DescriptionSitting Bull's Identified Flintlock Carbine with Standing Statue. Carbine-length (42½" overall length) gun marked on the right side of the receiver "Parker Field/ & Co/ 1870/ London" and stamped with the inspector's cartouche, a fox over "E B." The top of the barrel also retains the faint but clear inspector's cartouche. On the left side of the receiver is the familiar scroll-like brass serpent denoting a Hudson Bay trade gun. The forestock was originally musket-length but is broken with a significant portion missing. Discolorations show that the barrel and forestock were at one time wrapped with rawhide to repair the break. The ramrod is probably a contemporary replacement for the original which may have been lost or damaged, perhaps at the same time the stock was broken. The butt is decorated with 18 brass-headed tacks (one is missing) and the hand-carved lettering varying from 5/8" to about 1" in height: "Sitting Bull."
This shortened gun was originally made as a model 1863 full-length smooth-bore flintlock trade musket by Parker Field & Co. of London. Parker Field was a supplier of good-quality firearms to the British government as well as, in this case, to the Hudson Bay Company. The headstone-shaped cartouche bearing the initials "E B" surmounted by a fox are the mark of the Hudson Bay Company inspector, Edward Bond. The English military had switched to percussion firearms by 1842, but Parker Field and other makers continued supplying inexpensive flintlock muskets for the North American Indian trade through the 1870s.
Hudson Bay trade muskets were plentiful in the Canadian West in 1877 when Sitting Bull led the remnants of his people to Canada. The two trading posts near the North West Mounted Police garrison at Fort Walsh, Saskatchewan, would have been likely sources. Powder, lead, and flints were relatively abundant and cheap. They were, in fact, distributed by the Canadian government through the NWMP. The extremely limited availability of metallic cartridges and percussion caps, on the other hand, made a liability of more modern firearms, especially breech-loading cartridge rifles.
Though it probably can't be known how and where Sitting Bull got a musket and whether it had already been cut down to carbine length for easier and faster loading, there can be no doubt that he acquired and used one. The Winchester he surrendered at Fort Buford in 1881 would have been too expensive to use as a hunting rifle and had seen relatively little use.
During his exile near Fort Walsh, Sitting Bull was taught by trader Gus Hedderich to draw and eventually to sign his name. He then wrote his autograph prolifically as if in anticipation of selling his autographed photographs to visitors at Buffalo Bill's Wild West. The look of the lettering carved into the carbine stock is sufficiently close to what became his written signature, without being slavish to it, that Sitting Bull probably did the carving himself as he practiced using the autograph as if it were a talisman. The talismanic allusion is not exaggeration- by the time of his captivity in the Dakotas, he insisted that his children should learn to read and write in English for the power that the written language implied. As part of his surrender message, he asked that his children be educated in the ways of the modern world.
The gun was acquired by Captain Walter Clifford who was in charge of the Indian prisoners at Fort Buford and had escorted Sitting Bull and his followers during the last leg of the journey from Canada in July 1881. He also was in the room for Sitting Bull's formal surrender on July 20. Clifford had been given the gun, he wrote, by Black Moon, the most important Hunkpapa leader present after Sitting Bull himself. Black Moon was Sitting Bull's cousin, mentor, and elder counselor, and probably his oldest friend.
General Charles H. Tompkins, to whom Clifford sent the gun and other souvenirs, was Chief Quartermaster of the Department of the Missouri headquartered in Chicago. Both Tompkins and Clifford had served at various Western posts during the Indian Wars period and may have encountered each other there. In any case General Tompkins may have been responsible for and certainly had a say in Clifford's posting to Fort Buford.
It is likely that by the time of the surrender in 1881 the gun would already have belonged to Black Moon. Sitting Bull was compulsively generous and gave away most of his superfluous belongings. In addition, this gun was too utilitarian and battered to serve as a formal token of surrender in the way that the M1866 Winchester served.
This hard-used firearm is a relic of the most important Indian leader of his generation. Sitting Bull was, and is, a rallying symbol of resistance, and he has only grown in stature as an emblem of Native American spiritual power and resilience.
Also included in the lot is a bronze finish, Glen Swanson statue of Sitting Bull.
From the Glenwood Swanson Collection.
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