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    William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody: A Very important and Unusual Buffalo Bill-Owned Colt Revolver. A Colt model 1873 Single-Action Army Revolver, in caliber .44-40, SN 77234, marked "Colt Frontier Six Shooter," made in 1882 and shipped to Hartley & Graham, New York. This lot includes a copy of the Colt factory letter along with unbroken documentation of ownership up to and including the letter of transmittal to the consigner.

    Over the course of his lifetime, William F. Cody bought dozens of longarms and handguns. During the four-and-a-half decades of his fame, firearms makers, beginning with Philo Remington in 1873, gave him another score or so, mostly presentation pieces. Though there may be a few that are lost or lurking in attics, most of the presentation guns are likely accounted for in museums and through public sales: that first Remington rolling-block with gold and nickel-plated fittings; a Frank Wesson "double trigger" sporting rifle; a fancy Colt Burgess rifle; a rare and engraved Evans 32-shot (!) repeater; his deluxe model 1873 Winchester engraved by John Ulrich; an embellished Bullard lever-action rifle; a gold-plated Stevens Lord target pistol; a highly embellished Colt flattop revolver in caliber S&W .44; a Savage .32 caliber semi-automatic pistol with ivory grips; well, you can find most of them reproduced in firearms books and museum catalogues. The interesting thing is, with one or two exceptions, Cody gave away all of those fancy guns, often impulsively and always without fanfare, to friends old and new. A fortunate result for collectors has been that the recipients of those fancy firearms mostly took excellent care of them.

    Cody's was a compulsive generosity, much like that of the Indian leaders he so respected. If you admired his shirt, he might well give it to you. He resorted to disguising some of the things he treasured most, hiding them from the eyes of potential admirers. He carried his one-of-a-kind gold pocket watch, for example, in a plain gunmetal case.

    The guns that Buffalo Bill bought to use, and which he used, and used, and continued to use, are seldom seen. Three of his Winchester model 1873 .44-40 smoothbores, the ones he special-ordered (but which were ordered to be plain, to look ordinary) for his shooting act and which he carried in the Wild West arena for thirty years, are known in museum collections. Visitors are usually disappointed in them because they look just like off-the-wall well-used Winchesters. A few plain hunting rifles and shotguns from his estate survive in museums, but remain mostly in the vaults. Barely a handful of his unembellished handguns are known in public or private collections. One of those is known because of the circumstances of Cody's gift of the gun to his close friend, Charlie Trego (see Heritage Lot Number 44094, June 2012, Auction 6079).

    Those of Buffalo Bill's hard-working firearms that found their way undocumented into the hands of family and friends have almost all disappeared. Why? Because they look unremarkable. That makes the few with unassailable provenance all the more remarkable.

    Colt Frontier Six Shooter SN 77234 was shipped (without a box) to Hartley & Graham in New York at the end of October, 1882. Cody was touring the upper Midwest at the time with his theatrical company, the Buffalo Bill Combination, in "Twenty Days; or, Buffalo Bill's Pledge." Just three months earlier Cody had organized the "Old Glory Blowout" at North Platte, Nebraska, the celebration that led directly to Buffalo Bill's Wild West which would debut in May, 1883. He was in New York City for most of January 1883, both performing with his theater troupe and making business arrangements for the upcoming Wild West. But Cody was also a frequent and faithful customer of Hartley & Graham (later Schuyler, Hartley & Graham), and it was during January that he would have taken delivery of this Colt.

    We do not know whether Cody bought more than just this one revolver at the time, although it seems likely. We know, for instance, that a year earlier he had purchased a pair of nickel-plated Colts as a gift to one of his protégés. Beyond show business, he was building his Scout's Rest Ranch in North Platte, Nebraska, while finding time, when possible, to round up cattle or relax on hunting trips along the Niobrara River with friends such as Frank North, former scout and founder of the Pawnee Battalion. He and North were partners in open-range cattle ranching in the sand hills of Nebraska.

    The box for this revolver, while a standard Colt case, was likely fitted by Hartley & Graham, and it is equipped with spaces for 50 .44-40 cartridges. We do not know why, and Cody left no explanation. It is possible that Cody used this as a prop sidearm in his stage plays, which continued touring during Fall and Winter until 1886, and in the Wild West which, of course, would go on for another thirty years. In that case, to prevent potentially tragic mistakes he would have packed the box with .44 caliber blank cartridges. But the revolver's bore is remarkably clean which suggests that it was also used as intended, with real bullets, as a ranching and hunting sidearm.

    The important distinction of this handgun is that Buffalo Bill put it into the safekeeping of his sister, Julia Cody Goodman. This is one of only five known Colt Single Action Army Revolvers, and the only Colt Frontier Six Shooter, the only one he didn't give away, documented to have belonged to Buffalo Bill Cody.

    William F. Cody
    Julia Cody
    Don and Stella Foote Collection (pictures in Treasures of the West, the catalog of their collection when it was exhibited at the 1964 New York World's Fair).
    Greg Martin
    Butterfield Auction March 18, 1988
    The present owner

    Please note that a Letter of Authentication from Colt expert R. L. Wilson accompanies this lot, and may be viewed on our website. The Greg Martin letter shown there is a photocopy, but the winning bidder will receive the original letter.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    June, 2014
    14th Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 3
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 5,366

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