"This old Remington revolver. I carried and used for many years in Indian Wars and Buffalo killing. And it never failed me. WF Cody"The Most Important William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody Gun Extant. "It never failed me." This is the most eloquent tribute that can be paid by a craftsman to his favorite tool. No craftsman ever depended on hammer and saw as fervently as a plainsman on his sidearm. It is not known when Buffalo Bill Cody acquired this Civil War-issue Remington New Model Army .44 percussion revolver, but he carried it and counted on it as a plainsman guiding America's frontier army during the Indian Wars. And few plainsmen had more occasion to use his firearms. Cody was one of the busiest and most respected of all the civilian scouts and guides for the U.S. Army. One of his commanders, Gen. Eugene Carr of the 5th Cavalry, wrote of Cody that "his eyes were better than a good field glass," his marksmanship was exceptional, and he was always in the right place at the right time. From 1868 through 1876 Buffalo Bill fought in nineteen documented battles and skirmishes, more than all but a handful of soldiers. In the citation for the Medal of Honor awarded him for a fight in 1872, his commanding officer paid him the high compliment of suggesting that he need say no more than that "Mr. Cody acted in his usual manner." Among other things, Captain Meinhold pointed out that Cody had led a charge on the Minneconjou camp from fifty yards, virtually point-blank range. He probably was leading the attack with his Remington New Model Army revolver.
Buffalo Bill went on to fame and fortune, of course, first on the stage and then with the first and greatest Wild West show from 1883 to 1913. By the end of the 19th century he was one of the most famous Americans in the world, and certainly the most photographed. Though his fame and his show were founded on the frontier past, he seldom looked back. His eyes were on the future. As a consequence, he was notoriously unsentimental about his possessions. He saved very few reminders of his glory days on the plains - he even gave away his Medal of Honor to cousins in Pennsylvania. But there were two relics he saved, both firearms. First was his Indian Wars and buffalo hunting rifle, the .50 caliber Springfield rifle he named "Lucretia Borgia" after the pretty poisoner in Victor Hugo's stage play of the same name. Though most of the butt had broken off in a hunting accident - "I don't know where the stock is," he told reporter Chauncy Thomas in an interview at his TE Ranch shortly before he died - he saved the remains (which can be viewed at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming).
The second cherished relic was this Remington New Model Army revolver. For Christmas 1906, "he gave it to his longtime best and most trusted friend" (and sometime employee) Charles Trego and Charlie's wife, Carrie. An extraordinary token of affection and high esteem indeed! To accompany the gun he wrote the following on his business card as the then Judge Advocate General of Wyoming (which accompanies this remarkable collection):
"To Charlie & Carrie Trego. This old Remington revolver. I carried and used for many years in Indian Wars and Buffalo killing. And it never failed me. WF Cody Dec 13th 1906"
During the early 1870s, Cody was photographed more than once with Lucretia Borgia and with a Remington New Model Army stuck in his belt.
In 1997 the Cody Firearms Museum of the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, in collaboration with the Remington Society of America, assembled the greatest collection of historic and embellished Remington firearms ever brought together. The exhibition, curated by the late Howard Michael Madaus, was entitled: 'It never failed me': The Arms and Art of the Remington Arms Company. Amidst the prototypes, the one-of-a-kinds, the beautifully engraved and gold- and silver-plated arms, this battered .44 caliber Remington New Model Army revolver, serial number 73,293, was the undisputed star. In the exhibition catalogue, a richly illustrated volume entitled The Guns of Remington, this revolver (along with Cody's business card personally inscribed to Trego) occupies pride of place right at the front. There is no firearm more significant to the Buffalo Bill story inside or outside of a museum collection.
The Remington had sustained some damage in earlier years in a fire while on display at Cody's famed Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming. In order to prepare the gun for its important 1997 exhibition at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, some restoration was performed to the specifications of its owner, and two minor exterior parts were replaced with original antique Remington parts. The walnut grips, which had been heavily damaged in the fire, were replaced with an original pair of antique Remington ivory grips to give the gun a pleasing display appearance. One of the grips has since suffered a small corner chip. Obviously the gun shows considerable overall wear consistent with Buffalo Bill's declaration about its longtime use. The metal shows it heavy wear and use with the typical deep, dark patina acquired from age. As the photo shows, it displays quite nicely.
Along with Buffalo Bill's Remington revolver, there is an extraordinary grouping of letters, documents, and ephemera -- all relating to Charlie Trego's long association with Cody. There is enough here almost to form the foundation of another auction, but it is all to be included in the sale of the gun.
(1) Five envelopes, all Buffalo Bill's Wild West letterhead, all addressed in W.F. Cody's hand.
(2) Seventeen handwritten letters (one with a two-page p.s.) from W.F. Cody to Charlie, or Carrie, or Charlie & Carrie Trego, dated between 1896 and 1916. All are signed "Col." (The Tregos, like many of Cody's intimates, called him "Colonel.") Fourteen are on various Wild West letterheads; two are on hotel stationery, and one is on a sheet of tablet paper. The content, individually and taken together, is rich and significant. The letters to Charlie in Wyoming discuss the difficulties of getting the town up and running and of potential legal as well as public-relations problems with the Cody Canal (which Cody calls "the ditch"). They are highly detailed, almost exhaustive, in spelling out the kinds of work Charlie will have to do to make a go of it. "Old fellow, its a job," he tells Charlie, "but I believe you can do it." Among the regionally important personalities Cody discusses are Frank Grouard and George Beck. Grouard was a civilian scout during the Indian Wars, notably for General Crook's campaigns in Montana and the Dakotas. Beck, the son of Sen. James B. Beck of Kentucky, was a pioneer townbuilder and Democratic politician in Wyoming. One letter, dated September 4, 1896, is written just to Carrie in North Platte, Nebraska, where she and Charlie were helping to manage Buffalo Bill's Scout's Rest Ranch: "Dear Carrie, You are the best correspondent of any of them. Those men won't tell me about little things like my beautiful dogs. I would rather lose every horse up there than my dogs."
In addition there is a 1904 letter to Charlie from friends Victor and Minnie in which they talk about meeting Geronimo at Fort Sill; and a 1907 letter from Buffalo Bill's sister May Cody Decker on Irma Hotel stationery acknowledging receipt of a check. There is also a promissory note from Buffalo Bill to Trego from 1912 which is signed "W.F. Cody".
(3) Two pieces of Buffalo Bill's Wild West ephemera: 1907 season pass made out to Charles Trego and signed "W.F. Cody" and "Transportation Ticket," or railway pass.
(4) A postcard based on a birdseye view of Cody, Wyoming, drawn by local artist Olive Fell. It is signed and dated in 1916 by W.F. Cody. As a message, Cody has written to Charlie Trego a humorous political message: "Hughes can't ride Woodrow he is pulling leather already and will be disqualified."
(5) Eight original black and white photographs:
(a) The architect's fanciful sketch of the propose Irma Hotel in Cody. Buffalo Bill writes on it: "She beats hotel Trego a little."
(b) Charlie Trego on horseback in Pennsylvania, a gun on his hip.
(c) Group of people on porch of Trego home in Coatesville including the Tregos and Buffalo Bill with members of his staff.
(d) Same group on the same porch, but here Cody is on horseback leaning down to shake Mrs. Trego's hand.
(e) Charles and Carrie Trego.
(f) An interior of Buffalo Bill's hunting lodge "Pahaska Tepee" near Yellowstone National Park, circa 1910.
(g) A scene of rocks and cliff inscribed on the back by Buffalo Bill, "On Cody trail to Yellowstone Park".
(h) The Tregos and friends on porch of newly completed house at Marquette, 10 miles west of Cody, Wyoming, circa 1900.
(i) Large studio portrait of an older Cody in coat and hat. Water staining and wear on the mount, but the photo itself shows only light general aging. Photo itself 8 x 10", mount 11.5 x 13.5".
(6) Five pieces of Cody, Wyoming, and Wild West ephemera:
(a) BBWW route card.
(b) Invitation to the opening of the Irma Hotel, November 18, 1902.
(c) Irma Hotel menu for Christmas dinner, 1904 (Lobster Newburgh!)
(d) An invitation to the wedding of Irma Cody to Lt. Clarence Stott, 1903.
(e) Wild West ticket request, signed in pencil, "W.F. Cody".
(7) Charles and Carrie Trego's marriage certificate, November 27, 1894, North Platte, Lincoln County Nebraska, John Boyer and Mrs. W.F. Cody, witnesses.
(8) Letterhead envelope, Scout's Rest Stock Ranch, mid-1890s. Charles Trego's name is actually printed on the envelope as "Foreman" of the Ranch.
All in all, a spectacular grouping.
Charles Trego and Buffalo Bill. Charlie Trego was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1859, and he is still a monumental presence in the Philadelphia area. The heroic statue "The Cowboy" in Fairmount Park may be the most dynamic piece of public art in Philadelphia -- it is alive with tension and arrested motion. It has additional stature as the only full-size sculpture ever completed by Frederic Remington. And the cowboy is Charlie Trego. In preparing his model, Remington had Trego pose horseback on the very spot selected for placement of the statue. It was installed and dedicated in 1908. The artist died barely a year later.
It is usually suggested that Remington met Trego on one of his western sojourns in Montana, but the facts are even better. They met in the town founded by Buffalo Bill himself, Cody, Wyoming. Remington traveled to Cody during the summer of 1899 to be the guest of Buffalo Bill's daughter, Irma Cody Garlow, on one of the family's ranches (her father was touring with his show) and to go hunting and sketching with the town's co-founder, George Beck. At the time, Charlie Trego was managing some of Buffalo Bill's business interests in Cody, including a rough hotel in which the artist probably stayed one or two nights, and served as one of Remington's hosts on his rides into the mountains.
Charles Trego was by this time one of Buffalo Bill Cody's best and most trusted friends. Their business relationship dated from the early 1880s when Trego first went to work on Cody's Scout's Rest Ranch in North Platte, Nebraska. But their friendship may have dated from as early as 1872 when Buffalo Bill first visited the east as a guest of General Philip Sheridan and New York newspaper publisher James Gordon Bennett. Before returning to Nebraska he visited the Guss family at West Chester, Pennsylvania, his mother's family whom he had never met. The Trego farm was nearby, and it is not hard to imagine that Charlie as a youngster met and perhaps idolized Cody, already becoming noted as a western hero. Two years later, as Buffalo Bill pursued his stage career, the Cody family lived for several months near West Chester before moving on temporarily to Rochester, New York.
Almost certainly it was at Cody's invitation that the 23- or 24-year-old Trego found his way to North Platte. There he befriended such other future stars of Buffalo Bill's Wild West as Buck Taylor who gained fame with the show as the first "King of the Cowboys." (Taylor later moved to Downington, Pennsylvania, where he and the Tregos resumed their friendship.) Though Charlie traveled as a cowboy with the Wild West show for a few years, Cody found the young man's organizational and management skills too valuable to allow him to stay on the road. He made Trego foreman of Scout's Rest Ranch forcing Charlie to miss, to his regret, the Wild West's triumphal visit to England in 1887. Through the mid-1890s Cody's son-in-law Horton Boal was nominal manager of Scout's Rest, but it was Charlie Trego whom he trusted to make the place run. After Boal's death in 1902, another Cody son-in-law, Fred Garlow, took over management, and Charlie gradually bowed out, returning by 1907 to run the family farm in Pennsylvania.
For Buffalo Bill and Charles Trego, 1894 was a pivotal year in their developing relationship. First, Cody's profits from the spectacular success of his show during Chicago's World Fair the year before were burning holes in his pockets, and he began investing in Wyoming. Second, his partner, Nate Salsbury, fell seriously ill and had to give up an active role in management. With the burden of putting the show in winter quarters falling entirely on his shoulders at the end of the 1894 season, he looked to Trego for help. Cody needed a place not far from New York with sufficient forage for all the livestock, including draft horses and buffalo, ample room to store the wagons and coaches, and convenient access to a railhead. The solution? The Trego farm met all the requirements, and for almost two decades Chester County, Pennsylvania, was home to a bit of the Wild Wild West. Charlie himself handled much of the logistics of moving and accommodating the show properties and animals those first years. Buffalo Bill and some of his cowboys became frequent visitors to the Trego home. A photograph that accompanies this lot shows Cody and a few of his personnel (including chief cowboy Si Compton) with Charlie and Carrie, Charlie's folks, and a group of their friends and neighbors.
Meanwhile, Buffalo Bill was pouring money into the development of the town of Cody. He acquired several ranches, including his sanctuary thirty miles southwest of Cody, the TE. He built a livery stable and barn, a newspaper, a simple frame hotel (the Irma came along only in 1902), and a fire hall. The most expensive project was a canal -- "the ditch" mentioned in so many of Cody's letters to Trego -- to carry water from the Absaroka Mountains to the potential farm lands south and northeast of town. George Beck supervised the canal construction, but the other interests were run by old cronies of Buffalo Bill such as the former Indian Wars scout Frank Grouard. In late 1895 or early 1896, Cody sent Trego to take charge. Since there was not even a post office yet in Cody, Charlie had to fetch his mail at Corbett, nothing more than a ford across the Stinking Water River (whose name was changed in 1899, for obvious reasons, to the Shoshone River) with a general store and rowdy house known locally as Corbett's Shebang. Trego put down deep enough roots to build a house west of town at the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Stinking Water, in an area called Marquette. A photograph (included here) shows a group of Trego friends gathered on the porch of the newly completed house. The picture looks north toward Rattlesnake and Logan Mountains. Marquette had to be abandoned after 1905 when the Shoshone Dam (in 1946 renamed Buffalo Bill Dam) was built downstream.
Back in 1894, Charlie had made a life-changing decision of his own. From Philadelphia he brought his beloved, Carrie Ash, out to Nebraska where in November they were wed (their marriage certificate is part of this lot). Cody couldn't be there, but he was well-represented. The witnesses to the wedding were his wife, Louisa, and his best friend in North Platte, John Boyer. The newlyweds made their home at Buffalo Bill's Scout's Rest Ranch.
How close were the Tregos and the Codys? The letters included in this lot span two decades beginning in 1896. In 1913 Buffalo Bill's Wild West went bankrupt in Denver, and the old scout returned to his namesake town, seeing it during the summer for the first time. Among the other irons he inevitably had in the fire was a movie-making venture with Chicago's Essanay Films. They were to shoot a feature-length (five-reel) saga in the Black Hills on the Indian Wars. The Wild West's failure enabled them to get an early start, and the Essanay crew met Buffalo Bill in Cody in August. Since they were ahead of schedule, they shot a couple of one-reel shoot-em-ups on the dirt streets of the town. The films do not survive, but fortunately a photographer made some stills. They show a couple of abandoned shacks at the east end of Main Street decorated with crudely lettered signs, "old West" style. One of the signs is deliberately misspelled "Salune." The other? It is a humorous reference to one of Charlie's jobs during the town's earlier pioneer days: "Hotel de Trego."
Cody's genuine affection for Charlie and Carrie, and his comfort with their friendship is revealed on one of the envelopes in the grouping contained within this lot. In a playful flourish that may be unique in all of Cody's vast correspondence, he drew a rebus on the line above their route number -- a tree, the word "go," and a tepee -- "Trego home." One of Cody's letters to "Dear Charlie & Carrie" written in 1910 closes with "You know I love you both." That it was not simply a commonplace is demonstrated by the extraordinary letter Cody wrote to them on June 5, 1914, while appearing with the Sell-Floto Circus, his unhappiest season in show business. He may also have been feeling his mortality in a way that he hadn't before. Even the salutation is effusive: "My Dear Friends Charlie & Carrie." "...I have a lot of friends and will say sincere ones. But they don't seem to touch the my the [sic] heart like the Tregos. Nothing has ever come into our friendship to give it the least bit of a jar. And I hope it will continue on that beautiful shore beyond the divide..."
Cody wrote his last letter to the Tregos on November 3, 1916. Ever the optimist, he told them, "As I've got my health back I am going to try and make some old time money next season." Two months later, on January 10, 1917, he died at his sister's home in Denver. Charlie died at home in Pennsylvania in 1925. He was 66.
Due to a computer error when this auction was posted on our web site, some clients were inadvertently able to place bids at below the established minimum bids published in the catalog. This has been corrected, and the minimum required bid now posted above either reflects that required opening bid or bidding action at or above the starting bid.
For more information about Paul Fees, who researched and described this lot, please click here.
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