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    J. Stevens & Co. Double Barrel Percussion Shotgun.

    Wyatt Earp: An Amazingly Documented 10-Gauge Shotgun Used by Him to Kill "Curly Bill" Brocius. Even most well-provenanced guns attributed to famous western figures require some leap of faith. Not so with this museum piece, possibly the most important Earp gun extant.

    The story begins with the turmoil in Tombstone following the OK Corral shoot out. Wyatt's brother Morgan was brutally assassinated, and "Curly Bill" Brocius was identified as one of the perpetrators. There had been bad blood between Brocius and the Earps since 1880, when a drunken "Curly Bill" shot and killed popular Tombstone town marshal Fred White. Brocius and his friends had been shooting off their guns indiscriminately, and White attempted to disarm him. The gun went off, mortally wounding the lawman. Wyatt Earp then borrowed Fred Dodge's revolver and savagely pistol-whipped Brocius, who would later maintain that his gun had discharged accidentally. He was ultimately acquitted of murder, but enmity with the Earps was firmly established.

    Brocius was widely recognized as an active outlaw, with cattle rustling, stagecoach robberies and killings attributed to him. When his role in Morgan Earp's killing was revealed, Wyatt formed a posse later dubbed the "Earp Vendetta Ride", and went on the hunt. For the manhunt Earp borrowed a 10-gauge shotgun from his friend Dodge, who was an under-cover Wells Fargo agent and member of the posse. They accidentally came across "Curly Bill" and some associates at Iron Springs (present day Mescal) on March 24, 1882, and in the ensuing shootout, according to Dodge, Wyatt killed the outlaw with this very shotgun.

    While romanticized Hollywood gunfights often feature gunslingers trying to out draw each other with their six guns, savvy gunfighters like Earp often preferred to employ a shotgun, which gave the shooter much better odds of hitting his target in chaotic situations. Doc Holiday famously used a shotgun at the OK Corral shootout.

    After the expedition Earp returned the shotgun to Dodge, who continued to use it over the course of his 40-year career with Wells Fargo. Dodge often came in contact with lawmen, and in an interesting sidelight would later lend this gun to famed U.S. Marshal Heck Thomas, who used it to kill notorious outlaw Bill Doolin!

    In the early 1930s Fred Dodge loaned the shotgun to the Wells Fargo Museum where it was displayed along with other of his mementos. Seminal Wyatt Earp biographer Stuart Lake wrote in a 1932 letter to Dodge (included with the lot) that "I wish to report that your guns are carefully looked after (at the Wells Fargo Museum), are in good shape, and are attracting much attention. They will be in the bank windows around here for another month or six weeks and then will be shipped back to you at Boerne."

    Lake, whose biography Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshal, is credited with launching Wyatt Earp to legendary status, had begun an extensive correspondence with Dodge in 1928. As one of the last living witnesses to events in Tombstone he was an invaluable source of anecdotes and information and Lake systematically mined this unique resource. Much, if not all, of the original correspondence between Stuart Lake and Fred Dodge is included with the lot.

    After Dodge's death in 1938 his guns and other artifacts passed to his son, Fred, Jr., who in 1963 sold them to Jack Dutton of San Antonio, Texas (see notarized bill of sale on our website) The gun found its way to Wells Fargo collector Gerald G. Fox, whose collection was sold by Sotheby Park Bernet in 1973. Jim Earle of College Station, Texas who would amass the most important collection of western association guns every assembled (including the gun used by Pat Garrett to kill Billy the Kid) purchased it at the 1973 Sotheby Park Bernet auction for what was then a very substantial price of $10,000. Jim was a very astute collector, but in what was perhaps one of his few missteps, sold it in 1984 to dealer Greg Martin. Martin then sold the gun to our late consignor. He would write of the gun "The Stevens double-barreled shotgun serial number 927 you recently obtained from me represents one of the most important historical treasures I have ever owned...In my opinion the great historical associations, the first-hand accounts, and the impeccable documentation of ownership through the Dodge family make your Stevens shotgun one of the great treasures of the Old West. It is a direct link between Wyatt Earp and an era of American lore that is of incalculable importance."

    The shotgun is described by Martin as having a "three figure trigger configuration and special short barrel a very rare type and the state of preservation is superlative." The varnished stock is excellent, the action crisp, and the metal surfaces retain 60/70% of their original finish.

    It is accompanied by a photostat of the 1963 notarized bill of sale from Fred Dodge, Jr., the Greg Martin letter, and a letter to Martin about the gun from James Earle. Also included is a remarkable and important archive of over 25 original documents, mostly detailed correspondence between Stuart Lake and Fred Dodge dating from 1928 through 1932. Included are marvelous first-hand accounts by Dodge as well as many letters dealing with the aforementioned loan of the shotgun for a Wells Fargo display (a representative sampling pictured with our web site presentation of this lot).

    Heritage Auctions has been privileged over the years to offer some marvelous and important relics and artifacts of the Old West, but surely this Wyatt Earp gun stands head and shoulders above them all.
    Serial no. 927 [barrels, fore-end, triggerguard and receiver], 10 gauge, 22 1/4-inch barrels with fixed front bead sight. Blued and case-hardened finish. Top of barrels marked: J. STEVENS & CO. CHICOPEE FALLS MASS. Trigger release for loading. Dual triggers. Smooth walnut pistolgrip stock and splinter fore-end. Metal buttplate.

    Condition: Very good. Finish primarily a smooth grey age patina with noticeable signs of handling wear and patches of pitting. Scattered scuffs and dings present to wood. Action good. Strong bores.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    February, 2020
    22nd-23rd Saturday-Sunday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 27
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 31,853

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