EXTRAORDINARILY RARE CUSTER BATTLEFIELD COLT SINGLE ACTION ARMY REVOLVER IDENTIFIED TO LT. WILLIAM VAN WYCK REILY LATER GIFTED TO CHIEF TWO MOONS (ON U. S. NICKEL).
SN 4815. Cal. 45 Colt. Usual configuration with 7-1/2″ bbl, full front sight and 1-line block letter address. Left side of frame has 2-line patent dates and crudely obliterated “US”. Ejector housing is first type with bull’s eye ejector rod head and base pin appears to be orig with dimpled ends and battered head. Mounted with a 1-pc walnut grip that has matching SN in backstrap channel. Right side of grip has a large chip out of the heel with a sharp shoulder indicating a cut, now heavily worn and aged with a wonderful patina. Left side has two 1/4″ round dots, later shown to have been the mark of Cheyenne Indian Chief Two Moons. This revolver was part of the first government contract for Colt revolvers shipped from Springfield Armory on March 25, 1874 as part of a 1,000 lot shipment to Rock Island Arsenal of which 755 were issued to the 7th Cavalry and the rest were issued to the 1st Cavalry. This revolver was inspected by Orville W. Ainsworth whose initial “A” appears on various parts including bbl, trigger guard, cyl & backstrap. The grip is too worn to show the actual inspector’s cartouche or his small stamp on the bottom edge. Accompanied by a 2-page letter from noted author, historian & collector, John Kopec, wherein he authenticates this revolver as being in orig configuration and states that it is distinctly possible that this revolver was issued to Custer’s 7th Cavalry. Lt. William Van Wyck Reily, the son of a deceased Naval officer and a very aggressive, remarried mother, had failed out of the U.S. Naval Academy but through persistence and aggressive correspondence by his mother gained him a Presidential Appointment as a 2nd Lieutenant, assigned to the 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers). His mother thinking commanding Negro troops was not prestigious enough for her son, again lobbied influential friends and obtained a transfer for him to the 7th Cavalry. Lt. Reily was initially assigned to Company E, 7th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, where on April 24, 1876 he was subjected to a kangaroo court of inquiry apparently by his fellow officers who would have sat in judgement, presided over by Lt. James E. Porter for carelessness in allowing his service issued Colt revolver SN 5126 to be stolen. Lt. Reily was required by this inquiry to reimburse the government for the loss and was issued revolver SN 4815 as a replacement. The information about the alleged (kangaroo) hearing is contained in a copy of a letter reportedly found in a metal box by a crew from North Dakota contracted to the government to demolish old dilapidated buildings at the site of Fort Abraham Lincoln. The owners of this letter have declined to release it but did furnish a copy to the consignor. Consignor states that he has seen the original. The form of this letter is in no way official but likely something that never would have been officially condoned. It is however a known fact that troopers after having lost their sidearm would be fined or otherwise penalized for such. In fact at a recent auction, the Julia Auction Company sold an authentic and original 7th Cavalry day book with just such an entry for a trooper who “lost” his revolver. A search of the National Archives of the available 7th Cavalry records for this time frame disclosed no such information which lends credence to the speculation that Lt. Reily, after having been found guilty, would likely have been forced to pay for the drinks for the other officers. On the fateful day of June 25, 1876, Lt. Reily was with Company F, 7th Cavalry with Lt. Col. George A. Custer at the Little Big Horn and was killed in action there. Oral history interviews of several Indian participants and descendants of Indian participants relate the following regarding this revolver: Near the end of the battle when only a few soldiers remained alive, most of the Indians were nearly out of ammunition for their firearms and so attacked with knives & hatchets. Two different authors interviewed a Sioux chief named Runs-the-Enemy of the Two-Kettle Clan. The first was by Dr. Joseph K. Dixon for his book The Vanishing Race published in 1913. A reprint of pp. 170-179 relates the interview with Runs-the-Enemy, a Two-Kettle Sioux, who participated throughout the entire Custer Massacre and later attacked the Reno trenches. Near the end of the interview he relates that he was following an Arapahoe named Waterman who killed a “horse soldier chief” (any officer was referred to as a “chief”) who was pointing a 6-shooter at Waterman. Waterman cut off this soldier’s little finger with a tomahawk. He relates “Horse soldier chief drop 6-shooter pistol. He hold hand and cry. Waterman shoot horse soldier chief with rifle. Waterman take horse soldier chief 6-shooter pistol. Waterman say hair too short to scalp. I scalp.” After that “Runs-the-Enemy” left the Custer Battlefield and went to fight Reno. Another author, named Ivan Starr, wrote the same story in the Lakota language and translated it into English. As follows is a similar story related to the consignor by Melvin Spotted Elk of the Cheyenne tribe in Montana in 1974 which had been passed down through his family. He relates a similar story of the battle as previously related above by “Runs-the-Enemy”. After the Battle of the Rosebud where the Cheyenne and Sioux believed they had whipped the soldiers under Gen. Crook, the Indians moved their camp to the “Little Horn” River (Little Big Horn) where they were surprised by the 7th Cavalry as history records. Prior to the battle the Sioux captured five Arapahoe Indians who the Sioux thought were scouting for the soldiers. This turned out not to be the case and the Arapahoe got their horses and weapons back. During the ensuing Custer fight the Arapahoe fought with the Cheyenne & Sioux. Two Moons states like Runs-the-Enemy that most of the killing at the end (of the battle) was done with hatchets & knives. He states he “watched Waterman and Chief Runs-the-Enemy kill some of the last soldiers with their hatchets. Waterman killed an officer by cutting of the officer’s finger with his hatchet and then taking the officer’s revolver and shooting him with it. Waterman kept the revolver (which the author has identified as SN 4815) and the officer’s belt. One of the Arapahoe apparently accidentally killed a Sioux warrior. The Sioux demanded that the Arapahoe be punished and were going to kill him. Two Moons, a Cheyenne, took charge of the Arapahoes and said that the Sioux could come back to his lodge in the morning for the Arapahoes to straighten things out. The five Arapahoe hid until dark then came to Two Moons lodge where Two Moons’ wives & daughter prepared them a sack of food and fed them. Apparently the Arapahoe had discussed the fact that Two Moons had saved them twice and so they should give him a “proud” gift. Waterman decided that he would give the 6-shooter he had taken from the soldier chief and marked it with Two Moons’ mark in ocher “so Two Moons could be proud”. Another of the Arapahoe, Yellow Fly, gave Two Moons’ Cheyenne wife the soldier’s coat he had taken from the soldier chief Waterman had killed and a third Arapahoe, Sage, gave Two Moons’ daughter the ring also “from the soldier chief that Waterman had killed”. Two Moons’ daughter put the ring on her necklace around her neck. Later that night the Arapahoe escaped. The next day the Sioux & Cheyenne broke camp and headed north. The Sioux & Cheyenne fought their last battle with Chief Crazy Horse and Chief Two Moons at Wolf Mountain in January 1877 and surrendered at Fort Robinson in April 1877. Two Moons’ daughter was among the Indians who surrendered. There is conflicting information about how Lt. Reily’s ring was discovered. One story is that it was traded to the Fort Robinson Sutler where it was recognized by Lt. William Philo Clark, confiscated, and sent back to Lt. Reily’s mother. The other story is that Lt. Clark recognized the ring on Two Moons’ daughter’s necklace and confiscated it after which he returned it to Lt. Reily’s mother, who in 1944 donated it to the Smithsonian Institution where it still resides. Accompanied by a framed photograph of Cheyenne Chief Two Moons standing on the Custer battlefield, by L.A. Huffman, 1913. PROVENANCE: Wendell Grangaard Collection CONDITION: Fair to good, all matching including bbl, cyl & grip. No orig finish remains being an overall cleaned gray metal patina. The loading gate and a corresponding area of the cyl and ejector housing have deep blood pitting. Grip has the aforementioned large chunk missing from the right heel and shows heavy battering on the bottom edges with nicks & dings and retains a hand worn patina. Mechanics are fine, strong bright bore with scattered fine pitting. Frame and photo are fine. 4-45691 JR429 (100,000-200,000) – Lot 2239
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