Image Lot Price Description
1129
$460,000.00
Revised: 4/6/2017 

Please Note: We misspelled John Kopec’s name in the description. It is spelled Kopec NOT Kopek.

COLT SINGLE ACTION ARMY SN 5773 POSITIVELY PROVEN TO HAVE BEEN USED BY ONE OF CUSTER’S MEN DURING THE INFAMOUS BATTLE OF THE LITTLE BIGHORN.

SN 5773. Cal. 45 Colt. Usual configuration with 7-1/2″ bbl, full front sight and 1-line script letter address with serifs at each end. Left side of frame has 2-line September 19, 1871 and July 2, 1872 patent dates along with a small “U.S.” Mounted with 1-pc walnut grip with matching SN in the backstrap channel. Ejector housing is orig first type with bullseye ejector rod head and base pin is orig type with dimpled ends. Bottom of the bbl under the ejector housing is marked with matching SN which is also found on the cylinder. Bottom of the bbl also has a tiny “A” (Orville W Ainsworth) sub-inspector initial along with a small “P”. Mr. Ainsworth’s “A” inspector initial is also found on the trigger guard below the SN and on the cylinder which also has a tiny “P” inspector initial. Top of the backstrap also has a small “A” sub-inspector initial. The grip shows heavy wear which has obliterated the Ainsworth cartouche and bottom edge of grip is somewhat battered which also obliterated his inspector initial. Front bottom edge of the ejector housing is beveled rather than having a sharp edge as it originally left the factory. Bottom front edge of the buttstrap is also lightly beveled instead of being a sharp edge as was original on these early revolvers. This was often done at the arsenal level and in the field. The reason being that sharp edges on the ejector housing quickly wore the holsters and the sharp edge of the buttstrap was uncomfortable for the shooter. Cylinder has large, wide stop notches without approaches but shows slight battering from the lock bolt in those areas. Loading gate has the assembly number “710” which is also found on bottom of frame, under the trigger guard. A large portion of the revolver has moderate to heavy blood pitting, especially on the cylinder, recoil shield and frame. This Colt SA Army is a true historic American treasure. It is the only documented, complete and original Colt SA Army that can be proven to have been part of one of the greatest military cavalry disasters of all time. In the summer of 1876, General George Armstrong Custer together with 12 companies of approximately 800 men were on the trail of Sitting Bull and his band of Sioux followers. Custer’s command was part of a 3 prong effort to source, capture and bring back this large group that had left the reservation. Custer and his men discovered Sitting Bull’s camp on the banks of the Little Big Horn River on the 25th of June and for various reasons decided to immediately attack. Custer divided his command into 4 units; 3 of which would participate in the battle. His intention was to descend upon the Indian village with the 3 different units all attacking in pincer type movement. Custer, with 200+ men, intending to go to the far end of the village while Reno and Benteen coordinated and attacked on the other end of the village. When Custer initially planned the attack, he assumed it was a typical Indian village. What he did not know was that it was a massive gathering of Lakota, Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians consisting of literally thousands. Reno was the first to attack and was quickly repulsed and retreated to a hilltop defense position which he and his men desperately held. Eventually Benteen returned coming to their rescue and together they were able to repulse the attacks. Custer and his 5 companies, however, were not so fortunate. Upon attacking the far end of the village, he was immediately repulsed and his command, shortly thereafter, disintegrated. Eventually, the Indians overwhelmed Custer’s command. Custer, his two brothers, a nephew, his brother-in-law, together with his entire command were annihilated; not a single soul survived. A couple of days later, Benteen together with a command of troopers, visited the battle site and collected and buried all of their massacred brothers. What they observed was a grisly battlefield of naked, mutilated bodies and virtually nothing of value left. The Indians had removed the troopers’ uniforms, boots, holsters and of course their guns. With a few exceptions, the battlefield had been swept clean by the Indians. Few items that the Indians missed were either gathered or buried with the troopers. Documents found in the National Archives relate to a board of survey convened at Fort Rice, Dakota Territory on December 5th, 1876. That survey related to a group of 12 Springfield Carbines and 3 Colt SA Revolvers including SN 5743, 6559 and this gun, SN 5773. This group, as presented by Captain Benteen, in his words, were all rendered unserviceable in action against hostile Indians at the Battle of Little Bighorn, M.T. on the 25th and 26th of June, 1876. As such, these guns are the only that can be positively identified to have been utilized in the infamous battle. The documentation was made by one of Custer’s commanding officers who was present at the battle and the guns are identified by serial number, thus conclusively proving their existence at the battle. It must be remembered that after the battle, nearly all guns were swept clean of the battlefield by the Indians. Shortly after that, these Indians either disbanded and returned to the reservation or escaped to Canada. Initially, any Indian possessing one of these firearms kept its existence confidential. After all, at this crucial time in history, possession of evidence such as that would have likely rendered an immediate death sentence for any Indian possessing a U.S. Cavalry gun. So the guns identified by serial number and turned over by Benteen are not only conclusive battlefield participants but also exceedingly rare. Over the years, many guns have been identified as purportedly having been used at the battle and indeed, any gun that could be associated with the battle carries a significant premium. These guns that have been purported to have been involved in the battle are identified as such, based on one of four different rationales or proof. 1. Known general serial number range of Colt SAs distributed to Custer’s troopers. There are no known exact firearm serial number records of guns issued to Custer’s troopers, however it is known by the Springfield Archive records that approximately 700 Colt SA Armies were issued to Custer troopers and it is know that those 700 basically came from a serial number range running from #4500-7527. Because of this, if one had a Colt SA Army that fell somewhere in that range, there was a possibility that this gun had been used by the cavalry and as such, commanded a premium. Obviously, that is a big if. 2. Family history or provenance linking a gun to the battle. Over the years, guns have surfaced with interesting and in some cases, very believable pedigree and/or history having been acquired by an Indian family purported to have participated in the massacre. However other than the story and details, in such cases, none of these guns could be positively proven as being used at the battle. 3. Forensic proof. In the mid-1980s, an archaeological dig was conducted at the battle site. At that time, an army of metal detector handlers scanned the battlefield and marked any findings. Later, the objects were excavated, mapped and documented. All cartridge casings discovered were documented and retrieved. At some point during the archaeological dig, it was suggested that these cartridge casings might be used to prove the actual usage of some suspected guns during the battle. For years, criminologists had used spent cartridge casings to match and identify crime firearms. Essentially, when a cartridge is fired in a gun, the resulting recoil leaves microscopic impressions or marks on the head of the spent cartridge casing. These are much like a fingerprint and tend to be somewhat unique, thus if you have a spent cartridge casing and a suspected gun, if you fire another cartridge in the questioned gun and match the heads of the casings, if these microscopic imperfections match up identically then much like a fingerprint, it proves the use and match of the suspected gun. There were literally hundreds if not thousands of people who owned firearms which they believed had been used at the battle and a special invitation was extended to any and all people or institutions with such guns. Originally, fifteen long arms were matched up to spent cartridge cases found on the battlefield. Ten of these long arms were in institutions and five in private hands (four of these forensically proven long arms have been successfully sold by Julia’s over the years for clients). The resulting matchup is not absolute proof positive but is reasonably accurate, unlike options 1 and 2 above. 4. Documented serial numbers of guns turned in by Captain Benteen. As previously mentioned these guns are the only guns in existence which are unquestionably, positively proven to have been used at this infamous battle. Captain Benteen’s records and the documenting of the serial numbers conclusively prove this exact gun SN 5773 was at the battle. This very rare Colt SA, SN 5773, is one of the 3 guns that Captain Benteen documented in his reports. This exact gun has been subject of numerous articles and was extensively discussed and described and covered in great detail with several photographs on page 266, 267 & 268 of Colt Cavalry and Artillery Revolvers…A continuing study by John Kopek and Sterling Fenn. This exact pistol, SN 5773 together with 5743 and 6559 were turned over to the Ordinance Department. It is known that 5743 and 6559 were later, during the Spanish-American War, rebuilt and converted to artillery configuration with 5-1/2″ barrels. However, 5773 was not documented as having been reissued during the war and today is still in its original configuration and condition. It is strongly believed that gun was possibly sold out of the armory at some point in time. It is not known how or when it left the armory but what is known is that in 1979, it was discovered in Switzerland. It was accompanied by another Colt SA, SN 68360; both of which were complete with holster and belt. The guns were sold on a couple of occasions and were finally acquired by our consignor in the early 1990s. At the time, the extraordinary history was not known. It was not until our consignor sent a letter with photographs to Sterling Fenn and John Kopek. It was then that John Kopek identified SN 5773 as one of the very guns that Captain Benteen had turned in. Since that time, this historic gun has remained in our consignor’s collection. Today, the gun is essentially completely original and as it was in 1876 when Benteen turned it in. This gun, unlike the other two, has not been altered and although it is not known for certain why the gun was considered unserviceable, there are two likely possibilities. Mr. Kopek, at the time speculated that since the gun retains a fair amount of “blood” pitting, this might have been the reason, but more likely was the fact that on careful examination, it can be determined that the lock bolt trigger return spring is a replacement. Subsequently, it is very likely that the only thing wrong with the gun in terms of function was that the cylinder would not lock into position. The unique and important aspect of this Colt is that it is the only complete and original Colt SA extant that can be positively documented to this most historic and infamous battle. As previously mentioned, SN 5743 and 6559 are known to be converted, altered, restored and refinished and put back into service during the Spanish-American War. We do not know the whereabouts or current condition of SN 5743 but 6559 was offered and sold by our auction company in the late 1990s. At the time, it had been discovered in relic condition. The cylinder was blown out, all parts of the gun had much pitting, there was no original finish and it had many alterations; in fact, the only component of the Colt pistol bearing the special SN 6559 was the barrel. We believe this Colt SA, SN 5773, to be the single most significant and authentic and completely documented firearm from that famous battle. It is not based on speculation but is absolutely indisputable that this revolver participated in the famous Battle of Little Bighorn. As such, this is a truly historic treasure worthy of the finest of most advanced collection. CONDITION: Very good, all matching including bbl, cylinder & grip. No orig finish remains being an overall gray metal patina with dark patina in the most sheltered areas on the frame. The frame & cylinder have numerous areas of moderate to heavy blood pitting, heavier on the cylinder. Bbl has light, fine pitting toward the muzzle end with scattered spots of light pitting elsewhere. Trigger guard & ejector housing also show very fine pitting. Grip is sound with a few nicks, dings & scratches and shows heavy edge wear with a hand worn patina. Mechanics are fine, strong bore with sharp rifling & fine pitting. 51218-1 JDJ (175,000-275,000) – Lot 1129

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Auction: Firearms - April 2017
Please Note: All prices include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium, which is paid by the buyer as part of the purchase price. The prices noted here after the auction are considered unofficial and do not become official until after the 46th day.