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    Johnson County War: The Winchester Rifle Used by Key Player Mike Shonsey, with Direct Family Provenance. Winchester Model 1886, saddle-ring carbine, in .38-56 caliber, case-hardened, full magazine, 21¼" barrel, 40½" overall length; SN 40564; manufactured and numbered on March 21, 1891; received in the warehouse and shipped as a special order on January 5, 1893. Mike Shonsey owned and was photographed with this model '86, and either he or his employer bought it in Douglas, Wyoming, county seat of Converse County. This gun played a role, perhaps a deadly role, in the closing episodes of the Johnson County War.

    Some of the "generals" on both sides in this "war" stand out. For instance, Sheriff W.G. "Red" Angus, who organized the posse that surrounded and besieged the Regulators and their invading "army" at the TA Ranch, was opposed by former Johnson County Sheriff Frank Canton, a particularly bloodthirsty leader of the invasion. Yet for most of us it is a pair of cowboys who define the conflict: Nate Champion for the citizens of Johnson County, and Mike Shonsey for the invaders. Champion, of course, is the most famous of all the combatants and is remembered for his heroic stand at his KC Ranch before being shot down by the attackers. Shonsey, who had been the informant and principal guide for the Regulators, showed no less courage in his escape, under fire, from the TA Ranch to summon rescue for the invaders.

    Michael Shonsey (1864-1954) first came to Wyoming in 1881 as the teenaged ward and protégé of cattleman Thomas B. Hord. He developed quickly into a top hand and became cattle foreman for Hord and his associates. As opposition grew in Johnson County to the lordly demands of the cattlemen (who claimed exclusive use of the vast public domain), the Wyoming Stockgrowers Association appointed Shonsey as a stock detective to root out what they termed "rustling." Shonsey was soon drawn into fierce confrontations with small property owners and especially with Champion who was a leader in organizing the rival Northern Wyoming Farmers and Stockgrowers Association.

    Most of the bloodletting was over by late spring, 1892. But resentments festered when none of the invaders (including those accused of Nate Champion's murder) were brought to trial. In fact, by the end of the year Shonsey was back on the job, foreman at the 77 Ranch in Converse County at Lance Creek, just south of Johnson County. In the spring of 1893 Shonsey learned that Nate's brother, Dudley, was riding toward Lance Creek, supposedly looking to take revenge. Shonsey, who would have been armed with his Colt SAA revolver and his Winchester saddle-ring carbine, found Dudley first on May 24, shot him dead, then rode non-stop to Douglas where he turned himself in to the Converse County sheriff. Shonsey claimed self-defense and right away left Wyoming with the help of T. B. Hord who put Shonsey in charge of some of Hord's cattle interests in Nebraska. There Shonsey thrived in his own right as a businessman and lived the rest of his life without major incident.

    The killing of Dud Champion had no reliable witnesses, but witnesses both for and against Shonsey soon materialized. On one side it was claimed (and accepted as fact by Converse County's legal authorities who exonerated Shonsey) that both Shonsey and Champion drew their Colts and that Champion died when his gun failed to fire. The only thing saving Shonsey from injury or death, in that telling, was that Champion's revolver was jammed with mud. On the other side it was claimed that Shonsey ambushed Champion. If so, because marksmanship with a revolver is so uncertain except at close range, it would have been prudent on Shonsey's part to have used his Winchester, this Winchester.

    There is only one recorded incident in all of Wyoming's history of a "Virginian"-style duel. Mortal combatants did not willingly and chivalrously surrender an advantage to their enemies. No doubt Dudley Champion would have happily shot Mike Shonsey if he had had the drop on him. The ambush telling of the Shonsey-Champion showdown makes as much or more sense as the official self-defense version. We will never know for sure.

    Condition: Very good. Retaining approximately 10-20% finish, the balance a dark grey patina with scattered wear and pitting. Normal age scuffs and dings present to wood. Action crisp. Strong bore.

    The lot is accompanied by a notarized affidavit from the consignor, Michael J. Shonsey, the great-grandson of Mike Shonsey, certifying that his gun descended directly through his family.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    October, 2015
    25th Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 0
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,698

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