Wheelgun Wednesday: Custer Revolver at Rock Island Auction's Upcoming Sale

Zac K
by Zac K
Moylan’s Colt SAA on the right, Custer’s pinfire revolver on the right. [Rock Island Auction]

Two historically significant revolvers are coming up for sale at Rock Island Auction’s May 17-19 Premier Auction. One has direct ties to the Battle of Little Bighorn, and the other is a former personal belonging of doomed U.S. cavalry leader George Armstrong Custer.

Rock Island Auction Company @ TFB:

Captain Myles Moylan Identified Lot 6 Colt Single Action Army

The first revolver to consider is a Colt Single Action Army that was actually carried at the Battle of Little Bighorn by Captain Myles Moylan. Moylan led A Company, part of Major Marcus Reno’s command.

Reno’s forces were pushed back by Indian warriors, losing more than 30 cavalry troopers, fighting with 1873 Springfield Trapdoor carbines as well as their revolvers. The fighting did not end until the next day, with Reno’s men and reinforcements led by Captain Frederick Benteen holding a defensive position through the night, occasionally counter-attacking to keep enemies from infiltrating their ranks.

Moylan survived the disastrous rout that Reno’s troops suffered and later went on to win the Medal of Honor fighting the Nez Perce tribe in the Battle of Bear Paw in 1877, suffering a bullet wound to the thigh in that engagement. Moylan retired from the Army as a major in 1893.

Myles Moylan survived the Battle of Little Bighorn, unlike George Armstrong Custer, and died at home in 1909 after fighting in the Civil War and then the Western Indian Wars for decades.

Rock Island says the Colt SAA at the auction has documentation it belonged to Moylan, including serial number confirmation. Previously, Rock Island has auctioned firearms from the Battle of Little Bighorn for more than $760,000, although that’s no guarantee they’ll get that from this particular example.

If you read Rock Island’s description of the revolver, it is a tale full of twists and turns. On one hand, you have the documented history of this revolver, which seems fairly solid. That trail of paperwork goes all the way back to 1887 when this revolver appeared as part of a collection of “war bonnets, clubs, shields, spears, muskets and pistols” shown at a bank as a display from the Indian Wars. On the other hand, Rock Island’s write-up also points out that other revolvers associated with the Little Bighorn have proved to have their history faked, to drive up the price.

But in this case, Rock Island says “The revolver is accompanied by letters from noted Colt Single Action Army historian and author John A. Kopec, including a letter from 2023 in which he indicates that he believes this revolver was Captain Moylan’s of the 7th Cavalry and notes documentation attributing serial number 6055 to Captain Moylan and as part of Captain Benteen’s collection.”

The revolver eventually became the possession of Dr. William Leo Sr., a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, who became a gun collector and the president of the Missouri Valley Arms Collector Association. The revolver has been in the family’s possession since the 1960s.

Calderwood & Son Pinfire Revolver with “G.A.C.” Inscribed Case

The second revolver of note is a Calderwood & Son double-action .44-caliber pinfire six-shooter. Rock Island says this handgun comes in a presentation case inscribed with Custer’s initials, “G.A.C.” on its lid. The revolver’s history is explained this way:

After Custer’s passing, the revolver was discovered many years later by the Custer family in the attic of their home and was passed down to Lt. Col. Charles Custer, Custer’s grandnephew. Charles Custer kept the revolver in the Custer family until 1956 when he sold it to a lifelong student of his granduncle. The revolver, which also comes with a receipt from Charles Custer, carries a pre-auction value of $50,000 – $75,000.

Pinfire revolvers were popular in Europe before the advent of modern rimfire and centerfire designs, with American troops importing them for use in the Civil War. Custer was known to have a French-made Lefaucheux pinfire revolver with him during his military career. In the case of this particular revolver, Calderwood & Son were gunmakers based in Dublin, Ireland and the Rock Island Auction listing does not say if Custer was known to use this particular revolver,. However, it does point out that this is possibly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own a revolver that was Custer’s personal property, with documentation from the general’s own family collection in Michigan.

Kevin Hogan, president of Rock Island Auction Company, says the Battle of Little Bighorn was a defining moment in American history, driving demand for relics of that conflict. Custer artifacts are also highly desirable to collectors, said Hogan.

Along with these two revolvers, Rock Island says there will be 2,100 other firearms at its May Premier Auction. For more information on the sale, check out Rock Island Auction’s website here.

Images courtesy of Rock Island Auction Company, www.rockislandauction.com

Zac K
Zac K

Professional hoser with fudd-ish leanings.

More by Zac K

Join the conversation
3 of 5 comments
  • Palo Duro Palo Duro on May 09, 2024

    Good Lord that first one is in incredible condition. Owner is not far from me, wish I had that guy for a neighbor.

    I've got a fake (too lazy to type reproduction...well dang look at that) SAA issued to Custer's 7th Calvary made by Cimarron. I need to buy some lottery tickets this week.

  • David Knuth David Knuth on May 09, 2024

    That second one just screams "I survived Imhotep and all I got was this lousy revolver".