The Wild West Rides Again at Bonhams & Butterfields

. November 18, 2007 – Antique arms, armor and modern sporting guns come to auction at Bonhams & Butterfields in San Francisco on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007 featuring firearms from famous and infamous figures of the Wild West, including Geronimo, Calamity Jane, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, outlaws Cherokee Bill and Bill Doolin, and a saber attributed to George Armstrong Custer, among others.

According to Arms Dept. Director Paul Carella, the breadth of the November antique arms offering is unprecedented. “The number of historical figures represented in this sale has never before been seen. Several of the lots come to auction from a private collector who has decided to offer the material after a lifetime of collecting. We’re pleased to offer these notable firearms, expecting international interest – from both private and institutional collections,” said Carella.

The November auction comprises more than 800-lots and opens with Bronze Age daggers and swords displaying brilliant green patinas and dating as early as 1200BC. Bladed weapons include elaborately decorated presentation swords, officer’s swords, daggers and stilettos. An historic Model 1860 cavalry saber with brass hilt and leather grip is attributed to General George Custer and could bring as much as $30,000. The 35-inch blade is dated 1864, was made in Massachusetts and originally sold in the Butterfields’ salesrooms in 1997.

Revolvers on offer include highly collectible firearms from notable individuals as well as guns collected by those less well-known. A scarce factory-engraved Colt Woodsman target model semi-automatic pistol in its original box could bring $5,000 to $7,000. By 1943 more than 150,000 had been produced, but this pistol is one of only 115 engraved by the factory. This example is also engraved with the owner’s name and was likely a gift to San Francisco native Mary Heath, a competitive skeet shooter and a UC Berkeley grad. Mary Heath Keesling passed away in 2006 and had been a noted supporter of the Bay Area arts community.

Revolvers carried by familiar names from American history include a Remington New Model Army percussion revolver surrendered by Apache Chief Geronimo in August of 1886. Geronimo had great trust in a US Army Lieutenant he’d called “Big Nose, ” and the pistol is offered with documentation relating to Lt. Charles Gateway, an aide-de-camp to General Miles. The pistol maintains walnut grips adorned with brass tacks and could bring $20,000 to $30,000.

A Geronimo rifle surrendered to the Lieutenant is a US Model 1870 Springfield, estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 while a Winchester Model 1866 lever action musket is attributed to Chief Spotted Elk, a chief of the Sioux Nation, and expected to sell for $8,000 to $12,000.

A Colt Model 1860 Army Richards conversion revolver attributed to Bob Ford, the man who killed Jesse James, could bring as much as $7,000 while a Colt single action revolver carried by Bob Doolin could sell for as much as $25,000. Doolin rose to infamy after starting The Wild Bunch, his own bank-robbing gang, in the weeks that followed the shootout that killed the bank-robbing Dalton Brothers Gang– Doolin’s former cohorts. Doolin’s pistol is nickel-plated with black hard-rubber grips and became part of a museum collection after Doolin’s demise — he was killed on August 24, 1896 by a posse led by Heck Thomas. A Dalton firearm, carried by Bob Dalton, is a Winchester Model 1886 lever action rifle offered with a handwritten letter dated 1895 attesting to its provenance. The Dalton Winchester could bring $10,000 to $15,000.

The gun used to kill John Dillinger is to be offered, this Smith & Wesson revolver presented with documentation relating the story of the “Lady in Red” and the FBI’s plans to lure Dillinger to Chicago’s Biograph Theater in 1934 (est. $15/25,000). Also offered in the sale is a rare signed John Dillinger letter, written from prison a decade before his death (est. $6/8,000).

A Case Brothers double action revolver carried by Martha Jane Canary AKA “Calamity Jane,” could sell for $2,000 to $3,000. The 32-caliber pistol was reportedly found in her possession at the time of her death. She had worked as a frontier scout for the US Army and her resume included time spent as a muleskinner for the railroads. She’d appeared on stage, in the Wild West shows promoted by Buffalo Bill and was a published author.

A rifle modified and used by Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody is another Winchester, a Model 1873 lever action. This rifle features a brass inlay on the muzzle reading: Welcome to Hell, while brass inlaid to the right side of the action reads: Col. Buffalo Bill Cody. It was converted to a single shot percussion rifle and reportedly used by the marksman for shooting glass balls during his famous Wild West shows (est. $10/15,000).

Firearms from a pair of famous brothers should interest collectors, lawman Wyatt Earp’s Remington Model 1882 double-barreled shotgun is estimated at $20/30,000 and the same estimate has been placed on a rifle owned by Virgil Earp, a Model 1873 saddle ring carbine. Virgil Earp was injured at the shootout at the OK Corrall, both firearms have descended within his side of the family.

Another firearm carried by a notorious figure is a Winchester Model 1886 lever action rifle owned by Texas outlaw Crawford Goldsby AKA “Cherokee Bill.” Goldsby, according to lore, killed his first man at the young age of 12 and continued to take the lives of both innocents and lawmen before he was hanged at the age of 20. The Winchester has an octagonal 26-inch barrel and a German silver Rocky Mountain style sight. The walnut stock features Cherokee Bill in white paint and could bring $40,000 to $60,000.

The auction also includes sporting guns, many with elaborate inlays and etching, as well as exotic weaponry and historical collectibles. Of note is a cased .470 Nitro sidelock ejector double rifle by the London firm J Rigby & Co, its firm name engraved in gold, expected to bring $80,000 to $100,000. Delightful for Western collectors is a Napa Valley CA collection of silver-inlaid and silver-mounted spurs, many examples signed. Previews open in San Francisco November 18th, continuing daily until the auction on November 20. The illustrated online catalog is available for review and purchase at

Category: Auction News

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