The Wild West era holds a special place in the hearts of many firearms enthusiasts. Plenty of shooters today grew up with figures of cowboys, sheriffs, and outlaws on horseback with lever-action rifles and classic revolvers. What would American firearms history be without the image of two spur-wearing duelists in a dusty street at high noon, hands hovering nervously over the Colt Peacemakers on their hips? Particularly given Hollywood’s canonization of frontier gunslingers, with iconic portrayals by actors like John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Robert Duvall, guns of the mid-late 1800s can be exceedingly nostalgic.
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Now an important piece of that Wild West history is coming to auction. Billy the Kid’s outlaw career began at age 15, and by the time of his death just six years later at the hands of Sheriff Pat Garrett, the Kid had amassed an impressive rap sheet. Among his list of crimes were numerous robberies, several escapes from jail, and eight killings. When Garrett finally caught up, the Sheriff was reported to have fired two rounds at the outlaw from a Colt Single Action Army revolver. Although the second bullet missed, the first struck Billy in the chest and would prove fatal. This famous Colt handgun will be sold at a Bonhams auction on August 27th. This auction will include an impressive catalogue of other notable guns, such as a Colt revolver owned by Bat Masterson, a Springfield Trapdoor rifle of Wild Bill Hickok’s, and the double-barrelled shotgun Billy the Kid used to kill two Deputies during his final jailbreak. Garrett’s Colt is expected to fetch between two and three million dollars.
THE GUN THAT KILLED BILLY THE KID: PAT GARRETT’S COLT SINGLE ACTION ARMY REVOLVER USED TO KILL BILLY THE KID.Serial number 55093 for 1880, .44-40 caliber 7 1/2 inch barrel, one line Hartford address crescent ejector rod head. DFC stamped over serial number on frame. Walnut grip.Condition: Very good with traces of blue on barrel and cylinder flutes and other protected areas. Well worn grips.Provenance: Billy Wilson (alias of David L. Anderson); taken by Pat Garrett when he arrested Wilson and the rest of the Billy the Kid gang at Stinking Springs; used by Garrett to kill Billy the Kid at Pete Maxwell’s, July 14, 1881 (notarized copy of a 1906 letter signed from Garrett); loaned to Tom Powers for exhibition at his Coney Island Saloon (appears in Tom Powers inventory and probate); recovered by Garrett’s widow, Apolinaria (Pauline) Garrett, from Powers estate, 1933 (signed and notarized letter from Jarvis P. Garrett, April 20, 1983; contemporary newspaper documentation, including pictures of her with the gun); sold to Calvin Moerbe of Round Rock, Texas, 1976; sold to Jim and Theresa Earle, July 14, 1983.Literature: Garavaglia & Worman, Firearms of the American West, 1866-1894, Albuquerque, NM, 1985, p 293; Metz, Leon Claire, Pat Garrett: The Story of a Western Lawman, Norman, OK, 1973, p 102; Wilson, R.L., The Peacemakers, New York, 1992.
SHERIFF PAT GARRETT’S COLT SINGLE ACTION WHICH HE USED TO KILL BILLY THE KID, JULY 14, 1881, AT PETE MAXWELL’S RANCH.An iconic piece of history from one of the most important events of the early west, Sheriff Pat Garrett’s yearlong pursuit of the notorious Billy the Kid. Now part of the American mythology, Garrett’s friendship with the Kid, their mutual respect, and his subsequent hunt, capture, escape and death have become the stuff of legend. The subject of hundreds of songs, films from Cecil B. Demille to Sam Peckinpah, and books, not to mention Aaron Copland’s opera, casting the Kid as both villainous outlaw and unsung hero fighting for justice, the story of Billy the Kid has woven its way into the American imagination. As early as 1929, historian J. Frank Dobie noted, “… because his daring apotheosized youth—youth in the saddle—youth with a flaming gun—and because his daring kept him running and balancing on the edge of a frightful precipice … Billy the Kid will always be interesting, will always appeal to the popular imagination” (Dobie, A Vaquero of the Brush Country, Austin, 1998, p 169).
Images courtesy of Bonhams.