull ambush Custer's prong of the attack on the village, did Custer actually die in the river, was there even really a 'Last Stand,' how many men died in Deep Ravine, what kind of rifle did the Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho have, could reinforcements have arrived in time, and so on and so forth.  Some of these questions can already be answered by conclusive evidence.  Some will never be.  Some are half-way answered by first-hand accounts given by American Indians after the battle.  Oral histories can be inaccurate because the human memory functions more like a story-teller and less like an archive: achievements are aggrandized, language barriers arise, and memories fade.

The graphic and highly inaccurate print produced by Anheiser-Busch in 1896 was distributed to thousands of saloons and help spread misinformation about the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Many people also question Custer, saying that his reckless behavior, refusal to wait for reinforcements, division of his troops, lack of preparedness (having refused Gatling guns & extra troops, and electing to leave their sabers behind), doomed his cavalry.  Undoubtedly, Custer made tactical mistakes in his attack on the village.  He underestimated his opponent, came ill-equipped, and was more concerned with Indians escaping (as he had experienced many times before) than with their ability to defend themselves.  Not all Custer's men died that day.  Certainly the 210 men in his Battalion (C, E, F, I, & L companies) were killed with the exception of his bugler whom he sent to run a message, but the 7 other companies under Capt. Benteen and Maj. Reno retreated with the majority of their forces still intact.

His legacy after his death was mixed, but would ultimately be decided by his ever-faithful Libby, who would live another 57 years after his death.  Custer initially took heavy criticism after his death from a number of important sources like President Grant and his old friend Gen. Philip Sheridan.  However Libby campaigned tirelessly for her husband's reputation as a gallant, fearless, dedicated man.  She would write articles, give speeches, travel extensively, and author several books to supplement her income and save her husband's name.  It worked.  Custer was long revered as an American martyr in the same vein as the Alamo.  The immediate set-up of this image would allow the American people to seek vengeance  on the American Indians who had slaughtered their national hero just before the nation's Centennial Celebration.  Crazy Horse surrendered 11 months later was killed 3 months after that when he was supposedly bayoneted during an escape attempt.  The Little Big Horn was the end of the Oglala Lakota as well.

The Coat

Lot 3310: Historic Indian Wars Period Jacket and Shirt Attributed to General Custer the Famous Battle of Little Bighorn with Documentation

To the untrained observer the coat might look like just another coat.  It is tattered, stiff with age, and blood stained.  However, this elk skin jacket was once quite the luxurious garment.  It has been embroidered, fringed, patterned with triangles and flowers, decorated with silk, and several different (then) exotic materials.  Both the Smithsonian Museum and the William "Buffalo Bill" Cody have tried to unsuccessfully purchase the coat, but not for its adornments.  The coat has ties to the Battle of Little Big Horn and even to Lt. Col. George A. Custer himself!

The coat's history is told to us by John. A. Dietzen, the man whose father originally procured the coat.  He writes in a 1958 letter to eventual owner Col. Raymond C. Vietzen,

" father brought the coat back from the West when he returned in 1880.  He told my mother, and the story was repeated to me in later years, that he had won the coat in a shooting match from a friendly Indian.  The Indian was one of those employed by the U.S. Army for Scout work.  He was one of the group who trapped and killed Sitting Bull following the death of General Custer.  He told my father that the coat had been taken by Sitting Bull from General Custer who was wearing it at the time he was killed... It is impossible to establish an authentic history of the coat.  I have only the above family history and my father's army discharge papers which definitely place him in service at the time of General Custer's death."

Part of the extensive documentation of this jacket includes the discharge papers of Joseph Dietzen that confirm he was in the service at the time of Custer's death.  The coat has two bullet holes, in the back and in the sleeve, with blood stains still visible.  The fringe shows saddle wear on the rear.  The Smithsonian felt that the floral designs on the coat represented several American Indian tribes and that the coat was "made especially for a white chief by the Indians."  The jacket was in the Dietzen family until 1959 when it was sold to Col. Raymond Vietzen who owned the Indian Ridge Museum in Elyria, Ohio. When the colonel died, the jacket and the rest of the museum collection was sold at auction.

A close-up of the embroidery with a bullet hole
visible in the upper right portion of the photo.

The debate of authenticity is most succinctly laid out in the item's official auction description, which will be partially reprinted here.

"Custer was known for wearing a buckskin coat and trousers while serving out West. He owned several. In 1912, Custer’s widow donated one of her late husband’s buckskin jackets to the Smithsonian Institution where the jacket remains today. But did Custer wear a buckskin jacket on the day he died? 

Many accounts by Indian warriors who fought at the Little Bighorn told of a death of a buckskin clad officer. Many assumed that this officer was Custer, but other officers of the regiment also wore buckskins, including Custer’s brother whose mutilated body was stripped of his jacket. White Bull, the nephew of Siting Bull and one of several men who claimed credit for killing Custer, attested that he shot a buckskin clad officer riding “a fine looking big horse, a sorrel with a blazed face and four white stockings.” Custer was the only officer on a sorrel horse with four white socks and this one detail does suggest that Custer died wearing a buckskin jacket, however, the historical record is not completely kind to the image of Custer valiantly fighting off Indians in his buckskin jacket as popularized in paintings, books, and nearly 50 movies which retell the tale of Custer’s Last Stand.

 In 1896, former Seventh Cavalry Captain Edward S. Godfrey is on record stating, “The day was warm and few had on any kind of blouse.” Here, blouse is a Victorian-era term for a coat. (It is of interest that Edward S. Godfrey recalled finding 1st Lt. James Parter’s buckskin blouse in a deserted Indian village several days after the battle. He stated that “from the shot holes in it [Porter] must have had it on and must have been shot from the rear, left side, the bullet coming out on the left breast near the heart.”) Testifying at the Reno Court of Inquiry, Trumpeter Giovanni Martini (John Martin), the only survivor from Custer's company in the Battle of Little Bighorn, stated that Custer had taken off his jacket and tied it to his saddle pack. Custer was seen wearing a privately made blue double breasted bib trimmed in yellow cloth tape with crossed sabers and a “7” embroidered on the points of the collar, a style of shirt that most of the officers of the regiment wore. Martini’s description of Custer’s appearance is verified by Peter Thompson, a Scots-American soldier who was awarded a Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. In Thompson’s own words, “Custer was mounted on his sorrel horse and it being a very hot day he was in his shirt sleeves; his buckskin pants tucked into his boots; his buckskin shirt fastened to the rear of his saddle; and a broad brimmed cream colored hat on his head, the brim of which was turned up on the right side and fastened by a small hook and eye to its crown…This was the appearance of Custer on the day that he entered his last battle, and just one half hour before the fight commenced between him and the Sioux.” Lt. Charles A. DeRudio also attested that Custer was in a blue shirt and buckskin pants. Custer documentarian and film historian Dan Gagliasso has concluded, “The flamboyant former Civil War Hero [Custer] certainly had a buckskin jacket with him that day, as did at least seven other officers who died with his five companies of cavalry on the Creasy Grass Ridge, including his brother Captain Tom Custer, Captain Myles Keogh, commander of I Company, and the regimental adjutant First Lieutenant W.W. Cooke…[But when considering the eyewitness testimony] it now becomes quite doubtful that Custer was the buckskin clad officer shot at the river ford that day” (see, the article Strange Hats and Buckskin Coats in the magazine True West, May/June 2001, Vol. 48, Issue 4). One must draw their own conclusion regarding the history of this jacket based on the documentation! With the exception of his socks and the shoe portion of one boot, Custer’s body was stripped naked. The Colonel’s body was found among a group of about 42 dead men, possibly in a defensive posture. He had a bullet wound in the temple and left side, and compared to the bodies of his comrades, had been mildly mutilated."

This lot also includes a second item attributed to the Indian Wars, a deer skin shirt.  It is much simpler than the elaborate elk sin coat, but the consignor notes attribute this shirt as the personal property of Rain-In-The-Face, however there is currently no documentation possessed by Rock Island Auction Company that will authenticate this claim.  Rain-In-The-Face was among the warriors present at Little Big Horn and at one time was one of several individuals claiming to have killed Custer, though he took it a step further and also claimed to have cut out the heart of Thomas Custer as immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem "The Revenge of Rain-In-The-Face."  However, immediately before his death Rain-In-The-Face would recant both of these claims.

There you have it!  A flashy man and an equally flashy coat -  the mention of either is sure to spark much conversation.  Fully aware of this, Rock Island Auction Company's Executive Director of Operations, Laurence Thomson, says, “While the documentation accompanying the jacket is not a slam dunk, it certainly presents a compelling case.  I can’t tell you how many times in this business we are approached by individuals who claim to own Ben Franklin’s bifocals, Abraham Lincoln’s axe, or General Robert E. Lee’s sword. Rarely do the items even look the part let alone have any documentation or provenance to back up their claim. This jacket is not only of the period and style but is accompanied by enough evidence to certainly be plausible. Items from the Battle of the Little Bighorn have sold for millions at public auction. Since we cannot say for certain, we want to simply present the facts, and the let buyers make up their own mind.”

Custer in a post-Civil War portrait befitting his celebrity.

-Written by Joel Kolander


Friday, August 9, 2013

Butch Cassidy's Colt and the End of the Wild West

It is no coincidence that the Old West and gun collecting go hand in hand.  For firearms manufacturers, it was a time of innovation and industrialization.  Colt's Paterson was invented in 1836 and was the first percussion cap revolver, while Smith & Wesson's first cartridge revolvers would be produced two decades later in 1856.  These innovations in firepower were amplified by standardizations that were concurrently taking place.  Guns could be mass produced for the first time making them affordable and easier to repair.  Ammunition was also becoming standardized, safer, easier to use, and more powerful.  The guns produced in this era were some of the first to utilize many of the technologies that we take for granted today.

The Old West also connects with gun collecting because firearms were an indispensable part of the landscape.  In an era without 911, police radio, and most forensics technologies, the gun was often the only way to defend oneself from frontier wildlife, Indians, and outlaws.  It could also protect your livestock, be used for hunting... and villainy.  Besides their noble and necessary roles, guns in the West obviously served several "less than savory" roles: dispute settler, stagecoach/rail/bank robber, claim jumper, border enforcer, and avenger.  The gun we'll investigate today was once the tool of one of the Old West's most infamous outlaws and will be offered in Rock Island Auction Company's September 2013 Premiere Auction.

Antique Colt Single Action Army Revolver with Notarized Letter Attributing the Revolver to Famous Western Outlaw Robert Leroy Parker, Best Known as Butch Cassidy

Butch Cassidy is a man that many picture as a ruggedly handsome Paul Newman, when in reality he was a square-headed, straw haired, extremely successful thief.  Butch Cassidy was born as Robert LeRoy Parker on April 13, 1866 in Beaver, Utah.  Known around the house as "Roy," he was the youngest in his Mormon family of 13 children.  His family being poor, Roy worked ranches at a young age and would eventually leave home in his early teens in search of greener pastures.  He continued working ranches and at one point even took work in a butcher shop, earning him his lifelong moniker "Butch."  The topic of when Roy earned his famous nickname is debated, others say he took it after he changed his last name, but everyone agrees on the occupation.  On one of those ranches where he found work, Roy befriended a rancher by the name of Mike Cassidy, who had a reputation of rustling horses and cattle.  No doubt that Mike Cassidy warmed right up to his protégé.  History reports that Butch was never anything but charming, kind, and well-liked with an infectious grin.  Mike Cassidy taught young Roy how to rope, drive cattle, expertly ride a horse, and to become an expert marksman.

Butch's first, lesser-known foray into crime was actually when he entered a Hay Springs clothing store, took a pair of jeans, but left a note promising to pay his debt when he next returned to the shop.  The shop owner pressed charges regardless of the note, but Butch would be acquitted by a jury.  Butch showed aptitude toward any task he put his mind to and had quite a reputation as a skilled and able cowboy.  However, Butch would eventually take the promise he showed as a rancher and would apply that skill to other, less savory, areas. Starting his new life, Butch decided to try his fortunes in a town called Telluride, Colorado, a boomtown full of showgirls, saloons, prospectors, miners, and gamblers.  Initially paid for hauling ore, Butch would eventually begin winning money for racing horses.  He was only 23 when he, along with three other cowboys, robbed the San Miguel Valley Bank in Telluride and had over $20,000 to show for their excellent planning.  No doubt using some of his plunder, he purchased a ranch in Dubois, WY in 1890 and returned back to his cattle and horse rustling roots.

His reputation as an outlaw began to grow after his Telluride robbery.  In an attempt to honor his old  mentor and not disrespect his family, especially his mother, Butch changed his surname to Cassidy.  His popularity also began to grow as sentiments again the "cattle barons" of the day grew increasingly hostile; his rustling of cattle from barons was seen as a blow against the giants for the "little guy" independent ranchers.  In 1894, he would be jailed for 18 months of a two year sentence in the state prison in Laramie, WY.  The prison sentence was earned from a "sting" set up by the cattle barons.  They sold Butch unbranded horses for a irresistible price without papers.  They then notified the local law about his "undocumented" livestock and had him arrested, ironically, for "rustling" horses that he had actually purchased.

Butch's prison mugshot
The last 6 months of his sentence were commuted after he had shown he was a model prisoner and allegedly promised Governor William Alford Richards that he would no longer rustle in the state.  Newly freed, Butch's drive for crime and excitement had grown immensely and he would quickly surround himself with others of a lawless nature and form what came to be known as The Wild Bunch. They were hand-picked by Butch himself and they would bring a new level of professionalism, excellence, and precision to bank robbing.  It wouldn't be until just after their Aug 1896 robbery of the bank in Montpelier, Idaho of $7,000 that he would recruit one Mr. Harry Longabaugh, better known to the world as "The Sundance Kid."  The next 4-5 years of Butch and his gang's career follows a fairly predictable pattern of robberies in various Western states and then retreating to their hideout nicknamed the Hole-in-the-Wall.  It was a geological formation in the Big Horn Mountains of northern Wyoming which gave the gang, and other outlaws, everything they needed: protection from the elements, an excellent vantage point, long lines of sight, seclusion, allies, food and ammunition stores, and easily defensible narrow passes.  Butch loved the area so much, he would homestead there later in life in a ranch called the Blue Creek Ranch.

His reputation as a witty, charming, funny, brainy, considerate, non-violent man persisted his whole life.  People always found him agreeable and when he would occasionally imbibe, he often drank less than most men.  His only disdain were for those he felt had wronged him or abused their power:  big ranchers, bankers, and railroads often bore the brunt of this sentiment and is likely the result of a boyhood experience where his father lost land in a property rights dispute.  Butch's father Maximillian was a "jack-Mormon" a term coined for inactive members, and when the land dispute arose it went to a "bishop's court," a customary thing in Utah at that time for both civil and occasionally criminal matters.  The bishop ruled against Max in favor of a tithe-paying, active, church member and Max Parker's family was thrown even further into poverty.  Something neither Butch, nor his family would ever forget.  Butch's rustling would frequently target the herds of "religious hypocrites." While Butch is believed to only have used violence as a last resort, he surrounded himself with men who had no such ethical dilemmas.

Eventually the high-profile bank, train, and payroll robberies would earn Butch a little too much attention and the railroad giants, after trying to hire Butch to help guard their trains in exchange for amnesty, would hire the famous Pinkerton National Detective Agency to protect their trains.  Pinkerton would form a special posse called the Union Pacific Mounted Rangers on a specially designed train with specially trained men.  The Wild Bunch was initially unconcerned and continued their robbing ways, stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars.  However, it wouldn't be long before the Wild West began to give way to modernity and the 20th Century.  Many of the advances in technology shrank the world that Butch and his gang lived in and they began to feel the grip of law enforcement tightening around them.  Butch had thought previously of escaping to South America and that option got more attractive every day.  So attractive, in fact, that Butch began robbing with the intent of saving enough money to make the trip and a life for himself in Argentina.  During this robbing spree, the gang took the famous photo in Ft. Worth, Texas, now dubbed the "Fort Worth Five."  The photo would ultimately hurt the gang deeply when the Pinkertons discovered it and used it to make wanted posters of the men.  Up until that time the law only had older descriptions of two of them men, including Butch's prison photo.  It would not take long for Butch, Sundance, and Sundance's longtime companion Ethel "Etta" Place, to feel the heat and on February 20, 1901 departed from New York City to Buenos Aires, Argentina aboard the British steamship Herminius.  They no doubt enjoyed the lavish New York lifestyle for several weeks prior to their departure.  To avoid detection aboard the ship, Butch would take the alias James Ryan and pretend to be Etta's non-existent brother.  Upon arriving in Argentina, they quickly set up their own ranch and began living a successful life on the straight and narrow.

The pilfering pair would soon resume their lifestyle of robbing banks and trains in South America.  The "end" of Butch Cassidy's story is clouded at best.  Most believe that the law began catching up with them in South America.  The trio would flee to Chile on several occasions, but continually return to Argentina.  Etta, for reasons unknown, would leave the group on June 30, 1906 on a ship bound for San Francisco.  Butch and Sundance tried to make an honest living for a time, by guarding a mine company's payroll of all things.  Several robberies were attributed to "two American bandits" and eventually they were identified thanks to a mule.  A hotel owner would recognize either the animal or the mining company's logo on its flank and report his find to a local Bolivian Cavalry camping nearby.  The cavalry sent three men to investigate and after enlisting the help of local law enforcement, they surrounded the cabin where the two stayed and a fierce firefight erupted.  Now things become even further convoluted.

1.  Some sources say that after an extended period of quiet there was a scream, a single shot which silenced the screaming, and then, after a pause, a second shot.  Those sources also state that after several hours (some even say the next day) the cavalry finally looked in, discovered two bodies with numerous bullet wounds to their limbs; one body had a bullet hole in its forehead, the other with one in the temple.  The assumption was that Butch had put his long-time friend and partner out of his suffering and then ended his own.  This story and the next both claim to take place on November 3, 1908.

2.  Others say that Sundance, out of ammunition, attempted to reach rifles and ammunition across a small courtyard.  He made it to the rifles, but was gunned down while returning with them to the cabin.  Butch retrieved his friend from the courtyard, brought him back inside the cabin, but the damage had been done.  Sundance expired in that cabin and not long after Butch took his own life with his last bullet.  This is the most accepted of all the stories.

3.  A third story says that Butch survived somehow.  Maybe he got away from that cabin.  Maybe the two "Americans" weren't Butch and Sundance at all, there were certainly other American outlaws in the country performing the same crimes as our pair.  Some folks state that Butch and Sundance moved back to the U.S. and lived the rest of their lives in hiding under aliases.  This story is backed by many first-hand accounts saying that Butch has visited them after his alleged South American death in 1908.  These "visits" by Butch would continue to be reported through the 1930s even by his own family members, however, the accounts often conflict.  Similar evidence exists for Sundance's return to the states and eventual death in 1936.

4.  A more specific legend has Butch going to Europe for a time, then returning to the United States under the name William Phillips.  Once back, he began living in Michigan and married a woman named Gertrude Livesay in May of 1908.  They would eventually move to Arizona to live a straight life.  He would reportedly earn a little extra money by fighting with Pancho Villa in the Mexican Revolution, but would eventually start the Phillips Manufacturing Company, watch it go bankrupt, make a few desperate trips back to Utah and Wyoming looking for buried caches, but ultimately find none.  Diagnosed with cancer, he would die on July 20, 1937.

5.  Still another version has Butch escaped from Bolivia, though Sundance was not so fortunate, underwent plastic surgery in France, reunited with a long lost love in Wyoming, and settled down in Washington State.  This version is detailed in a book called Bandit Invincible: The Story of Butch Cassidy written by a man named William T. Phillips - the same name allegedly used by Butch as an alias in version #4.  This means the book would not be a biography, but an autobiography!  However, this theory earns little credibility.  The book was initially considered fiction and historians say it bears little resemblance to Cassidy's real life.  Especially damning to this theory is that after Phillips died, his wife Gertrude told a Cassidy historian that the couple knew Butch personally and that Phillips was not him.

6.  Others still report that Butch was stabbed in the slums of Paris, killed after a bank raid in Uruguay, or was shot in a New Mexico brothel.  Sundance also managed to die in any number of ways between 1920 and 1940 in Venezuela, Chile, and/or Argentina.  Even William A. Pinkerton, hearing all the conflicting reports, never officially closed the book on Butch and Sundance.

Famous photo of the "Fort Worth Five"  Left to right: Harry Longabaugh ("Sundance Kid"), William "News" Carver, Benjamin Kilpatrick ("The Tall Texan"), Harvey Logan ("Kid Curry"), and Robert LeRoy Parker ("Butch Cassidy").
Whatever the ending of Robery LeRoy Parker's story, it is a tale that has stood the test of time.  It also marks the end of the last great Western outlaws and some say the end of the Old West itself.  Thankfully, this gun endures as a connection to both the man and the era in which he thrived and Rock Island Auction Company is honored to have a temporary custody of such a historic firearm.  It was given by Butch Cassidy to a small time outlaw Joe Davenport, an occasional member of the Wild Bunch.  When Joe retired from crime and went straight, he took a job as a night watchman in Rock Springs, Wyoming.  He would later give this revolver to a dentist named Dr. Breihan possibly for services rendered.  The dentist would eventually pass the revolver on to his son, who would trade it to a man named Jack Wallace for his services as a machinist.  Jack would father a Lt. Col. John W. Wallace, who would inherit the pistol from his dad and document its vast history in the included affidavit.

Butch Cassidy is truly a man of his times.  He innovated his depraved art, just as the Industrial Revolution did with so many products and the young United States.  He enjoyed a sense of adventure as did so many Western-bound settlers in those days.  Perhaps most importantly, he lived and faded right along with his beloved Wild West.  They peaked together, but all the new technologies and innovations which had been used to such success would prove the end of both.  How perfectly fitting that they should fall together.  No one could ask for a more suitable man to herald the end of this age.

Rock Island Auction Company's September 2013 Premiere Auction is absolutely rife with firearms and items that have been in the lives of men who have changed history: Lt. Col. George Custer, Gen Norman Schwartzkopf Sr., Butch Cassidy, Emmitt Dalton, Benito Juraez, Adolf Hitler, Nikita Khrushchev, Herman Göring, Fidel Castro, and more!  Visit our Online Catalog to search for your favorite weapon or any of the historic individuals just named.  You'll see high resolution photos and can bid right from our website.  We know you'll find something fascinating and your own little slice of history.

-Written by Joel Kolander


Phillips, William T. The Bandit Invincible: The Story of the Outlaw Butch Cassidy. Hamilton, MT: Rocky Mountain House, 1986. Print.